In Adam Bede, George Elliot cast supposedly ordinary country folks living their rustic life in 18th Century England but among those folks are some remarkable qualities that make them interesting characters to study. Let us have a look at some of them.
Adam Bede is the eponymous protagonist of the novel. He is a poor carpenter in the village of Hayslope but with many qualities that give him the prospects of a prosperous future—old Martin Poyser once said to Adam, as quoted from the novel, “Never mind your being poorish yet, there’s money in your head-piece as there’s money i’ the sown field but it must ha’ time.”(Chapter 34, page 332). Adam is hardworking, industrious, intelligent, and highly skilled in his carpentry.
The folks in the neighborhood admire him for his honesty and integrity as well as for his handsome looks—he is twenty-six years old, stands over six feet tall, with broad shoulders, dark eyes, and full dark hair. He is, however, unfazed by their praise and admiration because he believes a man ought not to be praised for doing his duty and that he must exhibit those good qualities he is praised for.
Adam is not so keen on the traditional notions of spirituality and religion himself, he believes that one can commune with God by earnestly doing one’s ordinary human activities as much as by praying. However, he is accommodating of others whose perception of religion is different from his and is very fond of his zealously religious brother Seth.
He respects the social order in his society and holds those in social classes above him in high esteem.
Even with all his good qualities, Adam Bede is not without faults. He is proud and judgemental. He is hard and intolerant of things he perceives as faults and weaknesses in other people, for instance, he is harsh on his father for being a drunkard; impatient with his mother for being fretful; and vengeful to Arthur for falling into the temptation of Hetty’s beauty and charms. But he is a helpless romantic despite himself and is blinded by Hetty’s beauty so much that he does not see her coldness and selfishness even when he hears of her crime.
But as the story progresses, Adam Bede’s character develops and he becomes more humble and learns to be tolerant, empathetic, and less judgmental. He regrets his harsh treatment of his father, becomes more tender to his mother, and is no more vengeful on Arthur.
She is a beautiful Methodist preacher devout in her spirituality and careless of her physical beauty. She is very altruistic, always trying to help the needy even at the expense of her comfort. She dresses demurely and goes about preaching to people in a simple, matter of fact way without any affectations of piety or dramatic reproaches.
She is kind in her words and gentle in her manners but with a strong will that cannot be dissuaded from her decisions once made. For instance, when she decides to leave the comforts of Hall Farm and return to Snowfield to continue her evangelism, not even the pleas of Adam, Lisbeth, Seth, and the entire household of the Hall Farm could change her resolve to leave.
She is very fatalistic and believes everything– from the first words she reads when she randomly opens her bible, to an unexpected visit from a love interest– is a supernatural sign from God.
In the course of the story, she learns to balance the altruism of her spirituality with the humanism of seeking her own happiness and realizes that they are not mutually exclusive.
She is an orphan girl living with her uncle on their countryside farm. She is beautiful and very young (only seventeen years old) and has a juvenile self-absorption in her beauty and youth. She knows how to act coquettish and charm people with her beauty and loves being admired.
She is very deft at her dairy work, and even Mrs. Poyser, her hard to please aunt, never finds anything to complain about in her butter and cheese. However, she does her chores only perfunctorily and particularly hates babysitting her little cousin Totty.
She loves bright colors and fancy dressing, secretly buying pretty earrings with her savings and coveting the trendy fashion of upper-class ladies. She nurses dreams of marrying into the gentry to have an unlimited array of fancy things to wear. Beyond her beauty which attracts people to her, she is cold and unsympathetic and only cares about her selfish gratification.
She cares a lot about being admired but that also gives her a strong sense of shame which makes her run away when she gets pregnant out of wedlock and even contemplates suicide because she cannot stand the thought of being mocked by her family and folks in her village. She is proud and stubborn and obstinately denies her crime when arrested and tried in court, showing no outward signs of emotion.
She has a great zest for life and despite contemplating suicide numerous times, she usually finds reasons to procrastinate taking the action, and even when she is sentenced to death, she is filled with despair and trepidation. She cares more about her physical wellbeing than about the religious stance of her soul and in Dinah’s preaching and consolation in the hope of a blissful afterlife if she repents, she only worries that there is no hope of saving her from the impending physical death she has been sentenced to.
Her character makes a precipitous development in the course of the story, she changes from a blooming girl who loves to be the center of attention to a miserable pregnant woman who does not like to be noticed. She also learns to appreciate the good life she had living with her uncle and his wife, a life she had taken for granted and thought she hated.
A young and handsome gentleman from an upper-class family. His grandfather is a miserly old man disliked by his tenants and the villagers but in contrast, they adore and love Arthur Donnithorne for his good nature and generosity, and since he is the heir to his grandfather, the tenants and villagers look forward to when he would be in charge of the Donnithorne dynasty.
Arthur loves being in the good opinion of the people and basks in their admiration. He also looks forward to inheriting the family wealth so that he can prove to the people what a good man he is and compensate them for all the wrongs his grandfather has done. He believes that every wrongdoing can be compensated for and arrogantly thinks that making this compensation for wrongdoing is always within his capabilities.
He lacks willpower and easily breaks his resolve at the slightest temptation. He is very young and impressionable and feels ashamed to let his weakness be known by others.
He would eventually learn his most valued lesson that he cannot compensate for every wrongdoing.
Rev. Adolphus Irwine is a clergyman who remains a bachelor even at the age of forty-eight. Although unmarried, he is loving and caring to the women in his life namely his mother and two unremarkable sisters that live with him. He is a rector and vicar of the Church of England who is well versed in doctrines, but not very spiritual. However, what he lacks in spirituality, he makes up for in being a good human. His relationship with members of his church is more of friendliness and humanist care than spiritual direction.
Beyond his vocation as a clergyman, he is unemployed and is sometimes referred to by his detractors as “the idle shepherd” but due to his tolerant and easy-going nature, he takes no offense in such derogatory descriptions and even admits that his detractors are right. However, he is very knowledgeable in architecture and building and very astute in money and estate management.
He is accommodating of people irrespective of differing opinions and views and very empathetic and this makes him very understanding and capable of giving sage advice and support in difficult situations.
Younger brother to Adam Bede and a fellow carpenter. He has a mild disposition and is a very devout Methodist. Although he looks like his brother Adam, he is not as good-looking or as remarkable and not very proficient in his carpentry.
He is kind, selfless, humble, and does not begrudge anyone for any reason. He adores his brother Adam and loves his mother Lisbeth although he is timid in the face of her querulousness.
He gets heartbroken by Dinah’s rejection of his proposal but readily accepts it and finds comfort in his faith and religion.
Mrs. Rachel Poyser
She is one of the most interesting characters in the novel because of her sharp tongue and wit. She and her husband are tenants who run the Hall Farm and due to her business acumen, knowledge of cattle, and stellar home management, their farm is the most prosperous in Hayslope and her butter and cheese are of exemplary quality across the neighborhood.
She is thirty-eight years old and pleasant looking but dresses very plainly because she does not like any associations with feminine vanity. She is meticulous and hard to please in household chores and always scolds Hetty and her servants while she tries to teach them her standards.
She is very intelligent and strong in her convictions. And can stand up to even the most dreaded people. She stands up to her landlord, the old Squire Donnithorne even at the risk of being evicted and challenges the misogynistic views of Bartle Massey, the well-respected schoolmaster.
Despite her seeming toughness, she is a doting mother to her children, loves her family and is surprisingly sympathetic and tender towards Hetty when they learn of her crime and scandal. She is an aunt to Dinah Morris and Hetty Sorrel.
Mr. Martin Poyser (Junior)
The husband of the Hall Farm household and an easygoing man, who is good at managing his farm and takes pride in the intellect and dexterity of his wife. He is tolerant but the only thing he cannot condone in people is their mismanagement of a farm.
He is proud of his farm and of his family name, therefore becomes extremely hard on Hetty Sorrel for tainting the family name by her crime and scandal and that pride makes him decide not to continue his tenancy under Arthur Donnithorne despite the cordial relationship they previously had.
Adam and Seth Bede’s mother is fretful and unsociable and hardly warms up to people who are not her family. She particularly favors Adam between her two sons although afraid of his harshness. She would always defend her alcoholic husband from Adam’s harshness but is usually the first to attack her husband herself for his alcoholism.
She often feels lonely and complains a lot with the hope of getting reassurances from her sons but Adam is too impatient to indulge her and Seth is too timid to reassure her and so she sulks, cries, and complains even more.
She feels threatened by the prospect of Adam’s marriage because she fears his love for his wife could make him neglect her but she eventually takes a liking to Dinah Morris and plays an instrumental role in making them realize and acknowledge their love for each other.
An upper-class lady of noble heritage who is beautiful, dignified, opinionated, and with sound mental faculties to read fantasy novels and ballads at her age of sixty-six. She loves seeing vibrant and good-looking people and has little patience for sickly people like her daughter, Anne Irwine, or people who look physically ugly in her view.
She is the mother of Rev Adolphus Irwine and the godmother of Arthur Donnithorne.
The schoolmaster of the school in Treddleston who schedules learning between night and day to suit the learning needs of both the children and adults of the neighborhood.
He is excellent in academics and moves with agility despite being crippled. He has a dual personality, he teaches with patience to the adults who are slow to learn but is sharp-tongued and quick to scold the children. He is loquacious and tends to say words or phrases twice at a time but with a sensitive ear that cannot stand noise or bad music.
He has misogynistic views and always talks about how women add no value to men and only frustrate and make life unbearable for men.
He is an old bachelor but his propensity to be very evasive about his past gives the impression that his misogyny might be a defense mechanism from a past heartbreak from a woman but we never get to ascertain this for sure in the novel.
A fellow carpenter at the workshop where Adam Bede works. He likes to talk and drink alcohol more than he likes to work. He is resentful of Adam Bede and tries to antagonize him any chance he gets but usually ends up making a fool of himself in the end.
He is not religious and does not even go to church to keep up appearances and sometimes makes fun of the bible and of religion.
A gardener at the Estate of the Donnithorne’s and very dexterous at it. However, he feels an exaggerated sense of knowledgeability and gives unsolicited information but when it is clear he is not knowledgeable about a subject, he excuses it by claiming the knowledge is for folks who have nothing important to fill their heads with.
He is a conceited man whom Mrs Poyser describes as a cock who thinks the sun rises to hear him crow.
Also called Old Joshway. He is the village shoemaker and parish clerk. He has a very melodious voice and is proud of his eloquence in reading Psalms and dexterity in singing hymns. He is of the opinion that the religious dissenters should not be accommodated in Hayslope but Mr Irwine states otherwise and because he respects the judgement of those in the upper class, he concedes to Mr Irwine’s opinion.
The man employed to manage the inn owned by the Donnithornes. He is a social recluse who hardly interacts with the villagers because he has a high sense of dignity and feels superior to the villagers although he sometimes finds himself curious about their affairs.
A stranger who had once visited Hayslope on the first day of Dinah’s preaching in the green fields. He would later make Dinah’s acquaintance when he is the prison warder that grants Dinah access to visit Hetty.
Her full name is Bessy Cranage, the daughter of the village Blacksmith. Like Hetty Sorrel she loves fancy ornaments and fashion but unlike Hetty, she is rather plain looking. She is spirited, good at sports, and with a volatile sense of religion in that her contrite repentance only lasts for as long as the preacher is within proximity.
How old is Hetty in Adam Bede?
Hetty is seventeen years old at the beginning of the novel Adam Bede. She turns eighteen years old as the story progresses. She is a beautiful girl living in the dairy farm of her uncle as his ward. Both Adam Bede and Arthur Donnithorne get attracted to her for her beauty. Her coldness and selfishness results in dire consequences for her in the end.
What was the name of Hetty’s lover?
The name of Hetty’s lover is Arthur Donnithorne. He is a young heir to a family of the landed gentry in Hayslope. Hetty has an affair with him and hopes to marry him eventually but Arthur has no such intentions because they are not in the same social class. Unfortunately, their affair results in a pregnancy which Hetty discovers after their breakup, and her actions after the discovery lead to her doom.
Who is Arthur Donnithorne?
Arthur Donnithorne is one of the major characters in the novel Adam Bede. He is a young man from a wealthy family that is good-natured and enjoys being in the good opinions of people. He is kind and generous but naively believes he is capable of compensating everyone who is wronged. He becomes Hetty’s lover in the course of the story.