Manuscript of Adam Bede by George Eliot

Description

This is the manuscript for George Eliot’s first full-length novel, Adam Bede (1859). It tells of carpenter Adam’s love for dairy maid, Hetty Sorrel, and her seduction by the young squire-to-be, Arthur Donnithorne. The loss of a woman’s virtue was a common topic for 19th-century novelists, but Eliot’s decision to centre the novel on a female Methodist preacher, Dinah Morris, sets Adam Bede apart from other literary works of the time. When Hetty is charged with murdering her illegitimate child, it is Dinah alone who treats the girl with real human sympathy. Eliot based the character of Dinah on her Methodist aunt, Elizabeth Evans, who in 1802 had prayed with a woman convicted for infanticide just as Dinah prays with Hetty.

To whom was the manuscript dedicated?

The dedication at the beginning of the first volume reads:

To my dear husband, George Henry Lewes, I give this MS. of a work which would never have been written but for the happiness which his love has conferred on my life.

Though she thought of herself as George Henry Lewes’s wife, Eliot and Lewes were not legally married. Eliot (whose birth name was Mary Anne Evans, but was later known as Mary Ann or Marian) was a highly unconventional woman for the time, living with the writer Lewes despite the fact that he was already married. (The marriage laws of the time meant that Lewes was unable to obtain a divorce.) In her writing, Eliot emphasises the importance of sympathetic human connections over strict adherence to moral codes. This is the overarching theme of Adam Bede.

What does the manuscript reveal about the composition of Adam Bede?

In the first of the three notebooks in which Eliot composed the novel she records that,

A large portion of it was written twice, though often scarcely at all altered in the copying; but other parts only once, and among these the description of Dinah and a good deal of her sermon.


However, there are in fact numerous revisions to the manuscript, particularly in the second volume. One of the most important changes is Dinah’s outright rejection of Adam’s brother’s proposal of marriage in Chapter 3. This prepares the way for Dinah’s ultimate union with Adam at the end of the book. Eliot made this change in response to Lewes’s suggestion that Dinah could be the most interesting character in the novel.

Transcript

                                                                                                                1

To my dear husband, George Henry Lewes,
I give this M[anu]S[cript] of a work which would
never have been written but for the
happiness which his love has conferred
on my life.
                                          Marian Lewes
                                                    March 23. 1859

            The first volume was written at Richmond, the second at
Munich & Dresden, the third at Richmond again. The
work was begun on the 22[n]d October 1857, & finished on
the 16th November 18598. A large portion of it was
written twice, though often scarcely at all altered in
the copying; but other parts only once, & among these
the description of Dinah & a good deal of her sermon,
the love scene between her & Seth, “Hetty’s World”, most
of the scene in the Two Bedchambers, the talk between Arthur
& Adam, various parts in the second volume which I can recal
less easily, & in the third, Hetty’s journeys, her confession & the cottage
                                                                          scenes.











Full title:
Adam Bede. Three volumes.
Created:
1857-58
Format:
Manuscript
Creator:
George Eliot
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 34020-34022

Full catalogue details

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