This review of Adam Bede appeared in The Morning Chronicle in February 1859, shortly after the book was published. The identity of ‘George Eliot’ was not yet known. The reviewer has mixed feelings about Adam Bede, but he recognises that it is an unusual novel.
Ordinariness and greatness
The reviewer objects to Eliot giving ‘ordinary’ characters – such as Adam Bede and Dinah Morris – extraordinary virtue: ‘A high-minded peasant cannot be made a very interesting being. Greatness of mind, to look well in a story, requires greatness of circumstances’.Throughout her fiction, Eliot suggests that the opposite is true: those who lead unremarkable lives may have remarkable qualities, and their stories are worth telling. The Morning Chronicle reviewer writes that ‘the Romish [Catholic] Church alone’ is able to ‘give interest to these self-denying saints’ (presumably he refers to Adam and Dinah). This observation is particularly interesting given that in her later novel Middlemarch, Eliot would cast her main character Dorothea Brooke as a modern, Protestant, unknown version of the 16th-century Catholic saint Teresa of Avila.
While the reviewer dislikes Eliot’s blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary, he admires her representation of the purely ordinary, praising her ‘domestic scenes … touches of rustic nature … descriptions of country life’.
- Article by:
- Rohan Maitzen
- The novel 1832–1880
In Adam Bede, George Eliot sets out her commitment to realism as a literary genre – a commitment she would continue to develop over the course of her career. Dr Rohan Maitzen explains how detailed research and Eliot’s own experience fed into the realist project, enabling her to express her beliefs about religion, sympathy and understanding.