John Wesley (1703–1791) was a clergyman and one of the founders of Methodism, along with his brother Charles. This biography of John Wesley is by the poet Robert Southey (1774–1843), who also wrote biographies of John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell and Horatio Nelson. The Life of John Wesley is as much a history of Methodism as a biography of its founder. Southey himself was not a Methodist, and though he has a deep respect for and interest in the movement, he is critical of some of its aspects. He suggests, for example, that Methodism should become more integrated into the established church, and that its followers’ desire to separate themselves from the wider, non-Methodist community has weakened the social order in England.
The Life of John Wesley and Adam Bede
The Life of John Wesley was one of the books that George Eliot read while she was preparing Adam Bede, as part of her research into Methodism. Eliot drew on Southey’s descriptions of Methodists for the character of Dinah Birch, and copied into her notebook a footnote quoting a letter that one of Wesley’s female disciples had written to him. Eliot also copied out a scene in which John and Charles Wesley pray with condemned criminals (pp. 130–31); in Adam Bede Dinah prays with Hetty Sorrel in prison as she awaits her hanging. Other parts of The Life of John Wesley make their way into Adam Bede, such as the Methodist belief in the importance of plain and cheap dress (pp. 546–48) and the advantages of preaching in the fields as well as in church (p. 291).
- 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.