1. Which social changes and movements may be reflected in George Eliot's choice of the themes and characters for her first novel? How do the novel's representations reflect or mute aspects of the worker's movement of the time? (celebration of the male worker, workers' education movement, desire for a "fair wage")
2. What are some of the characteristics of George Eliot’s narrator? How does he/she differ from narrators of Bronte or other Victorian novelists you have read?
What do you make of the fact that s/he enters the novel at some point, and what purpose is served by this intervention?
3. Is it important that the narrator is male? What values does he espouse, and what seems to be his relation to the characters and audience?
(narrator makes general statements on women, 38 “women that love us”--cmp. George Eliot’s reception as a clergyman, 93; both condescends to and defends rural simplicity and evangelical religion; use of general “we”)
What assumptions does the narrator seem to make about love and attraction?
4. What are some ways in which Eliot’s style differs from that of Bronte? How are her opening scenes different?
--leisurely descriptions of a series of places and people
--landscapes more placid
--time more distant; we’re reminded of this distance
--scene given from traveller’s viewpoint
--author’s narrator doesn’t directly identify with protagonist but contemplates him (not of same sex)
--narrator directly intervenes, moralizes, tells us how to evaluate (e. g. defends Methodists but without direct identification; defends Irvine against sectarian enthusiasts;
5. Are there shifts in narrative manner? (seems to shift--half accepts point of view of character, 106, 116; deceitful narrator feigns sympathy 114, *130; use of sarcasm, esp. with Arthur)
6. From what levels of society are Eliot’s characters? How unusual would this have been? What features of the lives of her characters does she emphasize? (More concerned with economic and pragmatic details--artisans and prosperous farmers treated seriously; local rustics presented with condescending affection, e. g. Bess, tavern keeper)
7. How unusual is her choice to represent the details of rural life?
8. How is Eliot’s portrayal different from Charlotte Bronte’s presentation of the middle class, the poor, and servants?
9. What do we learn from the opening scene of the respective characters of Adam and Seth? What virtues does each seem to represent?
10. In the opening chapters, what features of Adam’s character are emphasized?
11. What features of Dinah’s religion are emphasized? Which aspects of Methodism are presented with sympathy?
12. From her judgements on Dinah’s religion and that of Mr. Irvine, can you make any statements about Eliot’s religious priorities or beliefs? What does the narrator seem to feel about religious "reformers"?
(likes Dinah’s religion for its compassion, mission to the poor, natural and rhetorically unself-conscious style; emphasizes loving emotions; present Mr. Irvine as a good family man; distrust of reformers)
13. How are issues of dialect and regional speech dealt with? Under what circumstances are the characters presented as using regional or non-standard speech? What class differences are expressed in language?
14. From the opening six chapters, what hints seem given of the book’s future course?
--Adam stands up a bit more to his social superiors than is conventional
--local citizens are very sanguine in their expectations of the young squire
--Adam attracted to a woman of whom the others disapprove
--both Arthur and Adam are attracted to the same woman
--Dinah warns Hetty; Hetty tries on Dinah’s clothing
--Adam’s companionship with Bartle Masey
--Dinah’s allusion to Christ’s forgiveness of the fallen woman
15. How are the characters of Hetty and Dinah contrasted? How does the narrator seek to determine our opinion of Hetty? Is it important that Dinah likes to care for children?
(87, little silly imagination; 115, 117)
16. What importance is given to physical descriptions of characters throughout the novel? Does appearance reflect personal traits, that is, is Eliot given to physiognomical readings? In this does she resemble other novelists of the period such as Dickens, Gaskell or Bronte?
17. How well do mothers seem portrayed in the novel? Do you see any patterns? (Mrs. Bede; Mrs. Irvine, judges on externals, 56; Mrs. Poyser, parasitic and domineering) How are fathers presented?
18. What are some features of the novel's portrayals of women? Of male responses to women?
19. In what context does sexual love seem presented in the novel? The desire for marriage? Are there any marriages based on romantic attraction in the novel? How is Arthur’s response to Hetty presented?
(sexual feeling seems a trivial infatuation; marriage associated with a more rational love)
20. How does the narrator present Adam’s response to Hetty? Does his attachment seem entirely based on physical attraction?(defends him 131, special pleading, 297-98) Is this defense adequate and his passion believable?
21. What seems to be Eliot’s principle of laying out chapters? (a character for each chapter) How would you describe the pace of the novel, and what is its effect?
22. How are the characters of Mr. Irwine and Arthur developed? What is significant in their relationship? (Arthur presented as a weak and inconsistent man)
23. How is Mr. Poyser presented?
24. Are the character and motives of Arthur well presented?
25. Does Eliot emphasize her characters’ handsomeness or ugliness? Are her values in this regard those of Charlotte Bronte?
--Adam large and handsome; Dinah beautiful in a delicate way
--Hetty lushly beautiful; Seth mildly handsome
(Eliot has a less clear animus against attractive women than does Bronte, but the darkly pretty and sensuous woman is not liked)
26. What are some ways in which this novel is structured?
(slow introduction; series of simple contrasts--Hetty/Dinah, Adam/Arthur; symbology of names; careful foreshadowing, e. g. of fallen woman motif, Lizbeth thinks of Dinah as ideal daughter-in-law, 97; use of symbolic names, such as Adam Bede)
27. What are some instances of scenes with a representative or symbolic function? (e. g. the speeches at Arthur's birthday feast)
28. How are our responses to the novel shaped by foreshadowing? Based on the opening scenes, what outcomes does the reader expect?
Books III, IV and V
29. What do we learn about the dating of this novel? Which features of the plot and portrayals seem to reflect an earlier time? (horror of transportation to Australia, deference shown to squire)
30. What are some ways in which the novel frames themes of nature and artifice? Is it important that Adam has been chosen to tend a grove of trees and that he is seeking to evaluate a Beech tree when he encounters Arthur and Hetty kissing?
31. What are some of the dramatic and narrative functions of book III? What are some symbolic major scenes which organize the novel's second half? ("The Games," "The Dance," "A Crisis"--in wich Adam fights with Arthur--and the trial and confession)
32. What symbolism/important themes are unleased in the conflict between Arthur and Adam? Is Adam entirely concerned for Hetty in his anger?
33. Is attacking Arthur physically the best way Adam can aid Hetty? Himself? Is it important that he wins the fight against the more privileged man?
34. Does the narrator shape his/her account to affect our value judgements of Adam as a suitor? (special defense of his love of beauty, 297-98, yet Hetty’s response to Arthur as beautiful is seen as trivial)
35. What effect does it have on readers that they know more than Adam does about Arthur and Hetty’s relationship? What effect does this near-omniscient point of view have on our response to Books III and IV, in which Adam fights Arthur and courts Hetty?
(as his outward fortunes rise, we know he is headed for even greater disappointment)
36. What are some major shifts in the focus of narration in the second half of the book? Does the narrator alter in tone and mode of approach/intrusions?
37. What are some of the points the author emphasizes in presenting the courtship and flight? What effect do these books have on our view of Adam and Hetty’s character?
--increasing importance of Poysers
--Hetty seen as luxurious and vain, 282
--feels shame, 283
--described as having little trivial soul, 286
--Hetty never able to see beyond herself or feel love for Adam
--contrast in Adam’s and Hetty’s responses, 300
--Hetty desires what others consider a worse fate
As a result of her plight, are readers expected to feel more for Hetty?
38. How is the narrative focus shifted in the account of Hetty’s flight? Are there advantages to withholding certain crucial facts from the reader? (real shock at news--we feel what characters feel) Do we feel more or less for her because we see her from the outside?
39. How is the presentation of Arthur altered?
40. Do the characters of the principal characters develop in the second half of the book? Adam? Dinah? Seth? Hetty? Arthur? Lisbeth? Masey? Are only Adam and Arthur permitted real development? (Dinah never shown in active scene of life; her holiness is marred by eccentricities or personal preferences, the struggles of her inner life are obscured, she suffers no real personal loss; other characters static)
41. How unusual do you think the plot of an aristocrat’s seduction of a servant girl would have been for a Victorian novel? What are some differentiating features of Eliot’s representation of this theme? (cmp. Scott's Heart of Midlothian)
42. What do you think of the psychological and narrative consistency of Hetty’s reprieve? have there been mitigating circumstances in her case? Does she ever repent the evil of her deed?
(her simple psychology, 381, 382; yet doesn’t repent what she has done)
43. How does the narrator portray Hetty’s plight? Are we gradually drawn in by the horror and pathos of her condition? Her aimless wandering and later return to the scene of her child's death? (305, lost lamb in foreign region, 306, stunned and grieving, 307, cannot believe in the evil of her fate; yet the ultimate sympathy of internal presentation is withheld)
44. Is the story of Hetty presented melodramatically? (387) Why do you think Eliot chose this approach? (cmp. Wordsworth’s “The Thorn”) Is the narration intended to evoke sympathy or judgement--or both? (313, careful poise between these two)
45. Do you see parallels between the representation of Hetty's mental state and that of the runaway slave in "The Runaway Slave in Pilgrim's Point"?
46. What are some elements of her trial and sentence? Whose responses to the news are first emphasized? (those of Adam and the Poysers) How does this affect our view of her actions and fate?
47. What do you make of the fact that we learn for the first time that her full name is Hester?
48. Can you see parallels between the trial scene as Eliot presents it and that of Gaskell's "Lois the Witch"? (e. g., a sympathetic male observer is unable to help the accused; victim shrieks after her sentence is announced)
49. Are the lawyers, judges, and criminal law system in general portrayed favorably? What produces a mitigation in sentence?
50. Why do you think Eliot doesn't have Adam visit Hetty until just before her presumed execution? What reason is given for his delay in visiting her? Is this letting him off a bit?
51. Who serves as Adam's chief friend in this dark time? What is the effect of choosing a virulent misogynist for this role?
52. How is the relationship of Dinah and Hetty portrayed in the prison scene? What does each seek? (Dinah wants someone to depend on her and value her empathy)
53. What do we learn from Hetty's confession to Dinah? (She hadn't directly killed her child.)
54. What do you think of the novel’s portrayal of pregnancy? Would it have been considered blunt for its time?
55. How are animals portrayed in the book, especially dogs? (313, kindness shown in treatment of dogs)
56. What are some of the functions of minor characters?Are they convincingly portrayed? (Poysers, Seth, Lisbeth, Bartle Masey)
57. Do you find the marriage of Dinah and Adam properly prepared for? Is his change in the object of his love sufficiently elaborated?
(she is beloved by that portion of his consciousness which has expanded through suffering, seeks a partner of his trials; church scene lacks references to hopefulness)
58. What happens to Dinah’s former vocation?
(she gives up all those features of character which had made her distinctive--Adam, not she, makes the final statement about her desire to repudiate her former role! she now serves him, ceases serving others)
59. What is the nature of the goodness Dinah is supposed to represent and which provides much of the novel’s thematic significance?
(361, ideal human love; 375, good for hard times--so why doesn’t she marry a Methodist "cripple"--in Mrs. Poyser's words?)
60. On what grounds does Dinah prefer Adam to Seth? Does this seem quite fair, given the values ascribed to her? Does it seem realistic that Seth should feel no resentment at the preference given his brother?
61. What is the purpose of the final farm-gathering scene? The last encounter of Arthur and Adam? What is gained by the reapprochement and reconciliation between the two former friends?
62. Why do you think the narrative fails to portray the parting between Arthur and Hetty? Does this divert attention from the romance between gentleman and servant?
63. How does the conclusion resolve Seth’s future? Is this a satisfactory ending?
64. What are some aspects of the novel’s final moral? Do you think it is successful in demonstrating its theme of the development of good from evil?
(no amends for evil, 384, 355, evil a disease which affects others, 442, wider sympathy through sorrow)
65. Do you think it conveys its message that some wrongs are irreparable successfully? Is Eliot a bit harsh on Hetty and Arthur, and if so, does this serve the novel's final ends?
66. How do the novel’s moral or didactic purposes differ from those of other Victorian novelists, such as Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens? (Eliot concerned with the existence of the insignificant, 58, and with finding an ideal purpose to life) How would you contrast Eliot’s presentation of good and evil women in Hetty and Dinah with, say, Lucy and Ginevra in Villette?
67. Can you contrast Eliot’s methods of presenting and describing character with those of Charlotte Bronte (both present appearances, but different aspects)
68. Why do you think the Victorians would have favored this novel over Villette?
69. Are some aspects of the narration overly idealized? (i. e., the love between the brothers)
70. Why are the incidents in which Mrs. Poyser berates the squire and Adam attacks the unwilling Arthur included? Do you think it is realistic that these should go unpunished? What changes in the relations between social classes during this period seem reflected in the plot?
71. Is this a proto-feminist novel? An anti-feminist novel? Which elements of the portrayal of a seduced and abandoned servant girl would seem convention, and which reformist?
72. Similarly, to what extent does Eliot portray working-people's efforts at self-improvement sympathetically? Which working-class initiatives do you think she would have favored?