Adam Bede by George Eliot

Form and Criticism in Adam Bede

Eliot vs. James: Form and Criticism in George Eliot's Adam Bede

Her plots have always been artificial—clumsily artificial—the conduct of her story slow, and her style diffuse. Her conclusions have been signally weak, as the reader will admit who recalls Hetty's reprieve in
Adam Bede.

--Henry James, 1886

Henry James's wrote extensive criticism of George Eliot's novels. The criticism vacillated between high praise to scathing damnation. If we use Eliot's Adam Bede as an embracing text of Eliot's developing form, we can dissect the tenets of James's criticism as it pertains to Eliot's entire canon as either fair or unfair. As James suggests, the title of Adam Bede implies that Adam was the hero; however, close reading suggests otherwise. We will examine who, if any of the characters, are the real heroes of the novel, construct James's criticism of Eliot's beginnings and endings as long-winded and purposeless and examine whether this was a problem endemic in Eliot's work or a tactic developed by her form, and explore why Eliot's plot of Adam Bede was meandering and the characters little developed. The purpose is to develop the conclusion whether Eliot reached her goals as outlined in Book II, Chapter 17 'In Which the Story Pauses a Little Bit' of developing her form that tried "to give a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind." (174)

To begin any discussion on Eliot criticism, we must first explore her definition of form. In the opening paragraph of Book II, a reader admonishes Eliot:

"This rector of Broxton is little better than a pagan! How much more edifying it would have been if you had made him give Author some truly spiritual advice! You might have put into his mouth the most beautiful things—quite as good as reading a sermon." (174)

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