Unlike the first five books, where events follow closely on each other (covering less than a year in time), there is a gap of more than eighteen months between book five and the last book of Adam Bede. Adam has changed. His sorrow has left him more sympathetic — a quality he was lacking in before. Dinah had been staying with her aunt and uncle Poyser, but has now decided to return to her former home. She claims she is leaving because it is needful for her soul that she get away from all the ease and luxury she enjoys with the Poysers. From her behaviour, however, I suspect it had more to do with getting away from Adam with whom she is obviously in love, but who as obviously does not think of her in that way. Thankfully, Adam’s mother clues him in and, no sooner does Adam discover that Dinah is in love with him, than he discovers that he is in love with her. He asks her to marry him and, after making him wait a bit, she accepts. Mrs. Poyser “who always declined, if possible, to be taken by surprise” (ch. 52), insists that she already knew Adam was fond of Dinah. Towards the end of November (just over two years after Adam engaged himself to Hetty), Adam and Dinah are married.
There is a bit more about Seth in this book. His mother has refused to have any woman-helper in the house, despite her rheumatism, so he has learned to make himself very handy with the housework to “save his mother from too great weariness” (ch. 50). The author hopes that on these grounds we won’t think him unmanly for doing housework. In wishing to marry Dinah, Adam worries that he will hurt Seth (who was also in love with her). But then he considers, “there was no selfish jealousy in [Seth]; he had never been jealous of his mother’s fondness for Adam” (ch. 51). When he broaches the subject with his brother, Seth reassures him, “Nay, … how canst think it? Have I felt thy trouble so little that I shouldna feel thy joy?”
Seth isn’t the only one doing housework for his mother. Before she leaves the Poysers, Dinah stays a short time with Lisbeth and does some cleaning for her. Apparently she is a very thorough duster, getting into “every small corner, and on every ledge in and out of sight” (ch. 50) — until she gets to Adam’s table, that is. It is covered with papers and rulers and she isn’t sure whether it would bother Adam to have these disturbed. “Dinah dusted up to the very edge of these and then hesitated, looking at them with a longing but timid eye. It was painful to see how much dust there was among them.” I sympathize with her — I know the feeling.
Though everyone seems to be happy now (even Arthur will be cheered by news of the wedding), it is pointed out that sorrow leaves an indelible mark on them. But this is shown to be a good thing:
It would be a poor result of all our anguish and our wrestling if we won nothing but our old selves at the end of it — if we could return to the same blind loves, the same self-confident blame, the same light thoughts of human suffering, the same frivolous gossip over blighted human lives, the same feeble sense of that Unknown towards which we have sent forth irrepressible cries in our loneliness. Let us rather be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing its form, as forces do, and passing from pain into sympathy …. (Ch. 50)
One evidence of this change, is shown in Adam’s love for Dinah. “I’ve always been thinking I knew better than them as belonged to me,” he considers, “and that’s a poor sort o’ life, when you can’t look to them nearest to you t’ help you with a bit better thought than what you’ve got inside you a’ready” (ch. 54). He respects Dinah. After the way she helped Hetty, he knows that in some ways, Dinah can provide him with “a bit better thought” than his own.
The story closes with an epilogue, which takes us forward another five and a half years or so, to near the end of June 1807. Hetty’s sentence ended sometime before this, but she must have died on the way home, for Dinah says, “the death of the poor wanderer, when she was coming back to us, has been sorrow upon sorrow.” Adam and Dinah now have a four year old girl named Lisbeth (after Adam’s mother who is now deceased) and a two year old boy, Adam. They live together with “Uncle Seth” who finds joy in being tyrannized over by these children. Adam has gone to visit Arthur, who has returned to his home to recuperate from a serious illness. When Adam returns home, he speaks of how changed Arthur is from his illness. Hetty’s death must have been recent, for Arthur had only just found out, as his letters missed him on his journey. Hetty’s death has affected him deeply, for he was never able to do anything for her. He tells Adam, “she lived long enough for all the suffering”. It seems as though Arthur may be able to stay home, as Adam and the Poysers have reconciled with him.
In the discussion between Adam, Dinah, and Seth, it is revealed that Dinah’s preaching has come to an end. The Methodists have forbidden women from preaching, so Dinah no longer spends her Sundays doing so. Seth’s a bit sore about it, but Adam thinks that few of the women-preachers had Dinah’s gift and that they did more harm than good. He thinks Dinah right for setting the example of submitting, “for she’s not held from other sorts o’ teaching.”
In Adam Bede, George Eliot presents an array of well-rounded, natural characters who face everyday temptations. None seem like caricatures, and their reactions to the difficulties of their lives is consistent with their personalities. Like real people, their characters are not written in stone, but they are molded by the choices they make. There were a few things I wondered about: Why did Bartle Massey hate women? How did Hetty manage to conceal her pregnancy from everyone? How was Arthur able to obtain a pardon for Hetty when no one else could? Also, it would have been interesting to know whether Hetty was lastingly changed by Dinah’s influence. But I suppose finishing her story was beyond the scope of Adam Bede.
Illustration by Percy Tarrant: “Adam,” she cried, “it is the Divine Will”.