English, Department of



David Ball

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 29 (1998) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (29)


My modest purpose in this essay is to develop the interesting suggestion of Ellen Moers in Literary Women that George Eliot's inspiration to write Adam Bede may well have lain in her attentive reading of Emma: that Adam Bede himself is the heroic and detailed portrait of Robert Martin that Emma has no place for. George Eliot's father, Robert Evans, was a mari similar to Robert Martin and Adam Bede, in both status and ability, and the creation of Adam is Eliot's first fictional tribute to him. Ellen Moers also briefly compares Harriet Smith and Hetty Sorrel as sharing 'the same delectable rosiness' {Moers, 1978, p.51). But she does not mention Arthur Donnithome. Her purpose is to illustrate the supportive relationships of women writers across time, whereas my own will be rather to explore social and political attitudes, by comparing the two characters who are socially central to their village worlds, Mr. Knightley and Arthur Donnithome.

We encounter Mr. Knightley throughout Highbury, visible and convivial - his social presence confirms his moral openness, his opposition to whatever is calculating, secret and manipulative. But it is on the ownership of Donwell Abbey, an estate to which most of Highbury belongs, that his moral authority is based and centred, and for Emma the flattering recognition of his estate precedes her humbler acceptance of his judgement. On the occasion of the strawberry- picking at the Abbey, we view the house and grounds through her eyes and feelings.

What she sees and approves is an ensemble of house, owner and family, and of her own relationship to them:

It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was - Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding. (Austen, 1966,353)

But the wider prospect which includes Robert Martin's Abbey-Mill Farm is presented directly by the narrator as 'a sweet view - sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive' (ibid., 355).