The Hidden Shame: Telling Hetty Sorrel's Story


  • Jennifer Gribble


Adam Bede, despite its title, is centred on the story of Hetty Sorrel. And yet its essential action, Hetty's seduction and impregnation, and the birth and death of her child, remains untold, or is told only fragmentarily and belatedly in Hetty's 'confession' to Dinah. Brought to trial for infanticide, Hetty remains obdurately silent: 'very sullen... will scarcely make answer when she is spoken to.' Throughout the novel, she is 'never herself articulate and given remarkably little direct speech', Gillian Beer remarks. In what must be seen as deliberate contrast, her cousin Dinah, endowed with the gift of 'speaking directly from her own emotions' (p. 29) is that extraordinary phenomenon, a woman preacher. Their aunt, Mrs Poyser, notably 'Has Her Say Out' in chapter 32, and is much given to voicing it, too, along the way. Adam's mother Lisbeth Bede expresses in her querulous complainings a strong self-centred ego willing itself to be heard.