Jack’s Naughty Bits: George Eliot, Adam Bede

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Jack's Naughty Bits

Both Greek mythology and the Christian Bible make one thing clear: there are times when you shouldn’t look back. Orpheus went to retrieve his beloved Eurydice in Hell and lost her when he turned around; Lot’s wife was allowed to flee Sodom but was turned to a pillar of salt when she gazed back to watch the city’s destruction. Most of us have had life experiences that have taught us the same lesson: Don’t light up “just one more” Chesterfield, don’t have martinis with your ex, don’t go to your tenth-year reunion, don’t try to remake your kids in your image and don’t ever get a face-lift. The past is the past, and you’re better off leaving it behind.


Yes, it’s a lesson we all know, but we tend only to learn it the hard way (that’s probably why my New Year’s resolutions have been the same for the last eleven years). In the fabulous excerpt below from George Eliot’s Adam Bede, we see man at his most invertebrate. Squire Arthur Donnithorne had resolved to stop leading on the impressionable farm girl Hetty. They had been at a dinner, he found himself flirting with her, immediately regretted it and realized he had to nip things in the bud. But can Donnithorne stick to his guns? Can he resist the tear-dewed cheeks of the ravishing rube? Take a wild guess . . .

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From Adam Bede by George Eliot

She would have wanted to put on her hat earlier than usual; only she had told Captain Donnithorne that she usually set out about eight o’clock and if he should go to the Grove again expecting to see her and she should be gone! Would he come? Her little butterfly soul fluttered incessantly between memory and dubious expectation. At last the minute hand of the old-fashioned brazen-faced time-piece was on the last quarter to eight, and there was every reason for its being time to get ready for departure. Even Mrs. Pomfret’s preoccupied mind did not prevent her from noticing what looked like a new flush of beauty in the little thing as she tied on her hat before the looking-glass . . .


How relieved she was when she had got safely under the oaks and among the fern of the Chase! Even then she was as ready to be startled as the deer that leaped away at her approach. She thought nothing of the evening light that lay gently in the grassy alleys between the fern, and made the beauty of their living green more visible than it had been in the overpowering flood of noon; she thought of nothing that was present. She only saw something that was possible: Mr. Arthur Donnithorne coming to meet her again along the Fir-tree Grove. That was the foreground of Hetty’s picture; behind it lay a bright hazy something — days that were not to be as the other days of her life had been. It was as if she had been wooed by a river-god, who might any time take her to his wondrous halls below a watery heaven. There was no knowing what would come since this strange entrancing delight had come. If a chest full of lace and satin and jewels had been sent her from some unknown source, how could she but have thought that her whole lot was going to change, and that tomorrow some still more bewildering joy would befall her? Hetty had never read a novel: if she had ever seen one, I think the words would have been too hard for her: how then could she find a shape for her expectations? They were as formless as the sweet languid colors of the garden at the Chase, which had floated past her as she walked by the gate.


She is at another gate now — that leading into Fir-tree Grove. She enters the wood, where it is already twilight, and at every step she takes the fear at her heart becomes colder. If he should not come! O how dreary it was — the thought of going out at the other end of the wood, into the unsheltered road, without having seen him. She reaches the first turning towards the Hermitage, walking slowly — he is not there. She hates the leveret that runs across the path: she hates everything that is not what she longs for. She walks on, happy whenever she is coming to a bend in the road, for perhaps he is behind it. No. She is beginning to cry: her heart has swelled so, the tears stand in her eyes; she gives one great sob, while the corners of her mouth quiver, and the tears roll down.


She doesn’t know that there is another turning to the Hermitage, that she is close against it, and that Arthur Donnithorne is only a few yards from her, full of one thought, and a thought of which she only is the object. He is going to see Hetty again — that is the longing which has been growing through the last three hours to a feverish thirst. Not, of course, to speak in the caressing way into which he had unguardedly fallen before dinner, but to set things right with her by a kindness which would have the air of friendly civility, and prevent her from running away with wrong notions about their mutual relation.


If Hetty had known he was there, she would not have cried; and it would have been better; for then Arthur would perhaps have behaved as wisely as he had intended. As it was, she started when he appeared at the end of the side-alley, and looked up at him with two great-drops rolling down her cheeks. What else could he do but speak to her in a soft, soothing tone, as if she were a bright-eyed spaniel with a thorn in her foot?


“Has something frightened you, Hetty? Have you seen anything in the wood? Don’t be frightened — I’ll take care of you now.”


Hetty was blushing so, she didn’t know whether she was happy or miserable. To be crying again — what did gentlemen think of girls who cried in that way? She felt unable even to say ‘no,’ but could only look away from him, and wipe the tears from her cheek. Not before a great drop had fallen on her rose-colored strings: she knew that quite well.


“Come, be cheerful again. Smile at me, and tell me what’s the matter. Come, tell me.”


Hetty turned her head towards him, whispered, “I thought you wouldn’t come,” and slowly got courage to lift her eyes to him. That look was too much: he must have had eyes of Egyptian granite not to look too lovingly in return.


“You little frightened bird! Little tearful rose! Silly pet! You won’t cry again, now I’m with you, will you?”


Ah, he doesn’t know in the least what he is saying. This is not what he meant to say. His arm is stealing round the waist again, it is tightening its clasp; he is bending his face nearer and nearer to the round cheek, his lips are meeting those pouting child-lips, and for a long moment time has vanished. He may be a shepherd in Arcadia for aught he knows, he may be the first youth kissing the first maiden, he may be Eros himself, sipping the lips of Psyche — it is all one.