Comparing George Eliot’s Adam Bede and Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market
George Eliot’s Adam Bede offers a realistic and highly detailed look into the everyday life of ordinary people in rural Treddleston. Although the characters are fictional, several of them are based upon people Eliot knew or knew of, which adds to the realism. As she delightedly observes and describes the intricacies of the natural, ordinary world, Eliot pays attention to human nature, applying keen psychological insight to characters’ thoughts, choices, and actions. Eliot seems to understand that certain people are a certain way, and she encourages her reader to gently evaluate, rather than hastily judge, both her characters and people in general. Within the novel, Hetty’s infatuation with Arthur, and the personal shame, social ostracism, and legal punishment she experiences as a result, require an extra dose of empathy and understanding. Eliot demonstrates the characteristics that render Hetty liable to a fall and shows, using Dinah as a contrasting example, how the stereotypical perception of the “fallen woman” needs to be adjusted in order to allow for human weaknesses and mistakes.
Christina Rossetti also provides an insightful look into the problem of the “fallen woman,” and of the perception of this kind of woman, in Goblin Market. Unlike Eliot, who uses realistic characterization and carefully detailed prose, Rossetti relates her views through fantastical characters and highly energized poetry. Although they work within different genres, however, Eliot and Rossetti both challenge the stereotypical understanding of what it means for a woman to be “innocent” or “experienced.” Through the contrasting natures of sisters Laura and Lizzie, Rossetti, like Eliot, suggests that some individuals are prone to succumb to temptation. Both authors encourage compassion rather than judgement as they complicate traditional notions of innocence and experience.
Eliot describes the problem with physical attractiveness, the kind that renders Hetty susceptible to vanity, self-centredness, and ultimately, poor choices. Beautiful, kitten-like Hetty is so caught up in her appearance and in the way she is certain others perceive her that she is barely affected by the serious and often grave situations others are experiencing. In fact, after discovering that Adam’s father had died, “Hetty was thinking a great deal more of the looks Captain Donnithorne had cast at her than of Adam and his troubles” (Eliot 96). It is not that Hetty is deliberately cruel or uncaring, but “admiring glances from a handsome young gentleman, with white hands…and wealth and grandeur immeasurable…set poor Hetty’s heart vibrating, and playing its little foolish tunes over and over again” (Eliot 96). Eliot, though clearly disapproving of Hetty’s “foolish” vanity, nonetheless encourages her reader to be understanding of the young girl. She directly addresses the reader as she accounts for...