Even though George Eliot was not a practicing Christian as an adult, her experience growing up in a low church Anglican family, including her familiarity with scripture, had a significant impact on her writings.1 This facet of Eliot’s artistic vision is particularly evident in her first novel, Adam Bede. In this novel, Eliot draws extensively upon the theological motifs of Genesis, so as to explore questions surrounding the Fall of humanity and whether humans have any reason to hope for redemption. As the plot of Adam Bede progresses, Eliot develops two narrative trajectories. The first of these (Dinah Morris’s love story with Adam) follows the basic contours of a Victorian romance, and basically reaffirms the patriarchal and hierarchical order of the postlapsarian, or fallen, world. The second trajectory (Dinah’s mediation of divine love to the tragic figure of Hetty Sorrel), though, involves a kind of apocalyptic irruption, which in subtle ways subverts the neat and tidy character of the novel’s conclusion.
Before getting to an analysis of how these two levels of the novel relate to each other, it will first prove helpful to lay some initial groundwork. The first section of the paper, therefore, will look briefly [End Page 80] at the novel’s use of typology, specifically in its appropriation and development of certain biblical ideas. After this piece is in place, the subsequent section will examine the significance of the names given to some of the main characters in Adam Bede, so as to specify how the scriptural background to these names illumines the characters’ roles in the novel. The third section of the article will consider how the work employs the resources mentioned above (i.e., typology and biblical motifs) to offer a unique interpretation of the Fall and its consequences. Finally, the conclusion will demonstrate how Dinah Morris’s role in the novel as a Second Eve operates as an apocalyptic in-breaking amidst the suffering of Hayslope’s citizens, and as such signals reason for hope in a generally bleak world.
First Adam, Second Eve: Eliot’s Typological Imagination
To understand the significance of the biblical material in Adam Bede one must first have a firm grasp on how Eliot employs typology as a literary technique. In an important study on this topic, Jo Ellen Parker argues that Eliot cultivated a typological imagination, in large part, through her encounter with Evangelical religion.2 As she builds her case for the centrality of typology in Eliot’s early novels, Parker offers a helpful explanation of typological interpretation. In her words, “Typological interpretation subverts the common-sense perception of the linear nature of time, for it perceives two or more widely separate historical moments as bound into one timeless instant of prophecy and fulfillment in the mind of God. . . . It perceives all things as existing simultaneously in two realms, the material and the spiritual.”3 Throughout Christian history this mode of interpretation has held a prominent position, but especially so during the Patristic era.4 Within the tradition of Christian exegesis of scripture, biblical interpreters utilized typology as a way of demonstrating the correspondence between the Old and New Covenants, and also to establish deeper levels of meaning in the events of salvation history. Some of the most famous instances of this method of [End Page 81] interpretation can be found in the Pauline corpus—as for instance, when Paul describes Christ as a Second Adam (1 Cor 15:20–22) or when he compares the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea to Christian baptism (1 Cor 10:1–5).5
Although typological exegesis flagged somewhat during the Middle Ages, it returned to prominence during the post-Reformation era, “as exegesis of the Old Testament [became for Protestants] an issue necessary to daily reading of Scripture.”6 By Eliot’s time, typological exegesis was one of the foremost interpretive modes utilized by English Protestants, both low and high church, as the research of George Landow has effectively demonstrated.7 While the fascination with typology was not limited to any one segment of British Protestantism, it had...