George Eliot’s Adam Bede utilizes the metaphors of obstetric invasion and dismemberment to negotiate the author’s enduring dilemma: how to assume a masculine voice and retain a feminine sympathetic insight. Eliot set the novel at a historical moment that saw a crucial shift in medical discourse, the usurpation of (female) midwifery by invasive (male) obstetric medicine; this rhetoric informs the birth and murder of Hetty Sorrel’s infant. Hetty stands in for the author in her obsession with concealment, and also remains a strangely androgynous figure. She embodies Eliot’s nightmare possibility of female authorship: the “hidden dread” of a secret birth becomes a botched and bifurcated text, a baby whose dead body has perhaps even been dismembered by its mother. Through the figure of Hetty Eliot is able to rehearse and resolve, through her character’s banishment and death, the tensions inherent in her androgynous incognito and narratorial style.


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pp. 541-574
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