Adam Bede: Chapter 26

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Summary of Chapter 26: The Dance

 

The dance for the tenants is held in the entry hall of the house, with paper lanterns hung on green boughs. Lisbeth is jealous that Adam is staying for the dancing, whining that she is losing him, but he says it would be rude for him to leave. Hetty says she will leave the fourth dance for Adam.

 

For the first dance, Arthur leads with Mrs. Poyser, and Miss Lydia leads with Mr. Poyser. Adam dances with Mary Burge, and Hetty dances with Luke Britton. The squire, Miss Anne, and Mrs. Irwine watch the dance from a raised dais. Mr. Irwine goes to preside at the dance for the cottagers in the abbey gallery.

 

When Hetty dances with Arthur she has a pale look that frightens Arthur, for he thinks it means she really loves him and will be hurt when he tells her they must part. Adam waits for his turn with Hetty. Hetty is obliged to hold Totty for a moment, and when Adam tries to take Totty to relieve her, Totty grabs Hetty’s necklace and breaks it. The beads and hidden locket fall to the ground. Adam bends down to get the locket and sees the strands of hair in it. Suddenly, he realizes that Hetty may have another lover. She puts the locket in her pocket, and they have an awkward dance together. Disillusioned, Adam leaves the dance. Walking home through the woods, he begins to make excuses for Hetty. Perhaps she bought the locket herself. Meanwhile, back at the dance, Hetty dances with Arthur again, and he whispers to her where and when they should meet in the wood. He is thinking to himself it will be the last time.

 

Commentary on Chapter 26

 

Adam finally gets the hint that he doesn’t know everything about Hetty. He is shocked and leaves, but unwilling to think the worst, he hopes that she was embarrassed about having bought finery for herself since she knows he doesn’t approve. He gives her the benefit of the doubt. The tension is running higher for the three in this triangle—Arthur, Hetty, and Adam. It is obvious Hetty and Arthur cannot keep their secret much longer, but Arthur also fears that it might get complicated parting from Hetty. For one thing, if she is attached to him and is badly hurt, it could get messy. But for another thing, he really wants her, and he thinks to himself that he would give three years of his life if he could enjoy his passion with her.

 

Book 3 advances the fact that Arthur’s flirtation with Hetty has become a more serious affair. He has not done anything to back away, but on the contrary, he is giving her expensive presents. How far the affair has gone we can only guess. The locket with the mingled strands of hair was generally a love token, symbolizing intimacy. Later it will become clear that this has been a time of physical intimacy between the lovers.  The entanglement is deep enough, as Arthur recognizes, to cause him trouble whatever he does, whether he continues or breaks it off. The irony is that at the moment of Arthur’s greatest honor at his coming of age party, he is clearly acting dishonorably, leading Hetty on, though she is helping him. Adam avoids knowing more because he cannot think Hetty would have a secret lover, yet he is putting his head in the sand. Hetty acts embarrassed and fearful of discovery, a dead give-away. Adam cannot bear that his moment of advancement on this happy occasion is coupled with such a betrayal, so he forgets about the incident.

 

The birthday party serves to demonstrate the unity of this small and tight-knit community on one level, and the rising and secret tension ready to break it apart, on another. The very man who is supposed to lead them all forward to a better life has already sabotaged that promise. Book 3 concludes on this suspenseful note. 

 

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