Study Guide

Lisbeth Bede in Adam Bede

By George Eliot

Lisbeth Bede

Respect Your Elders

Oh, Lisbeth. She annoys Adam. She cries too much. She believes that you can solve plenty of problems with little more than a good warm meal. Quaint, sentimental, not particularly useful—that's Lisbeth. And yet, Eliot can find plenty of fine, respectful things to say about her.

Lisbeth is a Bede after all, through and through:

She is an anxious, spare, yet vigorous old woman, as clean as a snowdrop. (4.2)

She doesn't have Adam's smarts, but he sure has her sense of responsibility and hard work. And her tallness genes.

Why, though, is Adam Bede paying such close attention to a weepy, uneducated old woman? What's this big, sophisticated novel have to do with her, tallness genes or not? Plenty. Eliot's narrator doesn't have any use for

[…] aesthetic rules which shall banish from the region of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands. (17.8)

Instead of dividing up the world—this is art, that ain't—Adam Bede tries to lift an entire corner of rural England to the level of art. Virtuous young men and weepy old women, carrot-scrapers and non-carrot-scrapers: Eliot gives them all the time of day. And Lisbeth's major role in the novel shows that Eliot is as good as her word. The old girl's probably scraped a mountain of carrots in her time.

Home is Where the Bedes Are

As much as we'd love to see Lisbeth on a Singles Over Sixty cruise, we can't help admire her homebody credentials. Lisbeth has strong local roots, and she's raised two homebody sons—and homebodies in the best sense. As she tells Adam:

"Donna thee talk o' goin' south'ard or north'ard, an leavin' thy feyther and mother i' the churchyard." (11.31)

She doesn't even want Adam away when she's dead. That's right, when she's dead. Which means 1) that she has pride in Hayslope and wants a strong community to survive her or 2) that she'll turn into a zombie and hunt Adam down.

And you know what? Adam doesn't leave. Chapters later he's still in Hayslope, happily married to Dinah. Lisbeth gets props for this one, too. She was the one who counseled Adam against that do-nothing Hetty; she was the one who told Adam that Dinah is "just cut out for thee" (15.43). Sometimes, mother really does know best—even when mother is totally illiterate.

There's one last reward for Lisbeth's promotion of Hayslope family values. Once Adam and Dinah do marry, they have a little girl "with pale auburn hair and gray eyes" (Epilogue.5). They name her after one of the heroes of the Zombie Apocalypse—ahem—after her grandmother, Lisbeth Bede. The older Lisbeth tried to leave a very Hayslope family behind her. And she certainly succeeded.