Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thinking Caps On!

On our coach journeyfrom Liverpool to London, the game of 'I Spy' having palled, my elderly friend Dr Isaacs propounded the following divertissement.
You are to imagine a staircase of an hundred steps. On the bottom step sits a pigeon; on the next, two pigeons; on the next, three, and so forth, all the way to the top, where sit an hundred pigeons.  How many pigeons are there in toto?
Well! I began by adding one, plus two, plus three &c, until my antique companion laughed me quite out of countenance and told me that there was a much easier way, supposedly discovered by the great mathematician Carl Gauss when but a boy (Though this may be a fable- see this link for someone who thinks so:
I had much to do with this problem, and required many hints, but at last I took a ribbon from my hair and wrote the numbers along it.  I then folded the ribbon in half so that the first number lay upon the last and what do you think? I had fifty pairs of numbers, of course, and each pair added to one hundred and one.  If you multiply one hundred and one by the number of pairs (fifty) you come to five thousand and fifty. I happened to remark to Dr Isaacs that this was all very well, but how can one know that this will always happen without adding the numbers all together in the way I first tried.  He was quite ecstatic and declared he liked my question better than my answer, for I demanded proof, and that is the first step to being a mathematician! For my proof, he simply showed me this picture, which is done for ten, not an hundred, but you can see the way of it readily enough.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Time for a Little Levity

One cannot always be down in the dumps with melancholia or the megrims, and even Hetty Sorrel can laugh at herself.  I urge you to watch this delightful summary of Adam Bede, and would only like to correct its authors on the following points:
1.  I was never married to Adam Bede- dreadful thought!- though I was engaged to him a short time.
2.  He was certainly not an 'old man', though certainly he was wise and solemn for his years.
3. I did not bear my child in the forest, though I left it there.
4. Arthur Donnithorne did not bring tidings of my pardon to my prison cell, but to the very gallows- though I am sure that the fault does not lie with the authors of this synopsis, for they were probably unable to show the galloping horse.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Now Wash Your Hands

The best way to treat invalids, I find, is to divert them from their own woes with a story of others worse off than themselves.  My attached friend and amanuensis Ruth Raven, now out of hospital and recovering from her second mastectomy, has begged to hear again the story of Dr Benjamin Isaacs and his misadventure in Tenerife.  Here it is; but first, a preface on the matter of medical handwashing.
 Let me lay down at the outset that Dr Isaacs, though possessed of towering intellect (especially as compared with your humble servant), was not ahead of his time.  As all the world knows, his profession did not even think of washing the hands before ministering to patients until the1840s, and its first exponents- Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1843 and Ignaz Semmelweis in 1847- were roundly laughed at for their pains.  For a history of the practice, and how it was justified by the researches of Pasteur and Lister, let me recommend you this link:
  Nay, Dr Isaacs' dispute with the ship's surgeon arose from the Jewish practice of washing the hands before eating bread, which the surgeon remarked upon with some insulting words, the upshot of which was, 'What, man, I wonder you can be so superstitious! Do you think you can bring back your Temple by playing the priest?'
  Nothing was more calculated to sting Dr Isaacs than this, for he regarded himself not as a religious man, but as one enlightened by the beams of science, and he replied with,
 'I wonder you can be so uncleanly, unless you prefer your bread flavoured with sauce of clyster and poultice.'
  Anyway, to our story.  As usual, you may read more of this in Hetty, or, To Hell with Adam Bede (Ruth Raven) available here:
The picture appears by courtesy of the Wellcome Trust's estimable library.


After berating me over the matter of the earrings, Dr Isaacs was the next of us to behave foolishly, and in a manner that almost cost him his life. Our last port of call before Liverpool was to be the Island of Tenerife, and our captain assembled everyone on deck and warned us that though we would be there for a good week- there being some repairs to make to the ship before we set forth- we should, if we were wise, remain on board as much as possible, because the local people were not fond of the English; however, he said, he could not bring himself to forbid us, for, he said, he had no doubt that some of the more learned (by which I was sure he meant Dr Isaacs) would wish to ‘take a look-see’ at the remarkable University, surely the wonder of the island.
  Well, on the very morning we were to visit this University, Dr Isaacs came to tell me, quite abruptly, that he purposed another journey, but one on which I could not accompany him, because, said he, no accident must befall me and my unborn child. I was a little angry at this, because it meant that I would have to sit reading or enamelling in my cabin all day, since we had agreed that I would not walk abroad without him.
He explained that he intended to hire a mule and travel more than twenty miles to the south, sleeping out overnight if need be, and all to see some ancient piles of stone that were called the Pyramids, in imitation of those in Egypt. He wanted to lay eyes on these, he said, before he died, and if I could spare him for one day he would be sure to lay on some entertaining diversion for me on the morrow. I retorted rather pettishly that I was not a child that required compensatory treats for every trifling annoyance, and that he might do as he pleased. I was sorry when he went away, for I thought he looked a little crestfallen and rather older than his usual appearance.
  I decided that I would show that I was not angry with him by making him a small keepsake of our voyage, so I took one of the watch covers with which Mr Fagin had provided me and enamelled it so that it exactly resembled a seashell I had found on the beach at Rio de Janeiro. I spent a long time over this task, and when I was finished my anger really had melted away.
  I did not expect Dr Isaacs back before nightfall, so it was with surprise that I saw him staggering up the gang plank around midday. I wondered if he was drunk, but such a condition was so far from his usual character that I dismissed the idea at once. My old friend was ill. I helped him to his cabin and made him lie down upon his bunk, while I plied him with cold, refreshing drinks and made shift to mop his head, which was sweating profusely. I could get no sense out of him, so ran post haste to find the ship’s surgeon. This man was of little help, for he would not even come and look at the poor Doctor: ‘This is a case of Physician, heal thyself’’, he laughed callously. I gathered that the two had recently had a professional falling out over the practice of hand washing, which Dr Isaacs advocated, and which the surgeon derided as a foolish superstitious ritual.
  I went away in tears, but one of the sailors, a little bandy-legged, cross-eyed man called Poole, came to me and offered to help, ‘For I think I know what this is’, says he. Indeed, he needed but one look at Dr Isaacs to form his opinion, as follows:
  ‘Do not be afeared, Madam, for all he has had a close shave. There are in the market place some terrible scoundrels who pretend friendliness towards Englishmen, whom they hate. They offer them to drink, perhaps some tea, or chocolate, or the like, while they discuss the price of some trinket they have for sale. Only, instead of selling him the trinket, they put some stupefying drug into his drink, and either drag off the wretched victim to a secret place and there make an end of him, or they hold him to ransom in their mountain lair. What has happened, in my opinion, is that the Doctor suspected foul play and discreetly made his way out of the villains’ clutches and so, with great difficulty, got back to his friends. He will be all right, Madam, so long as you keep him quiet and comfortable and keep giving him harmless drinks. I will run to the cook for some tonic water for him, and you may call upon me to do the poor gentleman any service you wish.’
I shed even more tears as I wrung his scrawny hand in gratitude, and for the first time in my life felt my heart bursting with pure affection for a man who had no physical charms to speak of. How many more tears I shed when I learned that, before leaving the ship, Dr Isaacs had charged Poole, at whatever cost, to look after me and, as far as possible, befriend my mission, should he not return.
  The Doctor lay on his bunk in the grip of terrible visions and waking dreams for two full days, and he had a miserable week of it thereafter, for, as he said, his mind kept playing tricks upon him and showing him, over and over, the scene of his downfall. He had, after taking his leave of me, wandered around the market, and, being much interested in the little ceramic pots made by the Indians of that place- for they do not possess the potter’s wheel, and make everything by hand- he thought he would acquire one for me as a kind of peace offering (How this stung me!); only, the stall holder invited him to take chocolate with him, and thereafter all was as the sailor Poole had divined.
‘I thought that something was amiss,’ said the Doctor, ‘because the merchant seemed to be watching me intently all the while, as if waiting for something to happen; and there were two other fellows with him that I had not noticed before. It is fortunate that I have some knowledge of Spanish, for I heard them say that it would take a second cup to finish the job. So, taking advantage of the instant in which they were pouring it out, I simply took to my heels and ran. They did not expect so lively a pair of legs on such a one as me, but I was running for my life, and as I conceived it, for the success of your mission. Indeed, I thought a heart attack might finish me off before the drug, and you saw in what state I got on board.’
  We swore that from then on we would not run ourselves into unnecessary peril, but would garner up all our resources against the day when they would be needed most, and, except where modesty forbade, we would stand shoulder to shoulder at all times.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

To My Followers- Both of You

Dear Friends,
This blog will fall silent for a week or more, as Ruth Raven's mastectomy looms ever nearer.  Hetty must now assume the role of comforter, and devote herself entirely to the needs of her attached friend.  I offered RR the services of my worthy sailor friend Poole when the time comes: he is something of an expert at knocking folk unconscious with a belaying pin, and is much in demand with ships' surgeons whenever amputations are called for- much more effective, to my mind, than rum.  To my astonishment, RR, speaking as usual across the chasm of History, informs me that neither recourse will be necessary. What fortitude must women of the 21st Century possess!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hetty and the Guinea Pigs

Hetty: Remind me again. Why did I buy cavies from a sailor in the market of Rio de Janeiro?

Ruth Raven: Everyone who has read these words from George Eliot's Adam Bede will either get a lovely warm glow or reach for the sick bucket.
'There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of
themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish; but
there is one order of beauty which seems made to turn the heads not only
of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women. It is a beauty
like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling
noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and
to engage in conscious mischief--a beauty with which you can never be
angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the
state of mind into which it throws you. Hetty Sorrel's was that sort
of beauty.'
As we clever modern people know, there is a dark side to all this. Oh, there is. There just is. The implication is that Hetty, just like the cute little animals, has zilch concept of morality.

Hetty: I feel an attack of the megrims coming on.

Ruth Raven: I know, but stay with me. In George Eliot's last book, Daniel Deronda, she uses a beautiful phrase to describe the sort of goodness that desperately flawed human beings could still aspire to- 'a region in which the affections are clad with knowledge'. It seemed to me that one way you could start clothing your affections with knowledge was to have guinea pigs crapping in your pockets for a while- a sort of preparation for motherhood, if you like. You see, even soft furry animals have their dark side.

Hetty: Was George Eliot a Methodist, like my cousin Dinah?

Ruth Raven: Nope.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Subject of Some Delicacy

Readers of Hetty, or, To Hell with Adam Bede by Ruth Raven (available from will doubtless be curious as to the libertine watches mentioned therein.  Hetty would not wish to sully her well-mannered blog with the dreaded words adult content, so the example shown here is one of the mildest of the genre. My old friend Mrs Fagin explains them thus, in the chapter called 'The Triumph of Eros over Time':
The are called libertine watches, but that does not make the owners of 'em libertines, at least not all of them. In Switzerland, where folk have a very passion fro watches, people give them out to the bride's maids at weddings, to signify that the time is fast ticking away until their own marriage bed. Among rich people they make pretty birthday gifts, for putting a bawdy scene inside a watch is like defiance to Old Father Time himself, who, if he exists, would rather see a death's head with worms crawling out of the eye sockets than a lusty couple at the baby-making business.'

And that, my dear readers, is as saucy as this blog gets.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Poms and Queen Victoria

My friend Ruth Raven has a touch of the megrims today.  The reason?

'Towards the end of Hetty, or, To Hell with Adam Bede (available from one of the characters propounds a never-before-aired theory concerning the origin of the Australian slang expression Pom, meaning a British immigrant. Now, I have always been suspicious of the two traditional explanations that (1) POM stands for Prisoner of Her Majesty (What would be the point of this gibe when nearly everyone was?) or that (2) newly arrived immigrants could be identified by pomegranate-like rednessof their complexions (If so, why is it never mentioned in the literature?). I have always suspected a link with a perfectly ordinary and well-known word- that is, Pom, meaning what it always has done, a Pomeranian dog.  Recently I discovered that Queen Victoria not only loved the creatures- she was a notable breeder of them, at one point owning more than thirty, and she was partlyresponsible for miniaturising the breed.  Bonsai Poms.  I am indebted to this information to The Free Library's article The Royal History of the Pomeranian Breed.

'Alas, even Homer nods, or, in my case, Noddy nods.  It turns out that Queen Victoria did not acquire her first Pom until 1888- a good twenty years after my character expresses his displeasure with the pampered lapdogs in human form, quite useless for rounding up sheep and cattle, then arriving in the Colonies.  I stand by my theory about Poms: it was, however, the wrong character expressing it at the wrong date.  I shall leave his comment intact as a warning to others of how easy it is to go astray- if any historian, amateur or otherwise, would like to take up the search for the first contemporary mention of the word Pom in its Australian sense, I suggest that he or she start combing the newspapers of the late 1880s.  Good luck!'

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Samuel Richardson's Pamela and the Mud Magpie People

A sense of duty impels me to comment on that stalwart band of Aboriginal bush rangers, the story of whose redoubtable leader Augustus Jamieson is so intimately entangled with mine.  I need hardly tell you that the true names of these extraordinary people have been changed in order to respect their sacred traditions, and that even that of Mud Magpie People is a disguise to protect them from the White Man's cruel laws.

Like most of the characters in this book, the Mud Magpie People have read the late Mr Richardson's Pamela, a novel which my attached friend Ruth Raven describes as 'an eighteenth century soap opera', whatever that may be.  It may be thought strange, however, that the clan (I am told that 'tribe' is not the word I want, and I can think of no other) should live their lives in devotion to this work, for not only have they learned their English and their manners from it, they have based their whole view of English society upon it- and, Mr Richardson having been a great Radical and Leveller, his creation bore no small part in launching them on their rebellious path.  Yet, is it any stranger, I ask you rhetorically, that the expectation that all our missionaries have of 'em, that they should lead their lives according to One whose field of operation was the Roman province of Judaea close on two thousand years ago?

A word from Ruth Raven: 'I re-read Pamela very recently, and was struck with how up-to-date it seems.  A modern Pamela, of course, would blog, text and email rather than write letters, but the 14-year-old heroine reassuring her parents that Mr B wouldn't, couldn't be thinking of seducing her because that would ruin his reputation- that could be any modern teenager protesting that the late-night online conversations with SexyGuy are (a) innocent and (b) nothing she can't handle.'  All of this is Chinese, of course, to Hetty Sorrel, but why not avail yourself of my delightful Amazon search engine and look up this wonder of the literary world?
Hetty: or, To Hell With Adam Bede

Hetty and Amazon

Clever people who know all about blogs have just been showing me how to link Amazon with my...I think it's called a URL; anyhow, this thing we are on now.  This means- if I understand aright- that everytime I mention a book or anything else sold by Amazon, you will be able to look it up instanter and perhaps even purchase it. This will be a very fine thing for my attached friend Ruth Raven, who is always wanting to talk about her book Hetty, or, To Hell with Adam Bede.  Will you credit it- if you but look up her delightful volume, even without buying it, Amazon will immediately drop a coin into my impoverished friend's tattered reticule.  What a wonderful thing is modern life!  And how many excellent tomes will Hetty Sorrel recommend to you!

Hetty Sorrel Confronts her Past

Lest any think that Hetty Sorrel has forgotten the babe she so cruelly abandoned, here is the episode from Hetty Sorrel, or, To Hell with Adam Bede (Ruth Raven, in which she confindes all to her esteemed medical friend, the elderly Dr Benjamin Isaacs. The scene takes place in Rio de Janeiro, where the two have been examining the Carioca Aqueduct, one of the wonders of the modern world. Hetty is now a widow and pregnant, and, understandably, full of doubts as to whether she is worthy of Woman's Highest Calling- motherhood. The reader may be surprised to hear that Hetty had converse with Dinah Morris after her exile to Australia: this is one of several facts that Adam Bede thought fit not to disclose to George Eliot when that lady interviewed him in his old age.


‘I murdered my child,’ I said. ‘I did not lose it.’

A genteel-looking couple at a nearby table must have understood some English, for they first froze and then moved discreetly to a distance.

‘Tell me the way of it,’ were all the Doctor’s words.

‘I was seventeen years old, and an orphan. I had been raised by Uncle and Aunt Poyser on their farm, along with their other children. They were kind people, but always so busy that they did not always see what was going on under their noses. People were always indulgent towards me because of my looks. I have often been told that I look innocent. So, I was not, you see, one of those poor despised orphans we hear about in fairy tales; on the contrary, I was always encouraged to think well of myself and only given the most pleasant tasks.

‘Arthur Donnithorne was twenty at that time, a captain in the army, grandson to the squire, young, handsome, pleasant and beloved by all. He looked as innocent as I did, though he must have known whores. I am fortunate he did not pox me, I suppose. I met him when I was beginning to enjoy the attentions of men and to crave them. It is difficult for me to untangle how much of this was natural, and how much was because I was a vain and selfish girl who wanted finery and advancement.’

‘Hetty,’ said the Doctor. ‘Did you ever know your father and mother?’

‘No,’ said I, ‘I did not.’

‘What were you told about them?’

‘That my father was a ne’er-do-well and squandered my mother’s fortune before drinking himself to death, and that my mother died of something called the inflammation. I was told, moreover, that my mother was headstrong and unmanageable, and that I resembled her in all things. Nonetheless, I wonder whether her case were not similar to mine.’

‘Why do you wonder that?’

‘Because I have asked the neighbours in secret, and at the time of my supposed conception he was living off an old mistress of his in London. I believe that, in his absence, my mother had become vulnerable to the attentions of one above her in station.’

The Doctor’s silence told me that this was all too likely a possibility. I went on:

‘As I told you, Aunt Poyser was a most industrious woman, and I did not feel encouraged to waste her time by asking idle questions about fellows and the like; but I must not make her virtues into an excuse for my wrongdoing. I was not wholly ignorant about how babies were made: being brought up on a farm has that advantage. Besides, some of my acquaintances had some experience with the grosser passions. Bess Cranage had been tumbled once or twice.’

‘Had she, indeed? And how did Bess Cranage do to prevent a round belly? Or did she expect to be married to the first caller?’

‘She told me that most of the young fellows did as Onan, as she called it, or else they went in by the back door. I did not find either of those ideas attractive.’

‘Hmm. At least they had a strategy. I gather you did not.’

‘Bess was dealing with her equals in rank. If they did not do they were told, she could box their ears for ‘em. I could not box the ears of the squire’s grandson, even if I wanted to. Why did I not want to, do you suppose?’

‘I can think of several answers to that. What is yours?’

‘It’s not that he was of a higher rank than me, as everyone seems to think, for, foolish girl that I was, I fancied that I was soon to join him in that rank. No. The real reason I could not repulse him was that he was an orphan like me. His higher rank was merely the reason why he could never think of me as a wife, though I told myself otherwise.

‘ He courted me in the usual fashion of men who woo where they do not intend to wed: jewels, trinkets, melting looks, kisses so soft that they could have been those of another girl, and pleading, flattering words. Why not, Hetty? Why won’t you trust me? Will you not sit by me on the grass? Until finally I was beside him on the grass, which in less time than it takes to tell became under him on the grass. I do not suppose that he considered me a trollop, for he would have taken more pains to give pleasure to a trollop lest she laugh at him.’

‘Hetty, you know full well that you would have gathered up your skirts and run home to Aunt Poyser if he had attempted anything of the kind.’

‘Very like. Well, it fell out as it always does in such stories. He came to his senses and grew more distant. He even wrote me a letter of farewell- dictated, I have no doubt, by Adam Bede, who was always running after me at that time, and who could be mighty persuasive with his fists. I gave up hope, and agreed to marry Adam for want of better prospects; but then I began to be aware of my condition and ran from my home, for fear of bringing shame upon my honest family. I hoped that if I found Donnithorne he would do right by me, as we said in those days, by which of course we meant marriage.

‘I came to Windsor, where I had been told his regiment was based, but was told that they had gone to Ireland. After roving around the countryside penniless and distracted, I gave birth somehow or other; but instead of staying with the kind woman who had taken pity on me, I took my baby to a lonely place, half buried it in leaves and the like, and so left it. It is difficult for me to remember my exact thoughts at the time, for I seemed to have at least three conflicting ideas in my head: one, that I might go back at live my old life with the Poysers as though nothing had happened; two, that I might drown myself then and there; and three, that someone might find the baby and rescue it alive, which was a thought that I entertained for perhaps two seconds at the most.’

‘Those were your thoughts. Can you remember anything of your feelings?’

‘That was the strangest thing of all. I felt nothing. If you should ever meet with Dinah Morris, who saw me when I was in prison awaiting the gallows, she will testify that I said over and over that my heart was cold, my heart was hard, and that I felt nothing. By this I am convinced that what was said on my by all sides was true, that I was and am a hard, unfeeling wretch, devoid of the natural warm affections of womankind. Dinah managed to make me feel something when she visited me that night in my cell, but after all it was only fear. I am not afraid of hell fire any more, for I do not believe in such fables, but I fear that I may be a lost soul, by which I mean that I can never be as other folk. The strongest evidence of this is that I not able to love my Aunt Poyser’s little girl, Totty, that was adored by all. Does this not betoken a lack of natural maternal feeling?’

Dr Isaacs replied:

‘Few girls of seventeen, in my experience, are much taken up with spoilt, fidgeting, whining brats belonging to other people. If they were, we would be in a worse plight than we now are, for young mothers would be dropping their progeny under every hedge. As for what you call your cold, hard heart- forgive me, you are speaking like a Methodist. I can only speak as a doctor. It is precisely this lack of feeling that tells me that you are not a wicked murderess. If you were such, you would now be relating your agonies, your tormented mind, your turmoil of feelings &c, &c. No, Hetty. You have been very gravely ill and- I will not lie to you- you may be ill again some day, but if I ought to do with it you will be watched over and cared for so that neither you nor your babe will come to harm.

‘You speak of coldness and hardness, but I call it numbness, and it is a very sure sign of melancholy madness. The sufferer feels no connexion with the people about her, not even for the infant life that we are told must command her tenderness as though by instinct. The condition is bad enough when it visits mothers after what is called an easy birth in the comfort of home, but when the sufferer is weighed down by many other burdens- shame, fear, inexperience, lack of shelter- the whole fabric of her being may collapse and bring down others in its ruin.’

I was silent for a while. Then, ‘Dr Isaacs, what does your religion say of child murder? Is it not a life for a life?’

‘You must remember that I am not a religious man. Ay, it is indeed a life for a life, but there is no punishment if the perpetrator is out of her wits, and it is held as a general rule that in the vast majority of cases a mother that would kill her own babe must be mad. The three great religions sprung from Abraham agree, however, in their abhorrence of the base practice of exposure, by which societies systematically rid themselves of their unwanted children- this is a very great evil in a nation, for it betokens a lack of will to provide for the needy.

‘ But I think, Hetty, you are asking me whether I believe that women in your predicament should be sent to the gallows; on the contrary, I would not have them come anywhere near the gallows, but be treated with by the most competent doctors. Better yet would it be to help them and their babies long before they were brought to such a pass.’

The Doctor rose to his feet and paced up and down as though addressing a public meeting; which he was, in fact, as quite a little knot of spectators had gathered around us. He continued:

‘Let us have women doctors, for God’s sake! And don’t let ‘em be female versions of myself either, but let them come from far and wide and be of all colours and conditions, so that there is never a lack of a woman for a girl to talk to. Let us do away, also, with this lying to children whenever they ask how babies are made, but let us give them honest answers always. And as for French letters- I assume that you know by now what they are- let us tear them out of the hands of the rakes, make them strong and reliable, and place them in the reticule of every woman of breeding age! Ay, and at a pinch, and as the last of the last of the very last resorts, let the potential life be aborted long before it becomes life indeed!’

At this the spectators began to cheer, throwing their hats in the air if they had them to throw, though I dare say they understood not one word in twenty. With cries of Bravo and Bem dito ringing in our ears we made our way back to our ship. What the good Doctor told me was like a poultice to my heart: the pain was somewhat relieved, but the scars must ever remain.

I cannot say that I wholly approve of what he said about the potential life, but when I spoke to my cousin Dinah about it (I rather leap ahead of myself, here), she said very earnestly and to my great surprise that there might be something to be said for it in extreme cases, for she had seen some sorry instances in her ministry among the poor, when both mother and baby had died when the former at least might have been saved, and she hoped to converse in person one day with Dr Isaacs who, if not a religious man, was at least a serious one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Outrage

'The eponymous hero of the novel, Adam Bede, is a carpenter in his middle 20s living on the north Midlands estate of a family named Donnithorne at the end of the 18th century. Bede is a remarkable man: self-willed, self-disciplined, a hard worker, a gifted natural mathematician.

Bede has fallen in love with the pretty niece of a neighboring prosperous farmer, Hester (or "Hetty") Sorrel. Hetty is a worthless girl: vain, selfish, and foolish. Despite (or maybe because of) her family's strong admiration for Adam, Hetty spurns him - and instead falls into a lethal love affair with the young heir to the Donithorne estate, Arthur. The young squire-to-be is a good-natured and basically honorable person, but weak and spoiled.'

This from David Frum's Diary on National Review- almost a year old, but at last it has come to the affronted eyes of Hetty Sorrel. 'Worthless girl', indeed! Yet I cannot bring myself to blame him, for did not George Eliot herself aver that she interviewed Adam Bede in his old age, and is not history always the victor's version of events? As usual when distressed (now that my mentor Dr Isaacs has been translated to the celestial sphere), I questioned my attached friend Ruth Raven, for I could not remember if George Eliot had once used the word 'worthless' of me. Said R.R.:

'I am but a lowly teacher in a Further Education College, but if I described a seventeen-year-old as worthless, my job would be on the line. I am sure that Mr Frum is merely over-interpreting. Besides, as you have rightly said in Hetty, or to Hell with Adam Bede (available from, one cannot be seventeen forever. I suggest that you get on with mending that pile of bodices, and cheer up.'

book-a-rama: Adam Bede: Review

book-a-rama: Adam Bede: Review

Somewhat Concerning my Attached Friend, Ruth Raven

My attached friend, Ruth Raven, who has so meticulously followed my footsteps in 'Hetty, or, To Hell with Adam Bede' (available from tells me that she is soon to endure a mastectomy- her second. To cheer her, I have directed her to Miss Fanny Burney's description of he own operation which she underwent in the year 1811 without anaesthetic. If you are of a hearty disposition you may care to read it here:
Miss Burney, you will remember, is the famed diarist and author of Evalina to which novel I once hoped to introduce my friends the Mud Magpie People. Well! Perhaps Miss Burney is more famed today for her early friendship with the poet John Keats, but I assure you that Evalina may be purchased from, and from something called Kindle, of which Hetty Sorrel is very ignorant.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Floating Brothel

In my memoirs I describe the ship on which I was transported to the Colonies as 'little better than a floating brothel'. This ship was not the Lady Juliana, for my voyage took place at a later time, but if you wish to have some flavour of it I beg you will follow this link to Mr Eric Shackle's excellent blog. Here 'tis:
If you wish to probe the subject more fully, you must read Sian Rees's opus, The Floating Brothel, available at Amazon.

The Great Mendoza

Hetty Sorrel has enjoyed but rarely the society of famous people, but (as I relate in my autobiography), I had once the honour of meeting the famed pugilist Daniel Mendoza. He it was who introduced the 'scientific' method to the art of boxing, whereby, as my friend Reuben so eloquently put it, a little man may dream of felling his Goliath; for, before Mendoza came, there was not the footwork and blocking wherein lies most of the skill. Let me here introduce a website wherein the knowledgeable Kathleen Duffy (whose rights I beg you to respect, on pain of the usual punishments) will supply you with more information on this Topick than ever your humble servant could. Notice that Mendoza had, as I termed it, a 'speaking eye', though when I met him he was, alas, long past the peak of his career and looks:

Sample Chapter from 'Hetty, or to Hell with Adam Bede' by Ruth Raven (Create Space, 2010)


My name is Hetty Sorrel. If you have heard of me at all, it will have been for my ignominious part in the story of Adam Bede of Hayslope, the most (I was going to say the only) virtuous man in the village.

It was in the year 1800 that I was rescued at the last minute from the gallows, having murdered my little baby by leaving it for dead in a field. The child’s father, Captain Arthur Donnithorne, grandson of Squire Donnithorne, came riding at the gallop through the crowd with the life-preserving paper in his grasp. I collapsed instanter in the arms of my cousin, Dinah Morris, the celebrated female Methodist preacher, who later became the wife of Adam Bede. It was she who had visited me in my lonely cell and brought me to confession and repentance, and she who accompanied me in the dreaded cart. Alas, Dinah, if you had known then what my fate was to be thereafter, even your strong faith might have been shaken.

So I revived, tended, as I thought, by ministering hands, and for a moment I wondered whether I had already passed to that blessed Realm where it is said all tears shall be wiped forever from our eyes. The ministering hands soon turned out to be of mortal mould, and I was roughly dragged off to languish in my cell while folk thought about what should be done with me. Soon I was almost forgotten by the good people of Hayslope, who went about their courtships, marriages and harvest feasts as before.

I sat in my cell, and scarcely spoke to a living soul. Dinah came, of course, and made me kneel down on the cold flagstones with her while she said a good many comfortable words about salvation, miracles, Jesus &c which I barely understood. It has always been my fault that the things of this world make so vivid an impression upon me that I cannot easily follow talk of the soul and the world to come. I sometimes think that on the night of my confession Dinah only succeeded in bringing me round because she was speaking in complete darkness. But afterwards, whenever she visited me, I was back to my old habit of thought and kept thinking of the small drop of spittle at the corner of her mouth, and wondering whether she would wipe it off with her hand when she had finished talking or if she would leave it there to dry.

Hetty Sorrel, her Blog