Summer 1987 • Vol. IX No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1987 |

Delicate Beauty Goes out: “Adam Bede’s” Transgressive Heroines

The language in which George Eliot describes her heroines' beauty in Adam Bede records a transition in nineteenth-century values. Here, Eliot's physical descriptions facilitate the delicate heroine's going out in two senses of the phrase: going safely out into the market place and going out of fashion. Through her descriptions, Eliot not only frees the delicate heroine to go out without subjecting her to risks that the delicate heroine typically faces, risks of rape or death, but Eliot also attempts to reconcile competing and mutually exclusive styles of beauty by creating healthy delicacy, a beauty that is both spiritual and sexual. She does so by appealing to and undermining literature's codes of delicacy. Eliot revises the connotations of delicate beauty by doubling and exchanging the Poysers' beautiful nieces for one another, as Hetty Sorrel and Dinah Morris displace one another, not only in the novel's economy and structure of desire but also as meaningful figures of beauty.

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