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George Eliot's Adam Bede: Hetty Sorrel's Journey from Hope to Despair Print E-mail

Newspaper stories shock us year after year with stories of teenage mothers who abandon new-born babies, often leaving them to the elements, or worse, with fatal results. There are so many questions and few answers, especially nowadays, when there is less stigma attached to unwed pregnancies. To get the answers is to get inside the mind of the person who committed this unspeakable act, which is rarely possible.

In George Eliot's 18th century tale, Adam Bede, the author weaves a story that takes us along on the journey of a young woman who, finding herself pregnant, runs off to find the baby's father and ends up arrested for infanticide.

Central to Hetty's tale are the two men who are in love with her. Adam Bede, the title character, is a carpenter who yearns to marry the winsome lass and dreams of domestic bliss. Arthur Donnithorne is the rich young squire, who seduces Hetty knowing that he cannot marry her. Neither knows about Hetty's pregnancy until it is too late.

 
My Last Duchess: A Fascinating Dramatic Monologue Based Upon Real People Print E-mail

Robert Browning published My Last Duchess in 1842 in a volume of poetry called Dramatic Lyrics. While the work is held in high regard nowadays, at this time in Browning's life, he was already suffering from bad reviews of a few earlier works and the volume was not very popular. The monologue, spoken by 'Ferrara', begins with the line: "That's my last duchess, painted on the wall". That's how we know right off the bat that the speaker is a Duke. The next line: 'looking as if she were alive' tells you that she's not.

If you do not know this Robert Browning poem, you might want to go and listen to it before reading the rest of this article, or risk the article influencing your impression of the poem when you do read it.

The Italian family of Este, Lords of Ferrara, were created Dukes of Modena and Reggio, and also became Dukes of Ferrara in 1471. In 1597, they lost the succession of Ferrara itself to the Papal States, when the last Duke, Alfonso II, died with no heir. Alfonso did name his cousin Caesare as his heir, but Ferrara was lost to the Papal States all the same. Caesare was still the Duke of Modena and Reggio. There were 5 dukes of Ferrara, but only Alfonso II had a wife who was rumored to have been poisoned, and otherwise fits the profile of Robert Browning's poem.

Alfonso d'Este was born on November 22, 1533, almost 3 centuries before Robert Browning. He was the oldest son of Ercole II d'Este, whose mother was Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Thus, Alfonso was a Pope's great-grandson.