purple crocus

In each of her novels, George Eliot elevates the work of quiet rural communities. But in Adam Bede, Eliot specifically celebrates the work of farm women. While Martin Poyser works the surrounding fields, producing wheat, barley, beans, corn, and tending the cow pasture, Rachel Poyser, his wife, makes high-quality butter, cheese, and beer. Mrs. Poyser rules over her dairy with “the keen glance of her blue-grey eye,” Eliot writes, operating a business characterized by “coolness, such purity, such fresh fragrance of new-pressed cheese, of firm butter, [and] of wooden vessels perpetually bathed in pure water.” In and through Mrs. Poyser, Eliot offers a vital glimpse into England’s eighteenth-century rural household economy, explaining the division of labor on farms in preindustrial rural England. Mrs. Poyser emerges as the novel’s strong center: a picture of diligence and fidelity, elevating the work of farm women while at the same time capturing its struggles and injustices.

Women kept farms afloat.