Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 31 (2000) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
The Guest of Honour was Col. Christopher Hendy, OBE, the Administrator at Arbury Hall. He gave the following Address:
We are here today to celebrate the life and works of George Eliot. 'I have heard of him, of course, but I have never read any of his books' - that is the expression that I, and many of the guides at Arbury hear when we mention the connection that George Eliot had with Arbury Hall and Park. At the time that Mary Ann Evans was writing her novels it was not politic to let it be known that the author was a woman and the nom de plume she adopted has sadly provided a trap into which many have fallen and thereby revealed a lack of knowledge of the true talents of this well respected and revered writer.
Mary Ann Evans was born on the Arbury estate when her father was the resident agent for the Newdegate family, the estate's owners. Her family believed that they were descended from a sixteenth-century Welsh knight, Sir Thomas Evans de Northop in the county of Flint and they certainly came from Northop. By the late seventeenth century they were established in the parish of Norbury in Derbyshire and there is a record in the parish register of a 'Joseph Evans, a traveller' who clearly resided there at the time. In the next century, Mary Ann's grandfather was the village carpenter, wheelwright and undertaker and was living in small, plain cottage which still stands at Roston Common, Norbury.
Mary Ann was called many names in her lifetime - Marianne, Polly, Pollian, Marian, Mutter and Madonna - and George Eliot. She was christened Mary Anne but her father, recording her birth, wrote Mary Ann in his diary. In the parish register he described himself as a 'farmer' which would not have pleased her daughter as she took exception to being referred to on one occasion as a 'self-educated farmer's daughter' and her strong retort was (and here I apologize to any farmers present) 'My father raised himself from being an artizan to be a man whose extensive knowledge in very varied practical departments made his services valued through several counties’.
At the age of four months Mary Ann moved with her parents from South Farm to Griff House where she remained for twenty-one years, attending local schools in the Nuneaton area and a boarding school in Coventry. She returned home at the time of her mother's illness and death and remained at Griff to help to run the household.