Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 32 (2001) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Now I am in my thirty-second year as Secretary of the Fellowship, Bill and I can look back over those years and realize what an immense change they have made to our lives. When we joined the tiny Fellowship in 1965 we could have had no idea what was in store for us - the interesting things that have happened to us, the lovely people (some of them quite famous!) we have met, the friends we have made and the places we have been to, all because of that wonderful lady we are celebrating today.
My first contact with George Eliot was when, as a child, I accompanied my mother to the Gulson Library in Coventry. I can actually remember opening a copy of a George Eliot novel in a dark binding and such small print that I wondered how any grown-up person could ever have the patience to read all those tiny words on so many pages. I was into Winnie the Pooh at the time! Wasn't it odd that I looked into a George Eliot novel? I was something of a menace in the library as, while I waited for my mother to choose her books, I went along the library shelves pushing all the books as far back as they would go - the librarians must have cursed me!
My second contact with George Eliot came later when I was entrusted, still quite young, on alternate Saturday mornings to take my parents' mortgage payment (about eleven shillings a week, I think it was in those far-off days - the equivalent now of about 55p.) to an estate agent in Warwick Row in Coventry. Each time I passed number 29 I looked up at a plaque on the end wall which told me that a certain George Eliot had been to school there in the 1830s. My third contact was not a particularly welcome one. At grammar school I was required to read Silas Mamer. I am still convinced that this was chosen because it was short. I didn't like it, finding I was not able to relate to the characters therein. I now recall Virginia Woolf's remark that George Eliot was a writer for grown up people and yet I have heard many times during the last thirty years from elderly people who read George Eliot and loved her when they were only about ten years of age.
Not liking George Eliot then seems strange to me now as I recall that I coped with Sir WaIter Scott rather better - lvanhoe, Quentin Durward, and The Talisman. I don't think I could cope with them now. We even had to study Kinglake's Eothen for School Certificate - with not a word of conversation in it. I have recently bought a copy of Eothen and promise myself I will one day try it again. It was very hard going but I remind myself that, at that age, I had only just moved on from Angela Brazil to Dornford Yates for my reading for pleasure.