English, Department of

 

Authors

Kathleen Adams

Date of this Version

2004

Document Type

Article

Citation

The George Eliot Review 35 (2004) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/

Comments

The George Eliot Review 2019 (34)

Abstract

The George Eliot Collection in Nuneaton Library includes a previously unpublished letter written by Elma Stuart, one of George Eliot's greatest admirers. It was written in response to a critical and spiteful article about George Eliot in 1895 by Eliza Lynn Linton in the journal The Woman at Home. It was inevitable that the vicious article would antagonize Elma, who was so besotted with her idol that she had engraved upon the headstone on her grave in Highgate Cemetery in London - and next to George Eliot's own grave .... 'whom for 8'h blessed years George Eliot called by the sweet name of "Daughter".'

Eliza Lynn was a fellow journalist aspiring to become a novelist at the time when George Eliot (who was still Marian Evans) was living and working at John Chapman's home at 142 Strand in London. They first met in 1850. At that time Eliza's view of Marian was warm and effusive. Marian wrote to Caroline Bray: 'She says she was "never so attracted to a woman before as to me" - I am "such a loveable person".' Marian spoke kindly of Eliza and very sympathetically when Eliza married W. J. Linton in 1858 and took on the care of his seven children. The marriage failed in 1866 and the separation from her husband may have changed Eliza into the spiteful critic who wrote of the now successful George Eliot 'she grew to be artificial, posee, pretentious, unreal. She was always the goddess on her pedestal'. More vindictively she described George Eliot as 'underbred and provincial, badly dressed, unbrushed, unwashed, unkempt'.2 Eliza's own novels were much less successful than George Eliot's and this must have fuelled her dislike and jealousy of her rival.

In 1895, fifteen years after the death of George Eliot, Eliza wrote the sharply critical article which so incensed Elma Stuart. Elma could see no fault in her idol. She had first written to George Eliot in 1872, praising Middlemarch and sending an oak bookslide she had carved herself. She sent many more gifts as time went by, including 'braces to hold up my flannel and calico drawers'.3 When she read Eliza's article she was, understandably, furious at its tone and content. On 11 September 1895 she wrote from Toutley Hall, Wokingham, Berkshire to 'Mrs. Evans'. The recipient of the letter was undoubtedly Charlotte Evans nee Rotherham, daughter of a Coventry family well known in watch-making and legal circles in the city. She was married to Revd Frederic Evans, the elder son of George Eliot's brother Isaac, who was Rector of Bedworth in Warwickshire for more than fifty years.

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