Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 35 (2004) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Foreword: I have written the following speech after I delivered it - long after. Much thought went into the preparation. However I did not want to read at the lunch, I wanted to talk. I spoke with only skeletal notes and a script of 'The Female Shakespeare, so to speak' to hand in case I dried. I may have forgotten things that I actually said and included things that I meant to say on the day and didn't - my apologies. I did not expect the Toast to be printed.
Why am I here? That is not a philosophical question. It's a practical one. I am here because I received an invitation. Kathleen Adams, your splendid Secretary of The George Eliot Fellowship for the past 36 years, invited me to propose the Toast to the Immortal Memory of George Eliot at the 2003 Birthday Lunch. I accepted her kind invitation. However the acceptance goes much deeper than that.
It was not a casual acceptance of a casual invitation. I fell in love with The Mill on the Floss at the age of about ten, an age when I read books just for the story. Years were to pass before I truly appreciated the subtleties and skill of the author - let alone realized that George Eliot was a woman.
I am here too because some time ago Gabriel Woolf invited me to take part in his remarkable programme on the life and work of George Eliot, 'The Female Shakespeare, so to speak'. I accepted that invitation too and it lead to more - 'The George Eliot Roadshow, so to speak' from the British Library to The Library or Congress, Washington, D.C. with many dates in between, and to taking part in the annual readings in Nuneaton and elsewhere in Warwickshire. Through Gabriel I have had a long association with the Fellowship which I greatly value.