Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 38 (2007) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
I was surprised, honoured and delighted by the invitation to join you today and propose the toast to the immortal memory of George Eliot. I am no George Eliot expert, or indeed scholar, although I am an enthusiast. She is, after all, Warwickshire's other world-class writer, and it is tempting to think how much better known she might have been in her home county had Shakespeare been born in Stoke-on-Trent, say, rather than Stratford-upon-Avon.
My first encounter with George Eliot was while taking' A' level English at school. I still recall my dawning surprise and admiration as I, an inexperienced seventeen-year-old, gradually realized the awful magnitude of Dorothea's miscalculation in marrying Casaubon, and its consequences. In addition the portrayal of Casaubon's great work of scholarship as a barrier to shield him from the world, rather than a means to engage with it, I saw as equally original and brave.
I am still in the course of reading the canon of George Eliot's work for the first time, and fairly recently read Daniel Deronda, having seen it on television. Once more I found that courage and originality, as she dared to describe the corruption in high society in Victorian London, and to bear witness to its anti-Semitism at just the time that Benjamin Disraeli was in high office.
Most recently I have read Scenes of Clerical Life, prompted by the approaching anniversary celebrations, and there too is the same determination to speak honestly and openly about social ills. The portrayal of middle-class domestic violence in 'Janet's Repentance' was remarkable at the time and is no less needful today.
That describes much of what George Eliot has meant and continues to mean to me. Now I should like to tell you what the Library and Information Service is doing in its efforts to acknowledge her greatness and to make the most of the important George Eliot Collection of documents and texts.