Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 48 (2017)
All but 50 years we knew each other. And I think George Eliot owes Kathleen Adams a lot. This is common knowledge - for where would the Fellowship be without her tireless efforts. Westminster Abbey, the Nuneaton statue, membership numbers: these are all well known. But that small terrace house in Stepping Stones Road, Coventry, visited by so many important figures, represents for me the championing of the ordinary folk and their appreciation of George Eliot's work. I remember an American academic being disappointed at the Newsletter Kathleen prepared so diligently, and how it was not on the intellectual level he would have appreciated. He grinned resignedly: 'It was always asking me to choose between Coronation Chicken and Steak and Kidney, some months ahead.' But Kathleen knew that most members liked essays on the Dogs of Middle mar ch rather than ones on semi-idiotic post-deconstructionalism in Theophrastus Such. And it was this aspect that brought us together. I have always favoured the emotional response to literature, feeling that to close a book and not turn to writing a dozen closely reasoned pages of criticism, but instead, saying 'wow', was a perfectly valid response. She knew I read the novels on BBC radio and we thought live readings might be a valid tribute to interest the members. We have done 47 years of them. In various venues. Kathleen arranged these meticulously, down to the last thermos of coffee in the intervals. She found venues in Nuneaton, in Coventry, even the Warwick Arts Centre for a couple of golden years and Arbury Hall. Always well attended and seemingly enjoyed. Arbury Hall was for me also the great moment of her introducing me to Gordon Haight - my idea of the next best thing to meeting Mary Anne herself - the man who single handed, over thirty years devotion and nine volumes of letters, and the biography, had brought George Eliot back to centre stage where she belonged. He had just returned from a holiday in Europe, with his (possibly, I thought, long-suffering) wife (30 years devoted to another woman). I shook hands with them both and said that I felt sure they had been to Portugal, and that it was his wife's choice. Why so? Because it was the only country in Europe George Eliot never visited. His wife laughed but his totemic expression never altered. There was a pause before he said in unmistakably put-down tones, dry as ash, 'Lewes's Uncle was in Portugal. (Pause) He was in the wine trade'. Squashed. Unforgettable, in its awful way.