Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 21 (1990)
Our invitation to Gabriel Woolf to propose the Toast on this annual occasion was given so that we could say thank you to him for 20 years of work on our behalf in promoting George Eliot in his own unique way. In proposing the Toast, he began by telling us about his own introduction to George Eliot. He was doing his National Service in the R.A.F. and was particularly lonely in an alien situation with people with whom he had little or nothing in common. He remembers vividly taking Romola down from an R.A.F. library shelf and being instantly captured by the measured style of the writing. He described it as 'love at first paragraph'. He spoke of a holiday in France when he was still alone and where he spent many days on a beach, his only company being Adam Bede and Middlemarch.
In his radio work over many years he read many of George Eliot's novels, adapted for the medium by himself, and he was once very amused when a lady told him how much she had enjoyed his reading of Silas Marner - probably the only George Eliot novel he had never read there! He thought he had given a lot of pleasure by the books he had not read, even though some people appear to remember them clearly! But the one that made all his radio work worthwhile was Middlemarch, read in 50 episodes, again in his own adaptation.
The thing which clearly impressed Gabriel about the novels, apart from the style that first caught his eye, was the remarkable way George Eliot listened to and remembered the way people spoke and the things they said. He reminded us, with passages from the novels (and, as always, beautifully read and interpreting the characters in his own unique way), of Lizbeth Bede and her grudging praise of Dinah' s efforts with the porridge, "Ye might ha' made the porridge worse. I can ate it wi'out it's tunin' my stomach".
He was sure Mary Ann Evans had suffered from aunts at Griff House - "Heyday!" said Aunt Glegg with loud emphasis. "Do little boys and gells come into a room without taking notice 0' their uncles and aunts? That wasn't the way when I was a little gell." Aunt Glegg took their hands, hurting them with her large rings and going on to criticise the way they stood and the way they looked.