Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 21 (1990)
I felt greatly honoured when I was invited to lay the Fellowship's wreath at today's ceremony. It was much later, when considering this address, that I realised I had studied none of George Eliot's works and had read very few.
However, I did know something of her. My parents and their friends all seem to have been involved, in some way, with the George Eliot Centenary celebrations in 1919 and very early on I was given a copy of Scenes of Clerical Life. How easy it is at Arbury Hall to look at the painting of Sir Roger Newdigate but see in the mind's eye Sir Christopher Cheverel coming through the bow window to look at the 'petrified lace work' of the ceiling.
It was really left to the television production of Middlemarch to bring home to me George Eliot's powers of observation, and her genius in portraying the characters; how well we can still recognise those same people today.
At the moment I am very much involved with the old Free School in Chilvers Coton. The Chilvers Coton Centre Trust, with the help and support from the Nuneaton and Bedworth Societies and the George Eliot Fellowship, hopes to turn the building into a craft / heritage centre with facilities for exhibitions, small meetings, a retail area and facilities for refreshments.
You may wonder what this has to do with George Eliot Miss Swinnerton, whom I remember as a rather formidable lady unlikely to give way to flights of fancy, wrote that 'local legend' had it that Mary Ann Evans went to the school for a 'very short time'. Writing in 1888 S. Parkinson said in Scenes in George Eliot Country that when he visited lsaac Evans at Griff House he was told that his sister had joined him there 'for a short time' (see Editor's footnote). How I would love to go into the girls' schoolroom and say 'George Eliot sat here' but must admit that there is no conclusive evidence to show that Swinnerton or Parkin son were right.