Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 22 (1991)
As a local historian I have been thinking to what extent did George Eliot portray Nuneaton - more especially in her most local book Scenes o/Clerical Life - and how good a historian was she in this work.
Essential dates, first of all. George Eliot was born in 1819 and wrote Scenes in 1857- 58. She sets the events of Amos Barton and J and s Repentance some 25 years before the date of writing; that is roughly 1830 when she was a young girl of some eleven years of age. Mr. Gilfil' s Love Story starts in 1820 but really deals with events of the late 1780s. It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the least local of the three short novels, possibly reflecting her unsureness of events which happened long before her own life. Though the main part of the story takes place at Cheverel Manor (Arbury Hall) and the Newdigates are minutely observed, the Hall is far removed from Shepperton where Gilfil takes his heart-broken and ailing young wife.
What picture then does George Eliot give of her own village and its neighboring town in the other two novels?
First Shepperton: "A flat ugly district this; depressing enough to look at even on the brightest days. The roads are black with coal-dust, the brick houses dingy with smoke; and at that time - the time of the handloom weavers - every other cottage had a loom at its window where you might see a pale sickly-looking man or woman pressing a narrow chest against a board, and doing a sort of tread-mill work with legs and arms." Milby also was "a dingy-looking town, with a strong smell of tanning up one street and a great shaking of looms up another. " And Paddiford Common - "a dismal district where you heard the rattle of the hand-loom and breathed the smoke of the coal pits."