Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 22 (1991)
I count it a great honour to be here to pay tribute to George Eliot and especially as it is shortly to be the Diamond Jubilee of the Fellowship, founded by the late Francis Cross in 1930.
I cannot claim to be the oldest member, either in years or in length of membership, but my first introduction to George Eliot the novelist goes back even more than sixty years. As a jubilee is not only a time of rejoicing but of looking back, I would like to share with you some of my recollections.
In October 1927 I began to attend Chilvers Coton Church of England School for girls, formerly known as the Free School and now the headquarters of the Nuneaton Society. There I had the good fortune to be taught by two ladies who were interested in literature in general but George Eliot in particular. One was the headmistress, Miss Florence Towe, and the other Miss Dorothy Greenwood who later married the youngest son of Canon Dodds, Vicar of Chilvers Coton. She was later the authoress of the first booklet about the George Eliot Countryside. Miss Towe read to us the story of Maggie and Tom from The Mill on the Floss. She had an entertaining way of reading and I listened with rapt attention. So much so that I went home and looked in our bookcase and there I found The Mill on the Floss. There was also Silas Marner, Adam Bede, Scenes of Clerical Life with pictures, and Romola. It was with a sense of one upmanship that I told Miss Towe and the rest of the class that we had The Mill on the Floss at home and I had been reading it. I fancied that she was impressed. Miss Towe offered to take anyone who was interested to see the house where George Eliot had lived. About five of us set out to walk through Griff Hollows. There were rocks on one side and overhanging trees on the other and even a handrail on the footpath. It was so steep that the narrow road was paved with stone setts. In the bottom of Griff Hollows was the canal, lined on both sides with trees on the arm which joined the Coventry Canal, Miss Towe told us that this was Red Deeps, the meeting place of Maggie with Philip Wakem. We passed the end of Gipsy Lane where Maggie had run away to the gipsies and we could see a couple of caravans on the grass verge, the horses tethered nearby.