English, Department of



Margaret Wolfit

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (25)


In 1992 I made my first visit to South Africa. I had always wanted to see for myself what life Was like there and come to my own conclusions. It was an extraordinary time to visit. Mandela had been released from goal and a referendum of the whites was announced while we were there. The scene was changing - everywhere people seemed aware of the evils of apartheid, and that things must and would change. My invitation to give readings and speak about George Eliot came directly from that first visit, I was asked to give a course at the 1993 Summer School at Cape Town University. It was a challenge I couldn't refuse. I'm not an academic and I didn't know what to expect. My course was scheduled for 9.15 a.m. so that it could inaugurate the second week of the Summer School. Here are a few excerpts from the diary I kept then.

Saturday January 23rd, 93 Cape Town.

Did a dummy run in the car to see the lay of the land. The University is in two parts. The Upper Campus with original buildings and imposing statue of Cecil Rhodes. There is a wonderful view of the Western Cape from the steps leading to the main buildings. A tunnel under Rhodes Drive, the main N2 Trunk Road, links the Upper and Middle campus. I am to give my course in the Education block which is a modern building and part of the middle campus. Found Lecture theatre 1 by walking down a couple of levels from the entrance. I felt excited but very nervous! A man sitting outside the Lecture theatre turned out to be Tony Saddington. We introduced ourselves - As there was a lecture in progress it was impossible to have a look. Drove around to get a better measure of parking facilities as like all Universities the layout is complicated.

Monday D Day!

Parked car in P3 as instructed with my red disc in a prominent position on dash board. Car Park pretty full even at 8.45 a.m. Met Tony Saddington and Librarian who was to introduce me. Felt a long way from home! It is a large lecture theatre and seemed full, mostly middle aged to elderly audience, predominantly female and one nun. No blacks or coloured which disappointed me as it is a multi-racial University and the summer school open to all races but I suppose the cost would preclude many. I was milked and introduced. Once I started I felt better. A very perceptive intelligent audience and wonderful on comedy -lots of laughs for the auctioneer in Middlemarch. Today was mainly on G. E.'s life. Finished rather before the hour and asked for questions. One woman said I didn't need a mike as I knew how to use my voice which was gratifying! Afterwards a number of people came up to talk. Apparently Newdigate is a well-known name in Knysna and Grahamstown - early settlers. I had coffee in the Staff room afterwards and met Penny Morrell who deals with the Extra-Mural activities. Everyone is very friendly. They are showing the Television Silas Mamer at lunch time today. A letter from South African Broadcasting to ring Marilyn Holloway. Have arranged an interview for Friday.