English, Department of


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The George Eliot Review 26 (1995) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (26)


On Sunday, 2 January 1842, Mary Ann Evans's father wrote in his diary: 'Went to Trinity Church in the forenoon" Miss Lewis went with me. Mary Ann did not go. I stopd the sacrament (sic) and Miss Lewis stopd also.' Two weeks later, again: 'Went to church in the forenoon. Mary Ann did not go to church'.

Robert Evans was perhaps principally interested in making sure that his daughter behaved as was proper for a middle class young woman with eligible prospects. Her scruples may have concerned him less. But there is no disguising the genuine grief he felt at this wayward act of subversion. He and his daughter were barely on speaking terms for two months, communicating only by letter. She wrote to him:

Such being my very strong convictions, it cannot be a question with any mind of strict integrity, whatever judgment may be passed on their truth, that I could not without vile hypocrisy and a miserable truckling to the smile of the world for the sake of my supposed interests, profess to join in worship which I wholly disapprove. This, and this alone I will not do even for your sake.

What she called her 'holy war' lasted four months. After that, she agreed to conform and resume churchgoing. But for Marian, nothing had changed. She had not reverted to orthodox Christian belief: far from it. For this profoundly inward woman had been rocked to her foundations by a deep spiritual crisis, after which things could never be the same again.

What happened to Marian Evans in Coventry in 1842 was, I believe, of the profoundest importance for her career. Whereas it was Nuneaton that gave the world the woman, it was Coventry, and her loss of faith, that conceived the writer. After that, it was Lewes, the best literary midwife of the nineteenth century, who brought the novelist to birth. For Marian' s crisis brought to the surface hitherto repressed energies. It marked the beginning of her true creativity, which must surely be connected to her relentless questioning of both the personal and public status quo.