English, Department of



Graham Handley

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 28 (1997) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (28)


It has always seemed to me, and doubtless to many others, that some of the most moving and evocative words ever written by George Eliot occur near the beginning of the third chapter of her last novel, Daniel Deronda:

A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge; a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbours, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort or reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood.

I make no apology for opening my address with this quotation, in a spot of native land where the criteria for permanent placement surely include the simple loving qualities, the sweet habits of the blood as well as the widening of knowledge which sustains the mind, promotes perspective and vision, encompassing the human and the intellectual which makes for the inspirational experience of literature by which so many of us set such great store. I remember feeling some years ago that it was good to see George Eliot's spirit resting in this spot of native land close to those of two twentieth-century poets of distinction, W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas. Like her, these two were variously seen as sinners, and, like her, they bear witness to the fact that this chosen spot is above creed, convention, dogma, or any narrowness or bias that inhibits our capacity to appreciate - or reverence - the creative genius. Auden lived with the librettist Chester Kallman for some years as unconventionally as George Eliot lived with George Henry Lewes, and during that time he produced some of his greatest poems and reached that maturity which make many of us believe that he is the most gifted of twentieth century poets. Dylan Thomas's life, rather than his work, has sometimes been a happy hunting ground for those who feed on the frailties of human nature or, as George Henry Lewes would have put it, with his acid quotational verve:

Great fleas have little fleas, and lesser fleas to bite'em,

And these again have other fleas, and so ad infinitum.