Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 47 (2016)
The road from Trent Valley Station down towards the town centre curves gently past the row of horse-chestnuts in Bond Gate with their white candles. To the young boy arriving to take up residence in Nuneaton it promised something new, always interesting, always just out of reach.
From my earliest years I was a keen reader and felt the privilege of our local author's being one of the unquestioned greats; but it was George Eliot's north Warwickshire that initially attracted me, with The Mill on the Floss and Si/as Marner my favourites. This was reinforced by cycling the lanes for miles around, admiring the cottages and farmhouses, absorbing the atmosphere of the churches and, though much less consciously than she expressed it in a letter, 'being made happier by seeing well-cultivated land'. I already felt that her sane treatment of central issues of being human was rooted in the beautiful ordinariness of these landscapes. But in later years, while retaining the general admiration, I've become more subjective and idiosyncratic in my reading, and above all, strangely slowly, I've come to realize the unusual degree of integration of my early years with George Eliot's Nuneaton in the narrower sense, the Treby Magna of Felix Holt, and above all the Milby of 'Janet's'Repentance'. My entire thirteen school years were spent next to Milby parish church, first at Vicarage Street Church of England Primary School, just across the road from where Mary Ann Evans herself went to school, and then at King Edward VI Grammar School, supposedly attended by the narrator of Scenes of Clerical Life. The window of our Arts Sixth Form room set high in the school's end wall looks just as it did in the nineteen-fifties, and overlooks the grave of James William Buchanan, Gentleman; so .the original of the arrogant wife-beater to this day seeks redemption in a single word of social prestige.