Address at Wreath-Laying in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey 19 June 2003
Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 35 (2004)
I'm a member of just two literary fellowships: one, or course, is the George Eliot Fellowship; the other is the Dickens Fellowship. As a Dickensian as well as an Eliotian, I'm very aware of the fact that, almost every year since 1986, which marked the 150th anniversary of Sketches by Boz, there has been at least one major event in London to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a work by Charles Dickens. It will be another three or four years before we can begin to celebrate the 150th anniversaries of the works of George Eliot (who was only seven years Dickens's junior): Scenes of Clerical Life began to appear in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine on 1 January 1857, and was published in book form in 1858. But it's because of those publications that we're here in the Abbey today. Just as George Eliot was the author of them, so did they engender George Eliot; for 150 years ago no one of that name - at least, no one familiar to us - yet existed.
Nevertheless, 1853 was the year which made it possible for Marian Evans to become also George Eliot. I say 'also' quite deliberately, to allow the author the private persona that it was always important for her to retain. Marian Evans, or rather, Marian Evans Lewes (as she was to call herself), lived side by side with George Eliot. In 1853, however, she was still just Marian Evans, and it is the Marian Evans of that year I wish especially to call to mind today.