Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 37 (2006)
It is always exciting to discover something new and to come upon it unexpectedly. That was my happy experience a few years ago. I had decided to try my hand at devising a biographical programme on George Eliot and to attempt to portray her at the end of her life, reminiscing on past events. I wanted to absorb as much as I could about her, starting with her early days. What were the influences that shaped her life and writing? What books had she read as a child?
She tells us: 'I could not be satisfied with the things around me. I was constantly living in a world of my own creation, and was quite content to have no companions that I might be left to my own musings and imagine scenes in which I was chief actress; conceive what a character novels would give to these Utopias. I was early supplied with them by those who kindly sought to gratify my appetite for reading and of course I made use of the materials they supplied for building my castles in the air, although I was slow to read because I enjoyed playing more.'
It seems as though it was not until her brother Isaac, whom she adored, was given a pony and cared less and less to play with his young sister, that she turned to reading for consolation. 'Books became a passion with me, I read everything I could lay hands on. [ ... ] I found passionate delight and total absorption in Aesop's Fables which opened up a new world to my imagination. It was given to me by an old friend of the family, an elderly gentleman, who came to visit and brought me a book from time to time. I was very grateful as we did not have many books at home: the Bible, Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress and Joe Miller's Jest book being among the few.'