Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 17 (1986)
To compile a programme of Readings about 'the curse of the drinking classes' (Oscar Wilde) which is both· satisfying and moving, requires some diligence and industry. This belies Gabriel Woo If's statement, as he introduced himself to his audience, that, apart from two whole weeks in an office, he had spent his life not doing a day's work, in Mr. Lawrence senior's sense of the word. As a matter of fact, we were moved, in a most satisfying way, sometimes to laughter, sometimes to tears, by passages read with such feeling that it was hard to believe that our reader had not himself sustained a callous or two, in the course of applying his hands in the garden, or by climbing on to a chair with hammer at the ready, emulating Uncle Podger.
The consistent theme of work imparted a Pleasing unity to the programme, and gave the regular attender at the Annual Readings the distinct impression that something was different this year. The performance was as delightful as ever, and after Silas Marner had demonstrated the solitariness of a nineteenth century weaver's life, and introduced that corollary of work, money, we were carried along, dipping into the minds of authors as various as John Davidson (not known to me), Arthur Hugh Clough, Thomas Hood and Thomas Hardy, and getting a glimpse of women's work at home with Silas Marner and Dolly Winthrop, until we were lacerated by that painful episode in English History, children at work in the mines and factories.
Henry Mayhew, whose pathetic little Watercress Girl's story was sensitively and movingly told, brought the first half to an end with what seemed to be a rousing song-and-dance performed, pas-de-deux, by A Photographic Man and A Cesspool Sewerman. These two lusty labourers gave the lie to the saying that 'if you enjoy it, it ain't work', for, clearly, the workers enjoyed it, the performer enjoyed it and the audience was quite overcome with mirth.