Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 18 (1987)
In 1838, at the age of 18, Mary Ann Evans was deep in her evangelical period, taking everything very, very seriously. On a visit to London with her brother Isaac she refused to accompany him to the theatre, preferring instead to stay home and read History of the Jews. Not quite theatre, but she went to S1. Michaelis Church in Coventry with Miss Rebecca Franklin, her teacher at the Coventry school, to hear Haydn's Creat'ion, Handel's Jephtha and a new oratorio by Mendelssohn entitled Paul (all in one concert) and she wrote to her old school-friend, Martha Jackson, "nothing can justify the using of an intensely interesting and solemn passage of Scripture as a rope dancer uses her rope". (Letters 1. 9) How very solemn the young Mary Ann was!
Her next recorded visit to the theatre was around 1851. Her life and her lifestyle had changed completely. She was now pursuing a literary creer in London. Far from the solemn and, we must say it, the priggish Mary Anne of the youthful deeply moral opinions, she has gone through the traumatic time of her strange relationship with the publisher, John Chapman, when it appears that moral considerations had been sacrificed to her need for love, even from a man who had two other 'loves' under the same roof. That unhappy period over, she has launched herself into another friendship which was to cause her deep distress, as we now know from the recently discovered letters to her new friend, Herbert Spencer. But apart from the emotional crisis, there are now visits with him to the theatre. Part of Spencer's work as a sub-editor for the Economist was to review the theatre and opera, and she frequently accompanied him. They saw Chain of Events, adapted by G. H. Lewes, but this was before Lewes began to play a much more important role in her life than ever Spencer or Chapman could have done.