Thursday, October 25, 2007
George Eliot statue, Nuneaton. By Pants
George Eliot was born on the Arbury Estate just outside of Nuneaton in 1819. I want to write a much longer post about her once I've read Scenes of Clerical Life. Much of it is set in Nuneaton and the local Waterstone's sold me a copy of the Wordsworth edition for an inspiring £1.99.
I chose to spend the day in Nuneaton after a blow out weekend with my cousins the family Ozmicro at their charming somewhere up north cottage. The nearest town is the delightfully named Ashby de la Zouche. I know it as the place Ivanhoe is set and I know that because Heather is writing a musical adaptation of Ivanhoe in The Way of the Pear. So, I read it a few times.
There were several birthdays involved in the weekend and Pa Ozmicro had won a timely luxury Fortnum & Mason hamper. The empty box will make a useful clothes basket, I'm sure. There was a rugby match, I seem to remember, which we watched at the pub where OZ4 works. We were all quite glum about the outcome because not even Australians like the South Africans. Ma Ozmicro is a fabulous cook and OZ1 was visiting from Jersey. Family eh?
Pa Ozmicro dropped me off in Nuneaton at around 8am. I had a seat booked on the 2.35 Rich Bastard express which I intended to claim come hell or high inflation. I found a lovely Italian cafe called Leonardo's and ate a leisurely breakfast. It was only briefly interrupted by a nutter claiming to be a painter and asking me if we knew each other. 'Grow a long, grey beard', I told him, 'then come back and ask me again. And, while you're about it, invent me a flying machine.'
I found the library where the George Eliot collection is housed. Most people in the room were reading the sports section of The Sun. Nuneaton is not the thriving market town it once was. It didn't bother me because I had no competition whatever for the material I wanted to read. I didn't have a lot of time but I wanted to peruse her notebooks, observing her handwriting and thought processes before going out to imagine her in the town.
George Eliot's formal education ended at age 16 when her mother died. It was an unusual upbringing. Her father Robert Evans was a surveyor and land agent to Sir Roger Newdigate, the master of Arbury Hall and grand patron of literature. Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot's road to self-determination would have been unlikely even for a man of her class. Her circumstances were exceptional. Although her mother's death required her to devote herself to household duties for a time, she was given free ranging rights to the library at Arbury Hall where she continued to educate herself to a classical standard that is virtually incomprehensible today.
I sat reading her notebook in which she considers Plato in Greek, Descartes in French and Locke in English. Naturally, there are also copious passages in competent Latin. Here was a woman so gifted in so many ways who was reliant on good will and even better luck to get herself schooled up. Even then, she had to publish under a man's name. Even now, she's still George Eliot and not Mary Ann Evans. More later...