Thursday, October 25, 2007

Simply Georgeous


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...

9 comments:

R.H. said...

Why did she have to use a man's name? Other lady writers showed no need to. I think it was more of an eccentricity.

I struggled through Mill on the Floss years ago, and have totally forgotten it.

That's so pants said...

Hi RH

The use of the pen name was more to protect her identity as a woman living openly with a married man (George Lewes), although she was also motivated by a desire to be seen as more than just a romantic novelist. Then, as now, women were expected to confine themselves to writing about the domestic arena. These days, women use initials instead of men's names - AS Byatt, JK Rowling etc. I love The Mill on the Floss - what a great illustration it is of the limitations on women's opportunities.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Well I think women write about romance because it's what interests them most.

That's so pants said...

Hi RH

I think it's true to say that women who write romance do so because it interests them and also because there is a big market for it amongst other women.

It is not true to say that this is the only topic that interests women writers. I know you didn't actually say that but I do think the raised eyebrows in the literary world in Britain over Anne Enright's MAN Booker Prize win is evidence that books by women are still routinely being perceived as being predominantly 'domestic'.

You could say that Charles Dickens was as much a writer of popular, home-centred fiction as, say, Jane Austen (whose status as one of the most important English novelists ever is fairly recently bestowed. She was marginalised in her own time as a chronicler of social trivia).

In the context of the greater inequalities in the world of which we are acutely aware, it may not seem important whether or not women novelists are accorded the same intellectual status as men.

I look at the paperback best sellers list every week and there is nearly always a majority of novels by women in the top ten - except at Christmas when the novels of Dan Brown occupy the top three positions - what is THAT about? And no novelist is likely to top JK Rowling's earnings unless they are the new JK Rowling. I have a feeling her record will last a long time.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Women have always written the bulk of kiddies stories, they're also the biggest readers of novels, men only read them during Christmas holidays. Those best sellers you mention are all trash. Dickens wrote about factories and prisons, pickpockets and the gallows, dirt poverty and injustice. All you get from Austen is gossip and chatter: Darcy with no doodle. She was a romance writer.

R.H. said...

Thanks for not rejecting that.
I appreciate people -bloggers or whatever, with the breadth to consider views that might be unpopular.

That's so pants said...

No problem RH

I think you know that I only ever reject comments that I regard as offensive (racist, sexist etc).

xxx

Pants

Ann O'Dyne said...

A beast called any other name is still a beast (steer,or heifer):

better that Mary Ann is still referred to as 'George' than to be calling her a 'right caaar'

That's so pants said...

Hi Annie

Yes, well. There were some aspects of Victorian life that were clearly more sophisticated than the customs we know today.

xxx

Pants