1 January 2020 Susannah

George Eliot turns 200

Statue of George Eliot at Nuneaton

George Eliot turned 200 on 22nd November 2019. Virginia Woolf once described Middlemarch as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. I’m not really certain what Woolf meant, and do NOT agree with her, but I do adore Middlemarch. George Eliot uses many images of webs within the novel, and the book itself is like a magnificently constructed web, with all strands interrelated and forming a wonderful picture in its entirety. In her home town of Nuneaton in Warwickshire there have been talks, readings, an art competition and dramatic performances. The island of Jersey, which she visited with George Henry Lewes, has created a series of postage stamps featuring her and her words. Her childhood home, Griff Farm, is being renovated (not before time!) and next February the University of Sydney is holding a George Eliot conference.

But the best way to celebrate this truly remarkable woman (who earned more by her own efforts than any other woman in Victorian England) is to read her novels – The Mill on the Floss which is both tragic and extremely funny, moving Adam Bede, the progressive Daniel Deronda and that superb Middlemarch.

I also loved The Road to Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead. And for a good biography, you could try George Eliot: The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes. You might also like to try a new book which is getting rave reviews, In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O’Shaugnessy. It’s a novel about her life and loves.

Have you read any of George Eliot’s books? Let me know in a comment.

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Header image credit- Statue of George Eliot at Nuneaton, by diamond geezer, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dgeezer/24640361857
Body image credit- “George Eliot at 30 by François D’Albert Durade” by http://www.accd.edu/sac/english/bailey/geliot.htm. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia.

Comments (8)

  1. Marjorie June

    As well as Middlemarch I enjoyed Silas Marner, possibly because I am a spinner and weaver. I must revisit it as I have a copy from years back. Thanks for bringing George Elliot to my attention.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I must also reread Silas Marner – it is ages since I read it. Hope you enjoy it all over again!

  2. Susannah Fullerton

    Stamford is just gorgeous – I’ve been several times and also love the BBC TV adaptation.
    Now, I knew Middlemarch was written originally as different books, but have never thought of reading it that way – must try. It’s such a magisterial work of fiction – so superb, and I’m in love with Tertius Lydgate.

    • Susannah, I forgot to add that I too loved “The Road to Middlemarch,” a terrific book for all lovers of the romance of great literature, and will be seeking out the new book that you mentioned “In Love with George Eliot”, which I truly am!

      • Susannah Fullerton

        There was a rave review of it in the most recent Sydney Morning Herald, so I assume in The Age too?
        Yes, The Road to Middlemarch was fabulous, wasn’t it!

  3. Thanks for reminding everyone about George Eliot.In my opinion, she is still one of the most under-rated and greatest authors of the 19th century. I love all of the novels, particularly both Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss, but my absolute favourite is Silas Marner.

    Many people find Middlemarch a bit daunting to read. It can be made more approachable by reading it in its original parts, following the four main story threads, which was how the book was written and originally published as eight “volumes”, four sets of two parts each. These have been intermingled in the final version of the book as we are presented with it today, and does lead to some dis-satisfaction from the modern reader.

    I agree with the comment of the previous poster, Margaret Debenham, that the 1994 TV adaptation was excellent. It is available on DVD and gives me particular joy to revisit, as the exteriors were largely filmed in Stamford in Linconshire, the town in which I spent much of my youth, and famously described by John Betjeman as “England’s most attractive town”.

  4. Margaret Debenham

    “Middlemarch” is one of my absolute favourite books – up there (almost) with Jane Austen. The characters are so beautifully drawn in all their complexities, and the social hierarchies of the town, and the political background, are set down with great insight and empathy. I thought the 1994 BBC version was very well done, with some excellent actors (Rufus Sewell and the late lamented Robert Hardy among them). While not quite as superb as “Middlemarch”, her other books are (mostly) pretty wonderful – again, great stories with fascinating characters, which also cast a strong clear light on political and social issues of the day. “The Mill on the Floss” always brings me to tears. I also love her short stories, “Scenes From Clerical Life”. The one exception, for me, is “Romola” – it seems to get totally bogged down with all the historical detail, and I found it a struggle to finish.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I totally agree about Romola! I also rank Middlemarch up there near Jane Austen. I listened to The Mill on the Floss a few years ago which made me realise what a very funny book it is. Those scenes with all the aunts are wonderful. She is such a brilliant novelist and deserves more prominence than she gets today.

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