BLTC Press Titles

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Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

George Eliot's Silas Marner

by George Eliot


During the years that Silas Marner was said to live in Raveloe, amid the very stretches of midland England where that village was supposed to lie, was born the little girl who was to write the story of the weaver. Mary Ann Evans, or "George Eliot," was born November 22, 1819. She was the daughter of a man with a strong, noble nature and of a clever mother, both of whom, it is said, she has partly reproduced in two of her most famous characters, Adam Bede and Mrs. Poyser. Her father was the agent for a great family of Warwickshire. Mary Ann was born when they lived on a part of the estate called South Farm; but when she was six months old, the family moved to Griff House, a red-brick, ivy-covered house facing the high-road which runs between the towns of Coventry and Nuneaton. Two coaches passed the house daily and were the great events of the day for the little girl and her dear brother, Isaac, who was three years older. This brother is said to be Maggie Tulliver's "dear Tom" in The Mill on the Floss. Her life, even in these early days, offered an observing child a considerable variety; for Mary Ann Evans was one of those fortunate people, born to the middle lot, in which neithar poverty nor luxury limits experience.

The places and events of these early days live in her great novels, written thirty years later. Her mother's garden bloomed permanently as Mrs. Poyser's garden. In the little village church preached Amos Barton, her first literary creation. Her father was devoted to his eager little daughter, and used to take her about with him, letting her stand between his knees when he drove, that she might see everything on all sides. At Arbury Hall, when he went to consult with its master, he used to leave the little girl in the housekeeper's rooms; and to-day, this great English house is visited by strangers, not because of its beauty or its history, but because it has been described by the daughter of a steward in one of her great pictures of life. It was probably on one of these drives with her father that she first saw Silas Marner, the pale weaver, and was somewhat afraid of him. They say she did not appear to be a remarkable child at first, but we are sure she was, if, even as a little girl, she was storing up these deep impressions.

When she was five years old she was sent away to school because her mother was not very strong. During the eleven years which followed, she went to three different schools, and she must have made excellent use of these years, for she developed remarkable ability as a musician and a linguist. Her teacher of English, the story is, read her compositions only to enjoy them, and her music teacher said his hour with her was a delightful rest from his other teaching. But she was a rather solitary girl, making only one intimate friend and that one of her teachers, a Miss Lewis. At home she had been brought up in the Established Church, but at school she came under the influence of the Dissenters, of whom Miss Lewis was one. Mary Ann, with all the ardor of her nature, threw herself into this form of religion, so that, though she continued to attend church with her family when at home, she became bitterly intolerant of all adornments and pleasures of life. We are glad she had this phase of experience, for without it we might have missed many beautiful characters from her novels.

When she was sixteen, her mother died. As her older sister married about the same time, she had to give up school to keep house for her father. This is no light task on a farm where butter and cheese are to be made and fruit to be taken care of. But she did her daily drudgery here, as she did everything, thoroughly and well, taking up also the study of German and Italian. Her one spiritual outlet during this time seems to have been her letters, full of religious emotion, to Miss Lewis. It was rather a dreary life for a young girl of intellectual ability, bare of stimulus and comradeship.

At twenty, however, a change came for her. Her brother Isaac married and took over his father's work. So Robert Evans and his daughter Mary Ann left the country of Adam Bede and Maggie Tulliver and moved into a pleasant house near Coventry. Here a great and delightful opportunity came to her. Among her near neighbors were people who lived in the world of ideas, as well as in the world of things. She entered into their comradeship as one born to "it. But these new friends led her away from both forms of religion in which she had been interested; away, indeed, from faith in any form of religion with a creed and rules. Although she never lost her deeply religious nature nor her reverence for the great figure of Christ, she did grow impatient with the forms of her father's church and she refused to attend its services with him. Her father was so shocked and hurt by this attitude that he felt they must separate. The ardent, impetuous young woman, however, after a visit with her brother, saw that she had been rash and that it was not necessary for her to wound the feelings of a dear father. So she continued to attend church with him and kept her new views for herself and her new friends. Her ability received recognition in a request to translate from the German Strauss's Life of Jesus. This is a book containing what is called " the higher criticism " which deals with the sources of the New Testament. George Eliot undertook this difficult task and accomplished it brilliantly. She said, however, that at times such an analysis of the beautiful Bible story seemed to her impossible.

Her work and her companionship now made her very happy and her life widened rapidly. She wrote at this time in one of her letters: " Every year strips us of at least one vain expectation and teaches us to reckon some solid good in its stead. I will never believe that our youngest days are our happiest." For eight years she lived on in this way at Coventry, studying and writing a little, but mainly devoting herself, body and soul, to her father, who had become a confirmed invalid. Her care for him was very exhausting; and although she often complained that it was a dull way to spend one's youth, she did her duty so well that her father's physician said he had never seen a patient better cared for. On the night of her father's death, after she had been holding his hand almost all of the night, she wrote to one of her friends: "What shall I be without my father? It will seem as if a part of my moral nature were gone." He died in 1849 and his daughter went abroad for a year to recover in body and spirit.

On her return, she lived with relatives and friends until 1851, when she determined to make her home in London, There she was at once offered the position of assistant editor of the Westminster Review, for she was recognized as a woman of remarkable abilities by all who met her. In London her position brought her into contact with the leading writers and thinkers of England, and her intellect and personality made them her friends. Among those whom she knew at this time were Carlyle, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and George Henry Lewes.

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