George Eliot Early Memories on Writing Literature

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      The region that George Eliot writes about is the English Midlands, more especially Warwickshire and Coventry. It is a calm and placid region which can boast of no towering peaks and; wide, open forests, but these Midland plains spoke to the novelist of ancient order and peace. It is a scenery of little ups and downs, George Eliot was very sensitive to the beauty of these Midland plains and never ceased to love them. Even to the last days of her life, she constantly turned her eyes longingly and lovingly to the Midlands. This was so because her native county of Warwickshire was right in the heart of this region.


      When George Eliot first lifted up her childish eyes, the landscape which met her eye was undulating, well-wooded and picturesque. Says Parkinson, “Quite a feature of the scenery — and indeed of Warwickshire generally is that the hedges are everywhere closely planted with trees, whose height, as well as the riotous wastefulness of the hedge-rose, give evidence of a kindly soil and climate”, At the back of the Griff house (her early home) there are flat fields which stretch all the way to the Griff pits. Through the fields are paths leading to the “round-pool”, the “rookery elms” and probably to the “Red Deeps” where Maggie Tulliver secretly meets Philip Wakem. In her autobiographical poem Brother and Sister there are a number of allusions to her early home and the scenery around. We get an exact picture of the scene as it still exists round Griff's house.


      When George Eliot was a girl she used to be taken out for a drive through countryside by her father. They both enjoyed the drives and during these trips she observed the scenery which forms the background to her novels. Later she claimed that the alphabet which she learned to read her native country, “was not within the boundaries of an ancestral park, but among the midland villages and markets, by the tree-studded hedge-rows, and where the heavy barges seem in the distance to float mysteriously among the rushes and the feathered grass. With her father, she visited Staffordshire and Derbyshire which were the scenes of activity of his early manhood. The background against which the drama of Adam Bede lakes place is that of the borders of Staffordshire and Derbyshire; that of The Mill on the Floss is Lincolnshire; whilst Silas Maner, Felix Holt, and Middle march have Warwickshire landscape as their background”.

      It was in Coventry that George Eliot went to school and gained lasting impressions of the landscape which is reproduced in her novels. Close to Nuneaton was George Eliot’s birthplace, and tore she began her intimate acquaintance with farmers, villagers and other aspects of the life of rural England, which she later portrayed with all its color and reality in her novels. It is in the English Midlands that's number of great men and great women of England have been born, centuries apart in time, but very close in space. “Thus, looking upon the same environment, George Eliot has rendered the same service for rural England in the days of Queen Victoria that Shakespeare did for the lime of Queen Elizabeth — painting a never to be forgotten picture of life as it really was.”


      Warwickshire is a region, where as far as the eye can see, there are extensive tracts of flat-lying plains separated by ridges.
Rivers flow slowly between loamy banks. It is a region of heavy fallows; rank meadows, and breezy uplands; of sweet lanes, with wide grassy margins and wild straggling hedges, everywhere closely planted with the oak and the ash, and where the holly runs riot and gives brightness even in winter; a comfortable looking country.” Traveling down a lane, one sees on either side hedges and grass borders. Beyond are farmhouses and cottages and on the wayside are villages. Northwards, a narrow strip between Coventry and Nuneaton, the countryside is blackened with coal. Here industry and agriculture exist side by side. Coal has been mined at Chilvers Colon from the thirteenth century. The contrast between different scenes which George Eliot was familiar with in childhood has been vividly rendered by her in her introduction to Felix Holt: “In these midland districts the traveler passed rapidly from one phase of English life to another; after looking down on a village dirty with coal-dust, noisy with the shaking of looms, he might skirt a parish all of fields, high hedges, and deep-rutted lanes; after the coach had rattled over the pavement of a manufacturing town, the scenes of riots and trade-union meetings, it would take him in another ten minutes into a rural region, where the neighborhood of the town was only felt in the advantage of a near market for corn, cheese and hay.” George Eliot has, minutely and with a photographic memory, depicted the charm’s of this scenery. It is what a traveler in the days of horse-drawn coaches would have witnessed from the box seat. She has painted as exquisite a picture in words as is to be found anywhere in English Literature. In a ride through Warwickshire beginning from the south from Stratford-on-Avon, through Warwick, Coventry and Nuneaton, to the northernmost part of the country, one still sees all the different changes in scenery described by George Eliot and differences in life arising from agricultural, industrial and social conditions.

      George Eliot regretted the changes in the countryside that took place with industrialization but the beauty of the countryside she had seen in her youth became a part of her and is reflected in her works. In her novels the rivers, and lakes of this placid region, as well as the church towers, inns and the Gothic and palatial mansions of the country squires, and village schools, are all important landmarks. It is possible to identify most of the places in her early novels.


      George Eliot was born on South Arbury Farm which stands within Arbury Park. Within a day’s walk from the farmhouse are all the places that have been made famous through her Scenes of Clerical Life. Less than a mile across the grassy park one can see the Arbury Hall, and the Cheverel Manor of ‘Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story’. To the left, standing on hill, is Astley Church, the Knebley Church of the story. A mile to the east from Griff House is Stockingford, the Paddiford of ‘Janet’s Repentance’. The fictitious names of many other towns can easily be identified with their originals. A mile south of Nimeaton, the visitors can see the Chilver’s Colon Church (Shepperton Church), which is a small stone church. The story of ‘Amos Barton’ opens with a description of this Church and, in all essentials, the description still applies to it. It was in this church that Mary Ann Evans was baptized and it was this church she attended with her parents during their stay at Griff. It is no wonder she looks back at it so fondly. Nearby is the little vicarage and it was there that Milly fought her losing battle with poverty and sickness. The little vicarage is an old-fashioned house with a pretty garden. The Astley Church, the original of Knebley Church in ‘Mr. Gilfil’s love Story’ is near the Arbury estate. George Eliot describes the interior as having ‘twelve apostles, with their heads very much on one side, holding didactic ribbons’. It is interesting to note that the real church does not have twelve apostles, instead it has eighteen saints-nine saints with halos from the Old Testament and nine saints without halos from the New Testament. In this way there is constant modification and transformation of reality, but in essential details the originals remain the same and can easily be recognized. There is no falsification of reality.


      In her novels George Eliot describes quite a few inns. The description of the inns is given with care and the conversations are cleverly reported. The novelist probably heard her father reporting gossip he had heard at the inns, which he visited frequently, to his wife. She must have absorbed every word of it and hence we get in her novels some of the finest inn-scenes in the English language. The ‘Old Port Arms’ where Mr. Hackit presided over the annual dinner of the ‘Association for the Prosecution of Felons’ stands in the marketplace of Nuneaton. Its real name is ‘Newdegate Arms’. This inn is historically famous as it was from its windows that Colonel Newdegate read the Riot Act in 1832, Close to the Newdegate Arms is The Bull Hotel which plays an important part in ‘Janet’s Repentance’ as the ‘Red Lion’ of Milby. In the second chapter of Adam Bede the traveler to Rosseter stops at ‘Donnithorne Arms’ which ‘stood at the entrance of the village of Hayslope’.

      The original of the Donnithorne Arms is the ‘Bromley Davenport Arms’ and it stands at the entrance of the village of Ellastone in Staffordshire. The green lay at the extremity of the village, and from it the road branched off in two directions, one leading farther up the hill by the church, and the other winding gently toward the valley. This is an exact description of the fork in the road just beyond the Bromley-Davenport Arms. (Charles Olcott)


      The description of Donnithorne Chase in Adam Bede corresponds to the beautiful estate of Wootton Hall, not far from the village of Ellaston. Over hundred years ago it was owned by Sir Francis Newdegate whose son introduced Robert Evans to the old Squire and Robert Evans later became the Squire’s belief! This corresponds closely to the story in Adam Bede where Arthur Donnithorne makes Squire Donnithorne give the job of management of his lands to Adam Bede. Wootton Hall itself is described closely in the novel: “The house would have been nothing but a plain square mansion of Queen Anne’s time but for the remnant of an old Abbey to which it was united at one end in much the same way as one may sometimes see a new farmhouse high and prime at the end of the older and lower farm-offices. The line old remnant stood a little backward and under the shadow of tall beeches, but the sun was now on the taller and more advanced front, the blinds were all down, and the house seemed asleep in the hot midday.”

      Robert Evans was born in a little cottage in Reston. Between the cottage and the village of Norbury was a little brick cottage owned by the village schoolmaster Bartie Masey. The name of Bartie Masey has been left unchanged in Adam Bede. It was to this cottage school that Robert Evans (Adam Bede) went to night school. George Eliot no doubt had heard of the going on in the school fi*om her father and she is able to give a vivid account of it in the novel.

      These landmarks play an important part in the novels of George Eliot. They appear and reappear in her novels and this imparts to them a rare continuity and organic wholeness. If a “Visitor visits the geographical scenes and places mentioned in the early novels he will find himself in familiar surroundings which have been so accurately described and only faintly distinguished, it is interesting to note that Adam Bede which is based much less on memory and personal experience than Scenes of Clerical Life and is toot even set in Warwickshire, is richer pictorially then her first novel. Apart from the description of ‘Cheverel Manor’ in ‘Mr. ‘Gilfil’s Love Story’ there are not many other visual impressions of the settings in which the stories are located. “What distinguishes the landscapes and interiors in Scenes of Clerical Life from those in Adam Bede is a matter of quality, not quantity: it is the narrator’s obtrusive, openly autobiographical feeling of personal acquaintance with the region” (Henry Auster)

      According to George Eliot the background of Adam Bede was based on family history and her father’s account of his background and not on her own: “As to my indebtedness to facts of locale, and personal history of a small kind, connected with Staffordshire and Derbyshire—you may imagine of what kind that is, when I tell you that I never remained in either of those counties more than a few clays together, and of only two such visits have I more than a shadowy interrupted recollection. The details which I knew as facts and have made use of for my ‘picture were gathered from such imperfect allusion and narrative as I heard from my father, in his occasional talk about old times”. In other words, in Adam Bede, the locale is imagined rather than intimate.

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