George Eliot knew her onions
George Eliot knew people. She wrote men and women as deeply and equally well as each other. Not everyone can do that, some men write female shadows, some women write stereotypical men, but George watched and listened, and she wrote people. Middlemarch is a town where every character is well drawn, and every story explored, and like all her novels, social and political as well as emotional and religious aspects are all included. I imagine her to have been a sponge, permanently interested in the world around her and its details. This probably explains why it’s a huge brick of a book you could hurt your back lifting.
She was also hilarious. She would have made a great guest on QI or The Daily Show. She knew politics, she knew religion, she knew how to laugh at both.
There is a wonderful scene at an auction where an ugly fire fender with a sharp edge is being sold, causing the audience to break out in quips, one of which being –
Gentleman, here’s a fender that if you had the misfortune to hang yourselves, would cut you down in no time – with astonishing celerity – four-and-sixpence…an appropriate thing for a spare bedroom where there was a four-poster and a guest a little out of his mind –
George Eliot’s (or Mary Anne Evans, later Cross, as she really was) father paid for her to have an education as her family decided she wasn’t attractive enough to marry. Thanks, dad, I think? Although, she had unconventional (for the time) but monogamous relationships, but she didn’t have children, and she wasn’t buried at Westminster Abbey as she had rejected Christianity.
Virginia Woolf said Middlemarch was ‘One of the few English novels written for grown-up people.’ Martin Amis said it was the greatest novel in the English language. Praise from the fussy and stern is praise indeed.
This is her grave at Highgate Cemetery, which is a lovely place, where she has bluebells and blackberries growing around her grave, so quite frankly I’d rather be there than the Abbey. A memorial at the Abbey is one thing, but to be interred in Poet’s Corner is rather like being buried in a room full of tourists. No thanks.