George Eliot letters collection

Facsimile and transcripts of the George Eliot Collection:

Mary Ann Evans became famous as the novelist George Eliot. She was born in 1819 at South Farm on the Arbury estate near Nuneaton. Her writings deal with a wide range of human emotions which were felt in the 19th century in just the way they are today, and presumably always will be.

Nuneaton Library holds one of the prime collections on George Eliot in Britain, with over 2000 books, facsimiles of 190 letters and a collection of scrapbooks. The County Record Office holds the original letters.

The letters

Flickr – view transcripts of the letters

The collection is divided into the following groups:

Contemporary letters by or to George Eliot and George Henry Lewes;

  • Kirby letters – 12 letters relating to the Sibree family whom Mary Ann Evans got to know whilst living in Coventry after 1841. She maintained contact with Mary Sibree (later Mrs John Cash) for the rest of her life.
  • Gojnic letters – all date from the 1870s; 14 are to George Henry Lewes from his son Herbert in Africa and are often about money or health (Herbert died of TB in 1875), or from Herbert’s widow. Others in the collection are to George Eliot at the time of Herbert’s death.
  • Helps letters – Arthur Helps was a writer and friend of George Henry Lewes. There are six letters from Lewes to Helps, four of them from 1873 and relating to discussions on vivisection, and six from George Eliot to Alice Helps, dating from 1874 onwards.
  • Wedgwood, Bastian and Stebbing Letters – 13 in total, including three from George Henry Lewes to H C Bastian about his scientific work, and nine in the early 1900s from J W Cross to Mr and Mrs Stebbing, generally avoiding involvement in literary society matters.

George Eliot Fellowship letters

Letters from and to members of Isaac Evans’s family, particularly his son Frederic, extending well into the 20th century. Placed with Nuneaton Library by the George Eliot Fellowship, the letters are of considerable interest to local historians and those interested in the family responses to George Eliot in the 30 years or so after her death.

  • Letters Relating to Robert Evans – four letters relate to George Eliot’s father, Robert Evans;
  • View Letters Relating to Isaac Evans – 57 relate to Isaac Evans and include business matters with Lord Aylesford and Charles Newdigate;
  • Revd Frederic and Charlotte Evans – 33 relate to his son, Revd Frederic Evans and his wife Charlotte;
  • Walter and Eleanor Evans – six relate to Walter Evans; two to Eleanor Evans and 1 to George Eliot’s sister, Chrissey.

Miscellaneous letters and other items

  • miscellaneous Letters – four other miscellaneous letters and two other items

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The George Eliot Collection at Nuneaton Library

Nuneaton Library holds one of the prime collections on George Eliot in Britain.

It was started in the early days of the town’s first public library around 1900 and has been built up over the years. Nuneaton people take great pride in their local author, and the library collected early editions of her works, and books about her from all over the world.

The collection contains:

  • over 2000 books, including the novels, poetry, essays, biographies and literary criticism;
  • photographs;
  • pamphlets;
  • popular titles available for loan.
  • facsimiles of 190 letters – correspondence between the author, her family and friends
  • The George Eliot Fellowship collection of scrapbooks, containing newspaper cuttings and articles about the author, and their work in promoting her.

To view items from the George Eliot Collection please contact us in advance, to make an appointment to visit.

The George Eliot Collection – search the catalogue

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George Eliot: a reading list

If books do furnish a room then a sizeable house could be furnished with the critical works devoted to George Eliot. A veritable industry of George Eliot research, biographies and critical studies have kept university scholars busy since the war.

If you are new to George Eliot and want to find out more about her without having to commit yourself to a lengthy read, the Pitkin Guide to George Eliot is inexpensive, brief and in full colour. The text was written by the George Eliot Fellowship secretary, Kathleen Adams.

After that, the best advice on further reading is a list of George Eliot’s novels: Scenes of Clerical Life (1857); Adam Bede (1859); The Mill on the Floss (1860); Silas Marner (1861); Romola (1862-3); Romola (1866); Middlemarch (1871-2) ; Daniel Deronda (1876).

Readers wishing to learn more would be well advised to read Gordon S Haight, who spent much of his life researching and writing about George Eliot, and his biography (1968) is still unsurpassed. He also edited nine volumes of her letters.

In the UK much of the re-evaluation of George Eliot was undertaken by F R Leavis (1948) and by Barbara Hardy (1958, 1970, 1982, 2006) who is still writing with great depth and understanding and illuminating George Eliot in extraordinary ways.

In the last 25 years there has been an avalanche of work, but for the general reader, new to George Eliot, the following are helpful titles:

For reference:

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George Eliot Links to Nuneaton and Warwickshire

George Eliot’s links with Nuneaton and Warwickshire begin with her birth at South Farm, Arbury and her childhood at Griff House.

Her first school was a Dame school opposite the gates of Griff House. The second school was Miss Lathom’s school at Attleborough, and the third was The Elms in Nuneaton. All those buildings have now gone. Her fourth school was Nant Glynn at 29 Warwick Row in Coventry, which still stands and is an estate agent’s office.

Her Coventry home is in what is now George Eliot Road in Foleshill. She attended Holy Trinity Church in the city centre and visited her friends the Brays at ‘Rosehill’ on Radford Road (now demolished). She visited Leamington and Kenilworth Castle.

George Eliot’s birthplace, South Farm (then known as Arbury Farm) is set in the heart of the estate at Arbury Hall where her father was employed by the Newdigate family. Because of its situation it is not possible to visit the house, except on the special tours organised by the George Eliot Fellowship and Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council. It is still the home of the agent to the estate, as it was in Robert Evans’s day.

Griff House still remains, although much changed inside and enlarged on its west side. It is now a restaurant and hotel. One part still similar to how it was in Mary Ann’s day is the hallway with its flagstone floor. George Eliot described Griff House as similar to Dorlcote Mill in ‘The Mill on the Floss’, and the attic where Maggie and Tom played is the attic at Griff House, now part of the manager’s flat. The round pool has gone but was recreated in the grounds when it became a hotel, though it may not be in the exact vicinity of the original. The grounds are very much changed and the house is now cut off from its position as part of the Arbury estate by the A444 dual carriageway, and was sold in 1972.

Mary Ann was baptised at Chilvers Coton Church in November 1819, a church she described as Shepperton Church in ‘Scenes of clerical Life’. Indeed, her first lines of published fiction recall its ‘substantial stone tower…and its intelligent eye, the clock…’ In the churchyard is the tomb of her parents, Robert and Christiana Evans and their twin sons who died in infancy. Her brother Isaac is also buried in the churchyard. Astley Church near to Nuneaton is Knebley Church in ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ and the nearby castle ruins were Knebley Abbey.

Arbury Hall, the home of Viscount and Viscountess Daventry, is Cheverel Manor in ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’ one of the three ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’. Some of the rooms in the Hall are realistically described in their gothic glory in the story – the chapel, the saloon, the drawing room, the cloisters and the dining room. Arbury Hall opens to the public over summer bank holiday weekends.

In these first published stories Nuneaton became Milby and the parish church of St Nicolas is Milby Church and appears in the third story, ‘Janet’s Repentance’. In this story Dempster House once stood where the George Eliot Memorial Garden is now situated. The immediate area was bombed in May 1941 and reconstruction of the town centre obliterated scenes which George Eliot knew as a girl.

Griff Hollows, the area between Griff and the town was ‘Red Deeps’ where Maggie Tulliver had secret meetings with Philip Wakem in ‘The Mill on the Floss’ and had been a childhood playground for Mary Ann and Isaac. Gypsy Lane and its 19th century gypsy encampments may have inspired the story of Maggie Tulliver running away to join the gypsies.

Stockingford is described in ‘Janet’s Repentance’ as Paddiford Common and Stockingford Church is the chapel there; it was initially a chapel of ease. In this area Mary Ann saw a weaver with a linen pack on his back and it is thought this is what inspired the story of ‘Silas Marner’.

The ‘George Eliot Hotel’ in Bridge Street, Nuneaton was once ‘The Bull’ and was thought to be the origin of the ‘Red Lion’ in ‘Janet’s Repentance’, where Janet’s husband, Lawyer Dempster, drank heavily and took snuff.

‘Adam Bede’ grew out of many of her father’s reminiscences of his childhood in Derbyshire. In the book Staffordshire is Loamshire, Derbyshire is Stonybridge and Derby is Stoniton. Ellastone in Staffordshire is Hayslope and Norbury, where Robert Evans was born, is Norbourne. Dovedale appears as Eagledale, Wirksworth is Snowfield, Ashbourne is Oakbourne and Rocester is Rosseter. In Wirksworth there is a museum in which there is memorabilia about Elizabeth Evans, Mary Ann’s aunt, who told her a story which became that of Hetty Sorrel. Hetty’s trial is undoubtedly set in St Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry.

The use of Griff House, Griff Hollows and Dorlcote Mill have already been mentioned but, in spite of these connections, ‘The Mill on the Floss’ is set in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, as a tidal river was required for the climax of the story. Local people like to identify places in their area but the only one to bear any weight is the Old Hall in Gainsborough where the bazaar was held.

‘Felix Holt, the Radical’ is undoubtedly set in the Midlands, particularly in North Warwickshire. Treby Magna has been suggested as Coventry, Little Treby as Stoneleigh, near Coventry, and Stoneleigh Abbey as Transome Court. The coachman’s ride at the beginning of the book describes the road past Little Treby and on past Transome Court accurately if it is to be identified as Stoneleigh.

‘Romola’ is set in 15th century Florence and the places described in the book can be easily identified: San Marco, Palazzo Vecchio and Palazza Corsini. Il Duomo is where Tito disowns his father; Tito’s lodgings are in Piazza S. Giovanni. San Marco was visited by G.H.Lewes alone as women were not allowed, but George Eliot described the frescoes in San Marco. Savonarola’s death in Piazza Della Signoria is taken into the novel and Tito escapes from the mob by swimming in the Arno from one bridge to another. Tito meets Fra Luca, Romola’s brother, on the Ponte Vecchio. All can still be seen.

‘Middlemarch’ is loosely based on 19th century Coventry, although none of the buildings can be identified, only circumstances like the coming of the railway and the need for a fever hospital.

In the final novel, ‘Daniel Deronda’, Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is thought to be Topping Abbey, the home of Sir Hugo Mallinger. The synagogue visited by Daniel is the synagogue in Frankfurt in Germany.

George Eliot Country Audio Tours

Audio podcasts celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of George Eliot’s first work of fiction Scenes of Clerical Life.

iTunes – download the walking and driving tours 

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