Wednesday, May 16, 2007

County Collection of Eliot Letters Goes Online

A new website celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of George Eliot’s first novel, Scenes of Clerical Life, has just been launched by the Warwickshire Library Service. It features facsimiles and transcripts of the county’s collection of George Eliot letters that are now made available online for the first time.

Eliot was born in 1819 at South Farm on the Arbury estate near Nuneaton in Warwickshire. The letters provide a fascinating insight into her everyday life and fall into two groups.

The first group includes Eliot's correspondence with the Sibree family, with whom she grew close while living in Coventry in the 1840s. Other letters in this group date from the 1870s and are addressed to Eliot's lover, George Henry Lewes, from his son Herbert, then living in Africa. Several letters addressed to Arthur and Alice Helps reveal telling details of the Eliot-Lewes relationship and touch on matters of contemporary concern, such as vivisection. Still others concern Lewes’ views of various science-related issues.

The second group relates largely to the family of Eliot's brother Isaac Evans and shed considerable light on how Eliot’s family, which had disowned her during her 24-year "marriage" to Lewes, responded to her in the decades following her death.

The website provides a number of useful links. A collection of Eliot’s works held at Nuneaton Library can be accessed via the site; the site also includes a biography detailing key points in Eliot's life, including her move to London after her father’s death; her dealings with Thackeray, Dickens, and Browning; and her relationship with Lewes. A list of Warwickshire events related to the 150th anniversary of Scenes of Clerical Life is also provided.

The digitization of the letters was funded by Museums Libraries and Archives West Midlands.

“The website is a wonderful opportunity to find out more about one of the county’s foremost figures," says Lesley Kirkwood, Warwickshire local studies librarian. "The letters are an authentic source of what was happening in her life at a time when she was among the nation's most prolific and talented writers and are of great importance to those interested in Eliot or to those who are just curious about society life in the nineteenth century.”

Shown here: George Eliot by François d'Albert Durade, 1849; the first page of a letter from Eliot to her uncle Samuel Evans of Millhouse, comforting him on the illness of his wife Elizabeth (the model for Dinah in Adam Bede).


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