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Friday, 29 January 2010

The Beauty of George Eliot

It pleases me immensely to have been born in the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, though I know nothing about the place except the author after whom it was named! It is amusing to think that such a pillar of society as a hospital should be named after a woman who in her lifetime scandalised Victorian society, first by stopping going to church and secondly by running off with a married man!

Physically George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) was singularly unattractive according to the conventions of her day and she suffered greatly in early life from the unkindness of people who judged her solely by her appearance and who were not averse to telling her how plain she was. In later life, however, the power of her personality - unique, intelligent, with great depths of beautiful feeling and the power to translate those feelings into words - conquered such superficial considerations and all those who met her were hugely attracted to her.

Some of her writing is, to me, the most beautiful in the whole of English Literature. She had the ability to see beyond the superficial to the beauty in the lives of the most 'ordinary' people and created such strong characters that even those who had once condemned her for her 'scandalous' lifestyle (which, in fact, was not scandalous at all!) came flocking around her to be her friends. She was the J.K. Rowling of her day - someone who changed the face of literature and became, virtually overnight, the wealthiest woman in the country! And, as happened with J.K. Rowling, is was so well deserved!

The utter beauty of "Silas Marner" - the miser who takes in a little orphan child - is so uplifting and it is difficult to know which page to quote from as all of it is so lovely. Here is a small example:

"In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's."

How bizarre that dull people once considered that incredible person 'plain'.

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