The world famous Victorian novelist George Eliot was born just a few miles from Astley Book Farm.
Mary Ann Evans was born on 22 November 1819 at South Farm, Arbury, Warwickshire, the third child of Robert and Christiana Evans. She was only a few months old when the family moved to Griff House, Nuneaton where she lived until she was 21 years old. Her father was land manager for the Arbury estate. Physically strong and commercially shrewd Robert Evans was indispensable to the Newdigate family at the Hall. As a girl Mary Ann would accompany her father along the mile long drive to Arbury Hall and visit tenants on the estate. While her father conducted his business she would sit in the housekeeper’s room and hear stories that her prodigious memory would store away – all grist to the mill for a would-be writer. She did the same when her father went to Astley Castle to see his employer’s son Colonel Newdigate. In 1835, Robert Evans’s employer, Francis Parker Newdigate died and the estate passed to his cousin’s wife Mrs Newdigate. Admiring Mary Ann’s work for the poor and recognising her brilliant mind, Mrs Newdigate invited her to make use of the library at Arbury Hall. This was crucial for Mary Ann’s education as her mother died the following year when she was sixteen years old and she had to leave school to become her father’s housekeeper.
When her father died, Marian Evans (as she now called herself) was 30 years old. Having already started to make a name for herself as a journalist and translator, Marian was invited to move to London to become deputy editor of the journal The Westminster Review. Among the London intelligentsia she met George Henry Lewes who was to change her life forever. In 1854 they moved in together and started one of the most famous partnerships in literary history. It was Lewes who encouraged Marian to try her hand at fiction and supported her throughout their 24 years together. As ‘George Eliot’ she became a rich, successful writer – even outselling Dickens.
We at Astley Book Farm are proud of our connection with George Eliot and have a good selection of her books and literary criticism for sale. We know that she and her brother Isaac would roam around the fields close to us. All her life the sight of well-kept fields pleased her and she would always prefer the country to the town. Six out of her eight novels were set in the Midlands and draw on stories she heard and characters she knew in and around Nuneaton and Bedworth. Her fiction gave her imagination the chance to live again in the beautiful countryside of North Warwickshire, to dip back into what she later called ‘the memory of that warm little nest where my affections were fledged’.
For more detailed information on the George Eliot story and her books we refer you to the George Eliot Fellowship website.