Objects of the Written Word – Spotlight on Scenes of Clerical Life

Objects connected to writing and text are the focus of August’s Hands on History session. Books, diaries, journals and writing implements, a miniature newspaper, memorial cards, letter seals and objects inscribed with text will feature.

 

A book of considerable local significance to share with our visitors during the session is a copy of Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot.

 

George Eliot’s ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ published in 1857

 

This hardback book published by The Walter Scott Publishing Co Ltd has an olive green cover embossed with a beautiful floral design. The book title appears on the cover in gold lettering surrounded by a curly gold border. A plate inside the front cover states that the book was presented to Nellie Currall who attended Hall End Baptist Mission Sunday School in Attleborough in 1907.

 

Book plate inside front cover dated 1907

 

Scenes of Clerical Life is the first piece of George Eliot’s fiction to be published and the first to be published under her pen name, George Eliot, in 1857. The book is a collection of three short stories or novellas: The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story and Janet’s Repentance. The stories take place in the period from approximately 1780 to 1850.

 

The fictional English Midland’s town of Milby which is the main setting for these stories is believed to be based on Nuneaton. George Eliot, or rather Mary Ann Evans, was born on at South Farm on the Arbury Estate in Nuneaton in 1819 and grew up at Griff House between Nuneaton and Bedworth.

 

Griff House, Eliot’s childhood home

 

In the following extract from Janet’s Repentance, Eliot describes the town of Milby, conveying the presence of the weaving industry whilst also highlighting qualities of natural beauty in the town:

To a superficial glance, Milby was nothing but dreary prose: a dingy town, surrounded by flat fields, lopped elms, and sprawling manufacturing villages, which crept on and on with their weaving-shops, till they threatened to graft themselves on the town. But the sweet spring came to Milby not-withstanding: the elm tops were red with buds; the churchyard was starred with daisies; the lark showered his love-music on the flat fields; the rainbows hung over the dingy town, clothing the very roofs and chimneys in a strange transfiguring beauty.’

 

‘Janet’s Repentance’ from ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’ by George Eliot

 

Specific Nuneaton people and places known to Mary Ann Evans have been identified as the inspiration for particular characters and settings in Scenes of Clerical Life. For example, in Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story, the character Sir Christopher Cheverel is thought to be modelled on Sir Roger Newdigate, who owned and lived on Arbury Estate at Arbury Hall. Mary Ann’s father worked for Sir Roger Newdigate as his estate manager hence Mary Ann’s familiarity with Arbury and the Hall, where she was given access to the library.

 

In Mr Gilfil’s Love Story, Arbury Hall becomes the fictional residence of Cheverel Manor.

 

Arbury Hall, the inspiration for the fictional Cheverel Manor in ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’

 

Eliot’s description of the dining room at Cheverel Manor mirrors Arbury Hall’s dining room:

any one entering that dining-room for the first time, would perhaps have had his attention more strongly arrested by the room itself, which was so bare of furniture that it impressed one with its architectural beauty like a cathedral…the lofty groined ceiling, with its richly-carved pendants, all of creamy white, relieved here and there by touches of gold. On one side, this lofty ceiling was supported by pillars and arches, beyond which a lower ceiling, a miniature copy of the higher one, covered the square projection which, with its three large pointed windows, formed the central feature of the building. The room looked less like a place to dine in than a piece of space enclosed simply for the sake of beautiful outline;’

Join our Access Assistants to appreciate the written word and its objects at this drop in session on Saturday 19 August from 11am until 4pm in The Writing Room.

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