George Eliot Revealed: A forgotten letter to be displayed at Nuneaton Library

This year marks 200 years since George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) was born in Nuneaton. As part of the celebrations, Nuneaton Library is holding a George Eliot Revealed event on 9 November 2019, displaying items relating to George Eliot including a letter from Edith Simcox, a friend of the writer.

The letter was recently found by librarian Louise Essex who found the letter whilst looking through a scrapbook of old newspaper cuttings. The letter is dated 3 January 1881, just a few days after Eliot’s death.

Kathryn Hughes, a researcher who has previously visited a George Eliot Collection at Nuneaton Library said:

“What an extraordinary letter this is! Edith Simcox loved George Eliot in so many ways – as a novelist, as a philosopher and as a personal friend.

“In this heartfelt letter to Eliot’s nephew, Canon Frederick Evans of Bedworth, Simcox begs to be allowed access to Griff House, the family farmhouse in which Mary Ann Evans built up her earliest sense memories.”

Simcox got to know Eliot as they both lived in London and mixed in similar circles, and she was also an author contributing to journals and writing books. She was very active in advancing women’s rights and campaigning for fairer working conditions through her trade union work.

In the letter, Simcox writes:

“She was more than friend, her loss one of those sorrows that make it physically impossible to resume quite at once the routine of daily work; & for days I have been pacing through the lanes & by her “brown canal” seeking if by any means one could draw from memory the scenes she loved, something.”

Dr Helen O’Neill, who is currently researching provincialism in nineteenth century literature said:

“The discovery of Edith Simcox’s letter testifies to the unique nature of the George Eliot collections in Nuneaton and to a long line of local librarians who have collected, curated and preserved the collection for future generations. It is a thrilling, revealing and significant discovery.”

Councillor Kam Kaur, Portfolio Holder for Customer and Transformation, said:

“I would like to encourage the local community to go along to Nuneaton Library with your families on Saturday 9 November to see the original letter from Edith Simcox along with some other exciting items relating to George Eliot.

“We are delighted to be celebrating 200 years since the fantastic author was born. If you would like to learn more, books written by Eliot her can be borrowed from Nuneaton library and other libraries across Warwickshire.”

The event is taking place at Nuneaton Library, Church St, Nuneaton CV11 4DR. Access to the George Eliot Revealed event is free, timed tickets of 25 minutes to view the material are available via Eventbrite or in person from the library.

Other items held by the County’s Library, Record Office, Museum Service, and Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery will be on display along with photographs taken by Coventry Photographic Society. In addition to the ticketed event there will be lots of interesting displays to see around the library just for the day.

After the event the letter will be held at the County Record Office in Warwick for safe-keeping, along with other letters written by Eliot. These letters are also available for all to see online at https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/georgeeliot