Byline: Ross Reyburn
It is not the kind of setting you would immediately connect with the great Victorian novelist George Eliot. But the neat little suburban house with the bay window in the 1930s street a few minutes' drive from Coventry city centre effectively serves as the headquarters of the George Eliot Fellowship.
The house in Stepping Stones Lane is the home of Kathleen Adams, fellowship secretary since 1968, and her husband Bill, who has been fellowship chairman since 1970. Their successful partnership has seen a small band of some 20 members increase to 600, including 150 members in Japan.
The recently-published George Eliot (Pitkin, pounds 3.50), a superbly produced Pitkin Guide offering an interesting insight into the novelist's life and works, is written by Kathleen Adams. 'We are extremely pleased with the publication,' she said. 'It is intended as an initial guide for people who don't necessarily want to read a long biography.'
It was a television adaptation of Silas Marner in 1964 that first put Kathleen Adams, a former school secretary, on the Eliot trail.
'I had read Silas Marner at school and didn't like it very much,' she recalled. 'But I was very taken with the 1964 serialisation although it wasn't nearly as good as the film the BBC did later with Ben Kingsley in 1985.
'I knew George Eliot had spent some time in Coventry so I decided to read a book about her. I was then hooked because she was such a fascinating woman and so in advance of her time.' 'She was the first writer who wrote about real people with real jobs and real homes. There had been the caricatures of Dickens and the fantasy of the Brontes, and Jane Austen was in a totally different social circle. Middlemarch was described by Virginia Woolf as the first novel written for grown-up people.'
Back in the mid-60s, her husband attended a meeting of the George Eliot Fellowship at Nuneaton Library and was somewhat surprised to find himself marooned among a small group of eight people in a corner of the library.
'They were amazed I had come from Coventry,' recalled Bill Adams, a retired Inland Revenue tax assessor. 'By the time I left, I was on the committee.'
Today the fellowship's membership is spread across 17 countries and includes actor Tenniel Evans, a descendant of George Eliot's brother, Isaac, and Norman Painting, the longest-serving member of The Archers cast. Activities include a yearly memorial lecture, readings by the actor Gabriel Woolf and annual wreathlayings in Nuneaton and at the writer's Westminster Abbey memorial stone, and there are also quarterly newsletters and an annual journal, The George Eliot Review. 'In 1969, we decided to put on a week of events to mark the 150th anniversary of George Eliot's birth,' said Kathleen Adams. 'That created a tremendous amount of interest and the fellowship has grown from then on.'
Each year it runs four George Eliot Country Tours, in conjunction with Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council, and the Nuneaton area provides the main focal point of her West Midlands legacy. …