Ugly Start of a Huge Talent
Had George Eliot been born in the second half of the 20th century instead of the first half of the 19th, she would probably have taken herself off to the nearest reputable plastic surgeon and had a nose job.
The result may have been a beautiful young woman. But we might never have met the succession of extraordinary literary heroines whose very existence depended on the sheer physical unattractiveness of their creator.
George Eliot hated her plain face, dominated by an over-long nose. In modern parlance, we would probably say she was psychologically damaged by her ugliness.
Certainly her latest biographer feels her hatred of her own appearance had a great deal to do with the creation of heroines like Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, and heroes like Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda, along with the entire p opulation of Middlemarch.
It was George Eliot's overwhelming desire to be accepted, admired and loved. Her way of expunging her own feelings of rejection was to pour it all out on paper.
Which may not be extraordinary today. But in an age when women were largely biddable companions to their menfolk, it had the hallmarks of notoriety and ostracism.
The fact that George Elliot became a pillar of society is a mark of her determination. Her soirees were attended by the great and the good. Queen Victoria herself asked for an autograph.
But it was never enough for the little girl, born in Warwickshire where the woods were at their greenest just beyond Nuneaton, who never overcame the emotional deprivation of her childhood.
In her brilliantly-accessible biography, Kathryn Hughes, who never seems to be daunted at the idea of poking around in the psyche of her subject, gives us a picture of an intellectual giant who could very well have dominated politics, philosophy and worl d thinking had she been around today.
Instead, Mary Anne Evans - she later abridged the two Christian names to the single Marian - arrived in the early hours of November 22, 1819, at a solid stone farmhouse on Newdigate's estate in Shakespeare's county.
Interestingly, six months earlier, another girl baby had been born at Kensington Palace. A couple of decades later she was destined to become Queen.
But they had little else in common beyond their year of birth. Young Mary Anne was a fifth child and a third daughter. Her father Robert Evans, a land agent to the Newdigates, was less than impressed. He was more interested in his woodlands (remnants of the Forest of Arden), his canal, his 7,000 acres of farmlands and the burgeoning industrialisation that was changing the face of Middle England.
The little girl craved for the love of her father and her elder brother. Both ignored her. Eventually she was packed off to boarding school where her alienation became even more intense as fellow pupils poked fun at her oddly-shaped nose and her shy mann ers. …