This blog post is part of the Nineteenth Century Study Week which took place 21-25 May. The annual study week was dedicated to celebrating and understanding the great nineteenth-century writers who made Bloomsbury such an intellectual and artistic powerhouse.

George Eliot well and truly comes into her own at Senate House Library, with first editions of her novels in the Sterling Library and Victorian periodicals featuring her works. Her own personal library, together with that of her husband, George Henry Lewes, is just a five-minute walk away at Dr Williams’s Library in Gordon Square, and the collections complement each other well. Classes come to see her work, and in 2018 George Eliot was the subject of a new week-long course run by the Institute of English Studies, the Nineteenth-Century Study Week.

So the Library is delighted to have been able to acquire five pen-and-ink drawings by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist of George Eliot’s childhood home, Griff House, and related scenes in Warwickshire.

The pictures are captioned: ‘Griff House: the old farm entrance’; ‘Griff House: the old kitchen garden’; ‘The hall farm’; ‘New Griff-Hollows: the Red-Deeps’; and ‘The garden of the “Hall Farm” (in Warwickshire)’.

George Eliot’s family moved to Griff House, just off the main road between Nuneaton and Coventry, in 1820, when she was just a few months old, and she lived there until moving with her father to Coventry when she was 21. The house features in her description of the fictional Dorlcote Mill in The Mill on the Floss, and the exterior of the Hall Farm served as a model in Adam Bede.

The artist and writer Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857-1914) was the son of Anne and Alexander Gilchrist. He would have known George Eliot personally, as his widowed mother leased the house Brookbank to George Eliot in spring and summer 1871, where she wrote Middlemarch, and the two families sustained contact until Eliot’s death in 1880. Gilchrist hoped to provide illustrations for John Walter Cross’s biography of George Eliot, George Eliot’s Life Related in Her Letters and Journals (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1885). He sent the publisher these pictures in 1884. Blackwood, however, chose not to use them. The two pictures of Griff House in the biography, one of the front view and one showing the farm offices, are by two different artists but resemble each other in including a person in the foreground of each, a human element absent from Gilchrist’s depictions.

The pictures are held in the library archives (MS1233), augmenting some correspondence concerning George Eliot. They also augment connections in the archives between art and literary figures, shown elsewhere by such works as book illustrations by Walter Crane and drawings by John Masefield and Hermann Hesse. Two of the new Eliot pictures were displayed in connection with the Nineteenth-Century Study Week in May 2018.

 

 

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