It is perhaps fitting that my youngest nephew celebrates his first birthday today (three days before the actual event) on the 113th anniversary of the birth of his great-great Aunt Ruth and the 190th anniversary of the birth of the greatest English novelist who ever lived, Mary Anne Evans Cross (AKA George Eliot). For that great woman was particularly fond of children. Almost all her novels end with the main character romping (or otherwise in the company of) his (or her) progeny.
Eliot understood childhood and the importance of a nurturing relationship between an adult and child. And she even understood the importance of uncles. At the close of Adam Bede, while Seth the brother to the novel’s eponymous hero did not marry the woman he loved, did delight in being uncle to her children. Beckoned by his sister-in-law, Seth
. . . presently appeared stooping under the doorway, being taller than usual by the black head of a sturdy two-year-old nephew, who had caused some delay by demanding to be carried on uncle’s shoulder.
‘Better take him on thy arm, Seth,’ said Dinah, looking fondly at the stout black-eyed fellow. ‘He’s troublesome to thee so.’
‘Nay, nay: Addy likes a ride on my shoulder. I can carry him so for a bit.’ A kindness which Addy acknowledged by drumming his heels with promising force against uncle Seth’s chest. But to walk by Dinah’s side, and be tyrannised over by Dinah and Adam’s children, was uncle Seth’s earthly happiness.
Last year, at this time I watched the BBC version of Silas Marner (featuring Ben Kingsley) where Eliot tells how by adopting an abandoned child, the eponymous hero found meaning and joy in his life and a connection to his his community.
“It’s a lone thing; I’m a lone thing. . . . It’s come to me,” he says when others in the community tried to take the child from him. Eliot so delighted in the effect of a child on an adult with an open heart:
She [that child] was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep–only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky–before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway.
In February when I was in San Francisco, my sister and her husband went for a run, leaving me to watch over my sleeping nephew. I peered into the darkened room where he was asleep in his cradle and felt a similar awe, an awe I’ve felt in the presence of his many cousins. Eliot had described something we grownups feel and have felt, perhaps for as long as members of our species could feel.
Such is the power of George Eliot’s prose, the images she invokes, the ideas she presents, the emotions she expresses. She helps us find words for our deepest thoughts and shows compassion for our everyday weaknesses. She seems to see into the troubles of all our lives and finds the balm in tender relations with our fellows.
Since I am borrowing from last year’s post to craft this one, this year I will once again cut and paste the piece I have posted in previous years:
There are holidays we all celebrate. And then there are the personal days, the anniversary of a wedding, the day we first met our beloved, the birthday of a friend, special relative or favorite writer. November 22 is one of those days for me. Not only does it mark the anniversary of the birth of a very dear great Aunt, my Aunt Ruth, who would have been 113 today, it is also the 190th anniversary of birth of the greatest English novelist, George Eliot.