Letter from George Eliot to Emilia Francis Pattison, 15 September 1870

Description

George Eliot wrote this letter to her friend Emilia Francis Pattison two months before she started writing her novel Middlemarch. In the letter, Eliot expresses her belief that relationships between ordinary individuals have an effect far beyond those immediately concerned: ‘It seems to me more than ever that in all our affectionate relations we have some of the moral treasure of the world under our charge’. This idea recurs throughout Middlemarch, most famously in its final line:   

the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. 

Emilia Francis Pattison

Emilia Francis Pattison (1840–1904; known as Francis and later, Lady Dilke), was a writer, critic and advocate of women’s rights. At the time of this letter, she was married to Mark Pattison, a priest and Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. Francis was some 20 years younger than George Eliot, but the two had a close relationship and wrote to one another regularly. 

Francis was also much younger than her scholar husband, and very religious. Their marriage was not a happy one, and when Middlemarch was first published, there was speculation that she was the model for Dorothea Brooke.

Full title:
Letter from George Eliot to Emilia Francis Pattison
Created:
15 September 1870
Format:
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Creator:
George Eliot
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 43907

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Middlemarch: reform and change

Article by:
John Mullan
Themes:
Power and politics, The novel 1832–1880

Middlemarch is set in the period leading up to the 1832 Reform Act. Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot uses the novel to examine different kinds of reform and progress: political, scientific and social.

The Mill on the Floss as bildungsroman

Article by:
Rohan Maitzen
Theme:
The novel 1832–1880

Dr Rohan Maitzen explores how George Eliot uses education, literature and her own experience in The Mill on the Floss to subvert the traditional bildungsroman, or novel of development.

Realism and research in Adam Bede

Article by:
Rohan Maitzen
Theme:
The novel 1832–1880

In Adam Bede, George Eliot sets out her commitment to realism as a literary genre – a commitment she would continue to develop over the course of her career. Dr Rohan Maitzen explains how detailed research and Eliot’s own experience fed into the realist project, enabling her to express her beliefs about religion, sympathy and understanding.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Middlemarch

Created by: George Eliot

Originally published in eight parts in 1871-72, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life is set four decades earlier ...