Meet the Woman with Lesley Smith – Celebrating George Eliot

I recently spoke with Mary Somerville of the George Eliot Fellowship (GEF) about the work they do celebrating the legacy of legendary writer George Eliot. I learnt all about their upcoming ‘Meet the Woman’ events with historian Lesley Smith which promise a fascinating glimpse into Eliot’s life, relationships and work.

What is the GEF?

The GEF seeks to promote interest in the life and works of George Eliot, our celebrated local writer, born Mary Ann Evans at South Farm on the Arbury Estate. The Fellowship organises a variety of events each year including lectures and readings, a GE country tour, a wreath laying and an annual birthday luncheon. However, as this year is the bicentenary of her birth, the Fellowship have pulled out all the stops to present a rich and varied programme of events to celebrate. Details can be found on their new, dedicated website:

What is so special about George Eliot?

George Eliot was a highly intelligent woman and a free-thinker. Although part of the Victorian age she was ahead of her time; she lived with a married man for 24 years and was shunned by her family and society as a result. Nevertheless, she was very famous in her day and became one of the richest women in England. She wrote 8 novels, “Middlemarch” being considered as her masterpiece.

What is ‘Meet the Woman’?

When planning events to celebrate the bicentenary it was decided that it would be interesting and informative for people to learn more about Mary Ann Evans the woman – the fascinating woman behind all those great novels. And so, Meet the Woman was born. But who could possibly do her justice? Who could do the necessary research, write the script and then perform it dramatically on stage? It was decided that Lesley Smith was the perfect solution.

And who is Lesley Smith?

Lesley is an actress and historian with an M.Phil in Tudor medicine. She has been the Curator of Tutbury Castle since 2000 and is well known for her superb interpretations of strong women like Anne Boleyn and Margaret Thatcher. I first saw her as Elizabeth I and was completely riveted throughout the performance. She is mesmerising.

What inspired you to create this event?

Lesley has spent the last 12 months researching the life of George Eliot which she has described as “really demanding”, adding, “I had no idea she was such a genius at so many levels or that her life was so complex.” Lesley will play George Eliot in the last month of her life with the audience enjoying an “At Home” in her company. She will examine her life and her relationships rather than doing a critical review of her work. Anyone wishing to learn more about what Mary Ann Evans was really like will find it fascinating.

How can people get tickets to ‘Meet the Woman’?

The first performance is Saturday 9th March at 7.30pm at the Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton. Further performances of Meet the Woman will take place on Friday 28th June at Weston Hall, Bulkington, at 7.30pm. Tickets £12, £10 concessions, and on Friday 15th November at Bablake School Theatre, Coventry, at 7.30. Tickets £15, £13 concessions, tickets include drinks and nibbles. Tickets for all events are available online at

Finally, how can people get involved with the GEF?

There are many other events including a dramatisation of “Mr Gilfil’s Love Story” on 17th August to be performed outdoors in the grounds of Arbury Hall where the novel is set and “Silas Marner: The Musical” on 26th November at The Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton. Both performances are by the Sudden Impulse Theatre Company. A good introduction to the Fellowship would be the GE Country tour on Monday 6th May which includes visits to several GE sites including Astley Church, South Farm, her birthplace, and a guided tour of Arbury Hall – a great day out. Further information about our lively, friendly society is available at We welcome new members.

It certainly sounds like a fantastic event to celebrate the life and work of a legendary author. Don’t hesitate to get involved with this fantastic organisation – /

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