CLICK HERE to watch a conversation between artist Paul Smith and Professor Ruth Livesey, exploring Paul Smith’s exhibition, UNCERTAIN PROMISES: The Unofficial George Elliot Countryside.
Paul Smith’s new paintings come from his time exploring George Eliot’s legacy in Nuneaton, as part of the writer’s bicentenary, and reflects her understanding of modern English life as being illustrated by the psychology of its marginalia. All rights reserved. http://www.paulsmithart.co.uk/
Introduction by Paul Appleton and with thanks to Charmaine Stimson and Kate Proudman of One Paved Court. Recorded in February 2022.
Teaching George Eliot at secondary school level can be quite a challenge. Working with our partners the George Eliot Fellowship and local English teachers in the Midlands we’ve co-designed 12 lessons on George Eliot’s Silas Marner aimed at Y9 (13yr olds).
Our focus – thanks to the input of beacon teacher Wendy Lennon – is an enquiry question: ‘What is Community?’ Project Teaching and Research Associate, Colette Ramuz (an experienced secondary school head of English) has led the development of resources. The pack has been designed to build KS3 students’ analysis skills, to foster communication skills and, more specifically, to help prepare your students for GCSE English Literature Papers 1 and Paper 2. There are cross-curricular links with Art, History, Geography, RE and PSHE. The lessons have been designed with depth and detail to challenge top sets but are readily adaptable with alternative tasks for lower sets.
Individual lesson folders contains a 1 page outline Scheme of Work, a slide show for the class, and extracts from the text which form the focus of close work each session. Lesson 1 comes with a package of background notes on Eliot, her novella Silas Marner, and its contexts.
Thanks to the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, these resources are all free and open to reuse. We would also like to thank Simon Winterman, Allisha Miller, Wendy Lennon, Roberta Gillum, and the George Eliot Fellowship as well as Teacher Hub at the Department of English at Royal Holloway, University of London, for all their support.
We welcome feedback on these resources, how you plan to use them and what changes they make to how you approach teaching texts of this period. We will send a free copy of the DVD of the 1985 BBC adaptation starring Sir Ben Kingsley to the first 10 users who answer these four brief questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also happy to share a single zip file for the scheme of work on request which we can’t do on WordPress – hence the multiple downloads!
How do you intend to use these resources?
Has this set of resources changed your thinking about approaching this text?
What might you do differently as a result of looking at these resources?
Will the approach taken in these resources change your teaching practice/planned teaching in any way?
Lesson 1: What is Community? Introducing George Eliot’s Silas Marner
On this page you can find a set of resources for teaching George Eliot at KS2. These were designed for our work with local schools in the Midlands around Eliot’s bicentenary, but they can be adapted for use anywhere with some tweaking.
Please do reuse and adapt and share these resources. We would be very grateful if you left some feedback on the resources as a comment on this page letting us know how you are using them and suggesting any thing we might add to support you.
The set includes brief teacher notes and outlines for each task:
1. a brief intro to Eliot’s life and work pitched at Y5/6 listeners (this is followed by a site specific quiz relating to St Mary the Virgin Church, Astley and Eliot’ Scenes of Clerical Life (1857);
2. A monologue by Mary Ann Evans (Eliot’s real name) with a task in which pupils write questions for her to answer;
3. A creative writing exercise designed by project writer in residence Anna Lawrence, asking pupils to devise a new everyday setting for Eliot to use in her next novel;
4. Two short-story frames/openings adapted from Eliot’s Silas Marner and ‘The Lifted Veil’;
5. A poetry cut-up exercise in which pupils piece together phrases from Eliot’s ‘Brother and Sister Sonnets’.
Although this project focuses on Eliot’s role in rethinking provincialism and her localisation in North Warwickshire, that work of hers was only made possible by Eliot’s outward-looking world view and experience of European intellectual culture.
If you are interested in following up Eliot’s encounters with the German world of ideas in person (as opposed to the translation work that absorbed her in her Coventry years) take a look at Bob Muscutt’s blog George Eliot in Weimar – highly informative and rich with research.
Our walking map ‘The Unofficial George Eliot Countryside’ was released in Nuneaton during Heritage Open weekend (Sept 13th-15th 2019). It’s been a joyous thing to work on in collaboration with project artist and designer Paul Smith, writer in residence Anna Lawrence, the George Eliot Fellowship and partners across Nuneaton.
You can download the map as pdf below. The George Eliot Fellowship are distributing papers copies in Nuneaton and North Warwickshire, or you can email email@example.com for copies in the post. Please do add comments on the blog if you take the walk. We’d love to hear about your experiences of it.
We’re pleased to share the first output from the collaboration with project designer Paul Smith (no, not that one). This is our ‘postcard from George Eliot country’ which we’re using for our writing workshops and sharing with project partners across the Midlands. The brief was to produce a postcard that referenced the long history of travel guides to ‘The George Eliot Country’ but to emphasise how that country around Nuneaton in North Warwickshire was in Eliot’s time – and is still now – in a constant process of industrial use and repurposing. Canals, quarries, railways then – underpasses, super sheds, distribution warehouses now: North Warwickshire is beautiful because of its flux and rapid variation. That careful and steady scrutiny of the everyday which Eliot’s works tell us to do can still, on this scale of place, make every feature ‘a piece of our social history in pictorial writing’ (‘Looking Backward’).
Eliot’s writing – such as the opening to Felix Holt (1866), ‘The Natural History of German Life’ (1856), and ‘Looking Backward’ (1879) – reminds readers that to understand landscape we need to see the processes of human labour at work and entangled with nature. It’s all too easy to interpret Eliot’s asides in her fiction about the need to pity those (such as Gwendolen Harleth) without a rooted upbringing in one place as simple regret and nostalgia for rural and provincial town communities; to read her as arguing for an imagined pre-industrial era of small-town Englishness. But Eliot’s work, I’d argue, is clear-eyed in its acceptance that the past is gone and – most of the time – all to the good of those living in the present. In Eliot’s own life story we can see all too vividly that small town and rural communities can stifle as well as support. Mary Ann Evans had to leave home in order to thrive, for all that she built her intellectual life on what she learned in and around Nuneaton and Coventry for three decades.
When we turn to look at the imagery of ‘Eliot Country’ as its been depicted over the past 150 years – the subject of the next exhibition at Nuneaton Museum – there will, I think, be a gap between some of those beautiful sketches and what her writing achieves. The delightful costume dramas of Patty Townsend, for example, give an aura of sweet safety to Eliot’s radically unsteady way of writing pictures which dissolve at the lightest touch to show the hardship behind the picturesque, the shunning that makes community, and a place constantly on the move.
Since the start of this project in February 2019, Ruth has walked a route around Nuneaton every month. The walk starts from Griff House, up Gipsy Lane, along the canal, across to Bermuda, into the Arbury Hall estate and looping back through industrial estates to Griff – and ending with a large slice of cake at Astley Book Farm after visiting Astley Castle. Taken in the company of the project writer in residence, Anna Lawrence Pietroni, and then the project designer and map-maker, Paul Smith, the result will be a collaborative photo-essay and downloadable map on this site.
If you want to give reading (or re-reading) one of the greatest novels ever a go (yes I am a little biased, but it is true), take a look at the blog Middlemarch in 2019. There’s a great community of readers and writers over there, reading Eliot’s novel in the eight monthly parts Middlemarch was originally published in, from April until her bicentenary month, November 2019. Project team members regularly hop over to the other site to write about our love for this great novel. It’s never too late to join in.