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George Eliot, by John Letts (1930-2010). Unveiled by the the President of the George Eliot Fellowship in 1986, this portrait-sculpture in bronze shows the novelist sitting, lost in thought, among the passers-by in Newdegate Street, Nuneaton, in Warwickshire.
Left: A side view. Right: A closer view of the face and bodice.
Eliot was born near the town: her family lived at South Farm on the huge Arbury estate, for which her father was the agent (see Cross 1-2). As is well known, she was celebrated not for her looks but for her intellect, but the sculptor has been able to show what others experienced when they met her: the way her inner life shone through her unprepossessing countenance (see Hughes 180-183).
Inscriptions, left to right: (a) About George Eliot. (b) The sculptor's signature. (c) Marking the unveiling.
John Letts was born in Birmingham and studied at the Birmingham School of Art. He was the obvious choice for such a commission because he had already sculpted a bust of Eliot for the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton. He wrote a lighthearted piece about the new project, suggesting that had become very fond of his "sitter," and was inspired by his vision of her "on a favourite garden wall with the obligatory book always at her side. It was at these times," he said, as if reminiscing, "that her deepest thoughts and creative ability could be sensed. Her face, indeed her whole form would become softer and gentler in meditation" (53). Although he was speaking whimsically, there is a warmth here that has carried through into the finished work.
Cross, John. George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. 1885. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Hughes, Kathryn. Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum. London: 4th Estate, 2017.
"John Letts." Art UK. Web. 8 September 2022.
Letts, John. "John Letts, The Gifted Warwickshire sculptor" (1985). The George Eliot Review. no. 22. 52-54. University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Web. 8 September 2022.
Created 8 September 2022