Monday Poem: Helen Rickerby’s extract from ‘George Eliot: A Life’




  • From ‘George Eliot: A Life’
  1. On screaming

12.1.    In March 1840, during her puritan phase, Mary Ann went to a party given by an old family friend. Presumably disapproving of all the dancing, laughing, flirting and general fun-having of the other guests, or perhaps attracted by them, she first retreated to the edges and complained of a headache; but then she started screaming hysterically. One biographer suggests it was because of an internal war between piousness and music, which was making her want to get outside of herself and dance. But perhaps she just didn’t like loud music and crowds.

12.2.    Another occasion on which she is reported as screaming hysterically was on a trip across the alps on a donkey – she was terrified of falling off the mountain to her death. Her travelling companions found her outbursts upsetting. What the donkey thought is not recorded.

12.3.    A search of the Complete Works of George Eliot on Google Books reveals that the word ‘scream’ occurs 15 times and ‘screaming’ 16 times. There are also 12 occurrences of  ‘screamed’ and seven of ‘screams’. This seems quite reasonable over seven novels, five shorter stories, quite a lot of poetry (which no one now reads), a couple of translations and some non-fiction.

12.3.1. Most of the screamers are women and girls, but men also scream, as do geese, guinea fowl, water fowl and violins.

12.3.2. The humans’ reasons for screaming range from seeing their child covered in mud, finding their money stolen, a runaway monkey, revealed secrets, discovering a dead body, thinking their husband has died, and with rage while dancing.

12.4.    When George Lewes died, Marian broke down, screaming.

12.4.1  I hope that, in similar circumstances, I too would be courageous enough to let go.


©Helen Rickerby




Helen Rickerby has published four books of poetry, most recently Cinema (2014), and she is on the home stretch with her next collection: How to Live. In her work she is interested in genre-crossing and exploring themes and ideas such as film and film-making, biography and philosophy, often with an autobiographical thread. She is the managing editor of Seraph Press, a boutique publisher specialising in high-quality books of poetry, and was co-managing editor of JAAM literary magazine from 2005 to 2015. She has co-organised conferences and literary events (usually with Anna Jackson), including Truth and Beauty: Poetry and Biography (December 2014), Poetry & the Essay: Form and Fragmentation (December 2017), and the wildly successful inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival in 2016. She lives in Wellington and works as a web editor.








2 thoughts on “Monday Poem: Helen Rickerby’s extract from ‘George Eliot: A Life’

  1. Pingback: Pip Adam talks scintillating poetry with Jesse Mulligan | NZ Poetry Shelf

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