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Gordon S. Haight; Scholar Championed George Eliot

January 03, 1986|From Times Wire Services

WOODBRIDGE, Conn. — Gordon S. Haight, who devoted most of his professional life to the 19th-Century British author George Eliot and who also was an English scholar at the forefront of the campaign to have her memorialized at Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner, died Saturday at his home here.

The professor emeritus of English at Yale University was 84 and had spent more than 60 years researching and writing about the controversial Eliot, who was born Mary Ann Evans but wrote under a male pseudonym in the Victorian era.

Author of a monumental biography, "George Eliot," published in 1968, and collector and editor of nine volumes of Eliot's letters, Haight was active until shortly before his death, publishing two books this year alone on the woman chastised by her peers for bearing children by a married man unable to divorce his wife.

Dedicated Memorial

It was because of her spotted personal life that Eliot, author of "Silas Marner," "Middlemarch" and "Adam Bede," was denied admission to the Abbey by the moralists of her time. When she was accepted in 1980--the 100th anniversary of her death--Haight was asked to dedicate her memorial stone.

"In her hands," he said, "the novel, too long a trivial pastime, became a moral force which has established George Eliot firmly at the heart of the great tradition with Jane Austen and Henry James."

Haight was a 1923 graduate of Yale who taught at private schools before returning to his alma mater for a doctorate degree. He received a Ph.D. in 1933 and joined the faculty at Yale, where he became interested in some of Eliot's letters in the Yale Library.

His first publication of those and many other letters came in 1954, when three volumes were published. Four other volumes were published a year later and the last two volumes in 1978.

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