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George Eliot

George Eliot

George Eliot was the pen name of English novelist Mary Ann Evans (November 22, 1819 - December 22, 1880). Born on a farm near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, she wrote about life in country towns in many of her novels. She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works were taken seriously. Female authors published freely under their own names, but Eliot wanted to ensure that she was not seen as a writer of romances. An additional factor may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with George Lewes.



Mary Ann Evans was the daughter of an estate agent in Warwickshire. She was brought up with a narrowly low church religion. Charles Bray, a Coventry manufacturer, brought her into contact with more liberal theologies. She translated Strauss's Life of Jesus (1846) and began contributing to the Westminster Review in 1850 and became its assistant editor in 1851. The Westminster Review had been founded by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham and was the leading journal for philosophical radicals. In 1854, she published a translation of Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity, and it was at that time that she began to live with George Henry Lewes in an extramarital cohabitation.

In 1857, she published "Amos Barton," the first of the "Scenes of Clerical Life" in Blackwood's Magazine . The collected "Scenes" were well received and launched Evans on a novelistic career. Evans's cohabitation with Lewes was a scandalous matter. Lewes's wife refused to be divorced, and so he remained married to her in name only, while he made house solely with Evans.

Two years after the death of Lewes, on May 6, 1880 she married a friend, John Cross , an American banker, who was 20 years her junior. They honeymooned in Venice and, allegedly, Cross jumped from their hotel balcony into the Grand Canal on their wedding night; he survived. She died at the age of 61 in London of a kidney ailment and was interred in Highgate Cemetery (East), Highgate, London, England.

Literary assessment

Eliot's most famous work, Middlemarch, is a turning point in the history of the novel. Making masterful use of a counterpointed plot, Eliot presents the stories of a number of denizens of a small English town on the eve of the Reform Bill of 1842. The main characters, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, each long for exceptional lives but are powerfully constrained by their own unrealistic expectations as well as conservative society. The novel is notable for its deep psychological insight and sophisticated character portraits.

Throughout her career, Eliot wrote with a politically astute pen. From Adam Bede to Mill on the Floss and the frequently-read Silas Marner, Eliot presented the cases of social outsiders and small town persecution of that which they consider alien. No author since Jane Austen had been as sharp in pointing out the hypocrisy of the country squires and socially conscious. Felix Holt, the Radical and The Legend of Jubal were overtly political novels, and political crisis is at the heart of Middlemarch. By the time of Daniel Deronda, Eliot's sales were falling off, and she faded from public view to some degree.

As an author, Eliot was not only very successful in sales, but she was, and remains, one of the most widely praised for her style and clarity of thought. Eliot's sentence structures are clear, patient, and well balanced, and she mixes plain statement and unsettling irony with rare poise. Her commentaries are never without sympathy for the characters, and she never stoops to being arch or flip with the emotions in her stories. Villains and heroines and bystanders are all presented with awareness and full motivation.

Select bibliography

  • Scenes of Clerical Life (1858)
  • Adam Bede (1859)
  • The Lifted Veil (1859)
  • The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Silas Marner (1861)
  • Romola (1863)
  • Brother Jacob (1864)
  • Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • The Spanish Gypsy (1868)
  • Agatha (1869)
  • Brother and Sister (1869)
  • The Legend of Jubal (1870)
  • Armgart (1871)
  • Middlemarch (1871)
  • Arion (1874)
  • A Minor Prophet (1874)
  • Stradivarius (1874)
  • Daniel Deronda (1876)
  • A College Breakfast Party (1879)
  • The Death of Moses (1879)
  • Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)
  • Early Essays (1919)

She also wrote a considerable amount of fine poetry. (Collected Poems - ISBN 1871438403)

External links

Wikisource has original works written by:
George Eliot

Last updated: 11-07-2004 17:22:05