George Eliot

George Eliot

George Eliot (November 22, 1819 – December 22, 1880; real name Mary Ann Evans; sometimes called herself Marian) was born in Warwickshire, England. Her probing Victorian novels have cemented her reputation as a literary giant, and arguably, Middlemarch is her greatest achievement.

Her writing was politically and socially driven, with characters that are small-town individuals, some free thinkers, each with great psychological depth. Eliot is also recognized for her interest in and knowledge of the visual arts. Her surviving journals and other writings contain information on trips to museums and a collection of her thoughts and emotions connected to the artworks she viewed. 

Intellectually curious, financially secure

The daughter of a land agent, Eliot was from an early age intellectually curious. Deeply religious when young, she later broke with the Church, though she remained strongly moralistic through her life. Her father left her with enough money to pursue her literary interests comfortably secure upon his death in 1849.

george eliot

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Notoriety from “living in sin”

Not long after moving to London, Eliot began working with the Westminster Review. There, in 1854, she met George Henry Lewes, an editor who would become her mentor and romantic companion. They lived as husband and wife until his death in 1878, though he was already married. This caused her a great deal of notoriety, as doing so was considered quite sinful in that time and social milieu. This was in part why she chose to write under a pseudonym; she worried that her relationship with Lewes, considered so scandalous, would discourage readers from her writings. In addition, she assumed her masculine nom de plume because she believed women’s writing to be undervalued.

Her relationship with Lewes caused a rift with her family, particularly with her brother Isaac, with whom she had been close.

An impressive literary canon

It was Lewes who encouraged Eliot to write novels, and from the start, they were critically acclaimed and sold well. From Adam Bede (1859) through Daniel Deronda (1876), George Eliot was at her most productive. These books along with The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, and Middlemarch are considered some of the finest and most important literary works in British literature. In addition to these and other novels, Eliot also wrote poems, short stories, translations, and essays.

A brief late life marriage

Eliot was married in 1880 to John Cross (20 years her junior), who had been her friend and financial adviser. The marriage was not a happy one, but because she was finally legitimately married at age 60, her brother Isaac forgave her. The marriage was to last only seven months; after a brief illness later that same year, Eliot died at the age of 61.

Romola by George Eliot

George Eliot page on Amazon

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Major Works

Biographies about George Eliot

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Film adaptations of George Eliot’s works

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