George Eliot Essays On Education

For other people with the same name, see George Elliot (disambiguation).

"Mary Ann Evans" redirects here. For the wife of Benjamin Disraeli, see Mary Anne Disraeli.

George Eliot

Aged 30 by the Swiss artist Alexandre Louis François d'Albert Durade (1804–86)

BornMary Anne Evans
(1819-11-22)22 November 1819
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England
Died22 December 1880(1880-12-22) (aged 61)
Chelsea, Middlesex, England
Resting placeHighgate Cemetery (East), Highgate, London
Pen nameGeorge Eliot
OccupationNovelist
PeriodVictorian
Notable worksThe Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), Daniel Deronda (1876)
SpouseJohn Cross (1880; her death)
PartnerGeorge Henry Lewes (1854–78)
RelativesRobert Evans and Christiana Pearson (parents); Christiana, Isaac, Robert, and Fanny (siblings)

Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880; alternatively "Mary Ann" or "Marian"), known by her pen nameGeorge Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot's lifetime, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women's writing being limited to lighthearted romances. She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. Another factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny, thus avoiding the scandal that would have arisen because of her adulterous relationship with the married George Henry Lewes.[1]

Eliot's Middlemarch has been described by the novelists Martin Amis[2] and Julian Barnes[3] as the greatest novel in the English language.

Life[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Mary Ann Evans was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. She was the second child of Robert Evans (1773–1849) and Christiana Evans (née Pearson, 1788–1836), the daughter of a local mill-owner. Mary Ann's name was sometimes shortened to Marian.[4] Her full siblings were Christiana, known as Chrissey (1814–59), Isaac (1816–1890), and twin brothers who survived a few days in March 1821. She also had a half-brother, Robert (1802–64), and half-sister, Fanny (1805–82), from her father's previous marriage to Harriet Poynton (?1780–1809). Her father Robert Evans, of Welsh ancestry, was the manager of the Arbury Hall Estate for the Newdigate family in Warwickshire, and Mary Ann was born on the estate at South Farm. In early 1820 the family moved to a house named Griff House, between Nuneaton and Bedworth.

The young Evans was obviously intelligent, a voracious reader. Because she was not considered physically beautiful, Evans was thus not thought to have much chance of marriage, and because of her intelligence, her father invested in an education not often afforded women.[5] From ages five to nine, she boarded with her sister Chrissey at Miss Latham's school in Attleborough, from ages nine to thirteen at Mrs. Wallington's school in Nuneaton, and from ages thirteen to sixteen at Miss Franklin's school in Coventry. At Mrs. Wallington's school, she was taught by the evangelical Maria Lewis — to whom her earliest surviving letters are addressed. In the religious atmosphere of the Miss Franklin's school, Evans was exposed to a quiet, disciplined belief opposed to evangelicalism.[6]

After age sixteen, Evans had little formal education.[7] Thanks to her father's important role on the estate, she was allowed access to the library of Arbury Hall, which greatly aided her self-education and breadth of learning. Her classical education left its mark; Christopher Stray has observed that "George Eliot's novels draw heavily on Greek literature (only one of her books can be printed correctly without the use of a Greek typeface), and her themes are often influenced by Greek tragedy".[8] Her frequent visits to the estate also allowed her to contrast the wealth in which the local landowner lived with the lives of the often much poorer people on the estate, and different lives lived in parallel would reappear in many of her works. The other important early influence in her life was religion. She was brought up within a low churchAnglican family, but at that time the Midlands was an area with a growing number of religious dissenters.

Move to Coventry[edit]

In 1836 her mother died and Evans (then 16) returned home to act as housekeeper, but she continued correspondence with her tutor Maria Lewis. When she was 21, her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, so Evans and her father moved to Foleshill near Coventry. The closeness to Coventry society brought new influences, most notably those of Charles and Cara Bray. Charles Bray had become rich as a ribbon manufacturer and had used his wealth in the building of schools and in other philanthropic causes. Evans, who had been struggling with religious doubts for some time, became intimate friends with the progressive, free-thinking Brays, whose "Rosehill" home was a haven for people who held and debated radical views. The people whom the young woman met at the Brays' house included Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through this society Evans was introduced to more liberal theologies and to writers such as David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, who cast doubt on the literal truth of Biblical stories. In fact, her first major literary work was an English translation of Strauss's The Life of Jesus (1846), which she completed after it had been left incomplete by another member of the "Rosehill Circle"; later she translated Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (1854). As a product of their friendship, Bray published some of Evans's earliest writing, such as reviews, in his newspaper the Coventry Herald and Observer.[9]

When Evans began to question her religious faith, her father threatened to throw her out of the house, but his threat was not carried out. Instead, she respectfully attended church and continued to keep house for him until his death in 1849, when she was 30. Five days after her father's funeral, she travelled to Switzerland with the Brays. She decided to stay on in Geneva alone, living first on the lake at Plongeon (near the present-day United Nations buildings) and then on the second floor of a house owned by her friends François and Juliet d'Albert Durade on the rue de Chanoines (now the rue de la Pelisserie). She commented happily that "one feels in a downy nest high up in a good old tree". Her stay is commemorated by a plaque on the building. While residing there, she read avidly and took long walks in the beautiful Swiss countryside, which was a great inspiration to her. François Durade painted her portrait there as well.[10]

Move to London and editorship of the Westminster Review[edit]

On her return to England the following year (1850), she moved to London with the intent of becoming a writer, and she began referring to herself as Marian Evans. She stayed at the house of John Chapman, the radical publisher whom she had met earlier at Rosehill and who had published her Strauss translation. Chapman had recently purchased the campaigning, left-wing journal The Westminster Review, and Evans became its assistant editor in 1851. Although Chapman was officially the editor, it was Evans who did most of the work of producing the journal, contributing many essays and reviews beginning with the January 1852 issue and continuing until the end of her employment at the Review in the first half of 1854.[11]

Women writers were common at the time, but Evans's role as the female editor of a literary magazine was quite unusual. She was not considered to be a beautiful or even an attractive woman. According to Henry James:

She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone qui n'en finissent pas... Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.[12]

During this period, she formed a number of unreciprocated emotional attachments, including one with Chapman (who was married but lived with both his wife and his mistress), and another with Herbert Spencer.

Relationship with George Lewes[edit]

The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes (1817–78) met Evans in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes was already married to Agnes Jervis. They had an open marriage. In addition to the three children they had together, Agnes also had four children by Thornton Leigh Hunt.[13] Because Lewes allowed himself to be falsely named as the father on the birth certificates of Jervis's illegitimate children, he was considered to be complicit in adultery, and therefore he was not legally able to divorce her. In July 1854, Lewes and Evans travelled to Weimar and Berlin together for the purpose of research. Before going to Germany, Evans continued her theological work with a translation of Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, and while abroad she wrote essays and worked on her translation of Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, which she completed in 1856, but which was not published in her lifetime.[14]

The trip to Germany also served as a honeymoon for Evans and Lewes, and they now considered themselves married, with Evans calling herself Mary Ann Evans Lewes, and referring to Lewes as her husband. It was not unusual for men and women in Victorian society to have affairs; Charles Bray, John Chapman, Friedrich Engels, and Wilkie Collins all had extra-marital relationships, though they were much more discreet than Lewes and Evans were. It was this lack of discretion and their public admission of the relationship which created accusations of polygamy and earned them the moral disapproval of English society.

First publication[edit]

While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review, Evans resolved to become a novelist, and she set out a manifesto for herself in one of her last essays for the Review, "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists"[15] (1856). The essay criticised the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction by women. In other essays, she praised the realism of novels that were being written in Europe at the time, and it became clear in her subsequent fiction that she placed an emphasis on realistic storytelling. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, the one for which she would become known: George Eliot. This pen-name was said by some to be an homage to George Lewes. In addition to adopting his first name, the last name, Eliot, could possibly have been a code for "to L—I owe it".[16]

In 1857, when she was 37, "The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton", the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, was published in Blackwood's Magazine and, along with the other Scenes, it was well received (it was published in book form early in 1858). Her first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede; it was an instant success, but it prompted intense interest in who this new author might be. Scenes of Clerical Life was widely believed to have been written by a country parson or perhaps the wife of a parson. With the release of the incredibly popular Adam Bede, speculation increased, and there was even a pretender to the authorship, one Joseph Liggins. In the end, the real George Eliot stepped forward: Marian Evans Lewes admitted she was the author. The revelations about Eliot's private life surprised and shocked many of her admiring readers, but this did not affect her popularity as a novelist. Eliot's relationship with Lewes afforded her the encouragement and stability she so badly needed to write fiction, and to ease her self-doubt, but it would be some time before they were accepted into polite society. Acceptance was finally confirmed in 1877 when they were introduced to Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria. The queen herself was an avid reader of all of George Eliot's novels and was so impressed with Adam Bede that she commissioned the artist Edward Henry Corbould to paint scenes from the book.[17]

After the success of Adam Bede, Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. Within a year of completing Adam Bede, she finished The Mill on the Floss, dedicating the manuscript: "To my beloved husband, George Henry Lewes, I give this MS. of my third book, written in the sixth year of our life together, at Holly Lodge, South Field, Wandsworth, and finished 21 March 1860."

Her last novel was Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, after which she and Lewes moved to Witley, Surrey. By this time Lewes's health was failing, and he died two years later, on 30 November 1878. Eliot spent the next two years editing Lewes's final work, Life and Mind, for publication, and she found solace and companionship with John Walter Cross, a Scottish commission agent[18] whose mother had recently died.

Marriage to John Cross and death[edit]

On 16 May 1880 Eliot courted controversy once more by marrying John Cross, a man twenty years her junior, and again changing her name, this time to Mary Anne Cross. The legal marriage at least pleased her brother Isaac, who had broken off relations with her when she had begun to live with Lewes, but now sent congratulations. While the couple was honeymooning in Venice, Cross, in a fit of depression, jumped from the hotel balcony into the Grand Canal. He survived, and the newlyweds returned to England. They moved to a new house in Chelsea, but Eliot fell ill with a throat infection. This, coupled with the kidney disease with which she had been afflicted for several years, led to her death on 22 December 1880 at the age of 61.[19]

Eliot was not buried in Westminster Abbey because of her denial of the Christian faith and her "irregular" though monogamous life with Lewes. She was buried in Highgate Cemetery (East), Highgate, London, in the area reserved for religious dissenters and agnostics, beside the love of her life, George Henry Lewes. The graves of Karl Marx and her friend Herbert Spencer are nearby. [20] In 1980, on the centenary of her death, a memorial stone was established for her in the Poets' Corner.

Several landmarks in her birthplace of Nuneaton are named in her honour. These include The George Eliot School, Middlemarch Junior School, George Eliot Hospital, (formerly Nuneaton Emergency Hospital),[21] and George Eliot Road, in Foleshill, Coventry.

A statue of Eliot is in Newdegate Street, Nuneaton, and Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery has a display of artifacts related to her.

Literary assessment[edit]

Throughout her career, Eliot wrote with a politically astute pen. From Adam Bede to The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner, Eliot presented the cases of social outsiders and small-town persecution. Felix Holt, the Radical and The Legend of Jubal were overtly political, and political crisis is at the heart of Middlemarch, in which she presents the stories of a number of inhabitants of a small English town on the eve of the Reform Bill of 1832; the novel is notable for its deep psychological insight and sophisticated character portraits. The roots of her realist philosophy can be found in her review of John Ruskin's Modern Painters in Westminster Review in 1856.

Readers in the Victorian era praised her novels for their depictions of rural society. Much of the material for her prose was drawn from her own experience. She shared with Wordsworth the belief that there was much value and beauty to be found in the mundane details of ordinary country life. Eliot did not, however, confine herself to stories of the English countryside. Romola, an historical novel set in late fifteenth century Florence, was based on the life of the Italian priest Girolamo Savonarola. In The Spanish Gypsy, Eliot made a foray into verse, but her poetry's initial popularity has not endured.

Working as a translator, Eliot was exposed to German texts of religious, social, and moral philosophy such as Friedrich Strauss’s Life of Jesus, Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, and Spinoza’s Ethics. Elements from these works show up in her fiction, much of which is written with her trademark sense of agnostichumanism. She had taken particular notice of Feuerbach’s conception of Christianity, positing that our understanding of the nature of the divine was to be found ultimately in the nature of humanity projected onto a divine figure. An example of this philosophy appeared in her novel Romola, in which Eliot’s protagonist displayed a “surprisingly modern readiness to interpret religious language in humanist or secular ethical terms.”[22] Though Eliot herself was not religious, she had respect for religious tradition and its ability to maintain a sense of social order and morality. The religious elements in her fiction also owe much to her upbringing, with the experiences of Maggie Tulliver from The Mill on the Floss sharing many similarities with the young Mary Ann Evans. Eliot also faced a quandary similar to that of Silas Marner, whose alienation from the church simultaneously meant his alienation from society. Because Eliot retained a vestigial respect for religion, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche excoriated her system of morality for figuring sin as a debt that can be expiated through suffering, which he demeaned as characteristic of "little moralistic females à la Eliot."[23]

She was at her most autobiographical in Looking Backwards, part of her final published work Impressions of Theophrastus Such. By the time of Daniel Deronda, Eliot's sales were falling off, and she had faded from public view to some degree. This was not helped by the posthumous biography written by her husband, which portrayed a wonderful, almost saintly, woman totally at odds with the scandalous life people knew she had led. In the 20th century she was championed by a new breed of critics, most notably by Virginia Woolf, who called Middlemarch "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people".[24] In 1994, literary critic Harold Bloomplaced Eliot among the most important Western writers of all time.[25] In a 2007 authors' poll by TIME, Middlemarch was voted the tenth greatest literary work ever written.[26] In 2015, writers from outside the UK voted it first among all British novels "by a landslide".[27] The various film and television adaptations of Eliot's books have re-introduced her to the wider reading public.

Works[edit]

Novels[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • Agatha, 1869
  • Brother and Sister, 1869
  • Armgart, 1871
  • Stradivarius, 1873
  • The Legend of Jubal, 1874
  • I Grant You Ample Leave, 1874
  • Arion, 1874
  • A Minor Prophet, 1874
  • A College Breakfast Party, 1879
  • The Death of Moses, 1879
  • From a London Drawing Room
  • Count That Day Lost

Other[edit]

  • Digital facsimile of manuscript "Quarry for Middlemarch", MS Lowell 13, Houghton Library, Harvard University
  • Translation of Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined)Volume 2 by David Strauss, 1846
  • Translation of Das Wesen des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity) by Ludwig Feuerbach, 1854
  • "Three Months in Weimar", 1855
  • "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists", 1856
  • "The Natural History of German Life", 1856
  • Scenes of Clerical Life, 1857
    • The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton
    • Mr Gilfil's Love Story
    • Janet's Repentance
  • The Lifted Veil, 1859
  • Brother Jacob, 1864
  • "The Influence of Rationalism", 1865
  • Impressions of Theophrastus Such, 1879
  • Review of John Ruskin's Modern Painters in Westminster Review April 1856.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^Karl, Frederick R. George Eliot: Voice of a Century. Norton, 1995. pp. 237–38.
  2. ^Long, Camilla. Martin Amis and the sex war, The Times, 24 January 2010, p. 4: "They've [women] produced the greatest writer in the English language ever, George Eliot, and arguably the third greatest, Jane Austen, and certainly the greatest novel, Middlemarch..."
  3. ^Guppy, Shusha. "Interviews: Julian Barnes, The Art of Fiction No. 165". The Paris Review (Winter 2000). Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  4. ^University of Virginia According to a University of Virginia research forum published here, her baptismal records record the spelling as Mary-Anne, and she uses this spelling in her earliest letters. Around 1857, she began to use Mary Ann. In 1859, she was using Marian, but she reverted to Mary Ann in 1880. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 August 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2007. 
  5. ^Karl, Frederick R. George Eliot: Voice of a Century. Norton, 1995. pp. 24–25
  6. ^Karl, Frederick R. George Eliot: Voice of a Century. Norton, 1995. p. 31
  7. ^Karl, Frederick R. George Eliot: Voice of a Century. Norton, 1995. p. 52
  8. ^Christopher Stray Classics Transformed, p. 81
  9. ^McCormick, Kathleen (Summer 1986). "George Eliot's Earliest Prose: The Coventry "Herald" and the Coventry Fiction". Victorian Periodicals Review. 19 (2): 57–62. JSTOR 20082202. 
  10. ^Hardy BN. George Elliot: A Critic's Biography. Continuum. London 2006 pp42-45.
  11. ^Ashton, Rosemary. George Eliot: A Life. London: Penguin, 1997. 88ff. p110.
  12. ^Henry James, in a letter to his father, published in Edel, Leon (ed.) Henry James: Selected Letters (1990)
  13. ^Henry, Nancy (2008). The Cambridge Introduction to George Eliot. Cambridge: Cambridge. p. 6. 
  14. ^Hughes, Kathryn, George Eliot: The Last Victorian, p. 168.
  15. ^"Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" text from The Westminster Review Vol. 66 old series, Vol. 10 new series (October 1856): 442–61.
  16. ^Mead, Rebecca, My Life in Middlemarch. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014, p. 178
  17. ^Rosemary Ashton, "Evans, Marian [George Eliot] (1819–1880)", (Later Works) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008
  18. ^1881 census
  19. ^"George Eliot". BBC History. 15 October 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  20. ^Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 14016). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  21. ^Nuneaton Emergency Hospital at the National Archives
  22. ^Bidney, Martin (2002). "Philosophy and the Victorian Literary Aesthetic". In Baker, William; Womack, Kenneth. A Companion to the Victorian Novel. Westport: Greenwood Press. pp. 100–101. 
  23. ^Thomas J. Joudrey. "The Defects of Perfectionism: Nietzsche, Eliot, and the Irrevocability of Wrong." Philological Quarterly 96.1 (2017): 77-104.
  24. ^Woolf, Virginia. "George Eliot." The Common Reader. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1925. pp. 166–76.
  25. ^Bloom, Harold. 1994. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. p. 226. New York: Harcourt Brace.
  26. ^Grossman, Lev (15 January 2007). "The 10 Greatest Books of All Time". TIME. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  27. ^Flood, Alison (8 December 2015). "The best British novel of all time: have international critics found it?". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Henry, Nancy, The Life of George Eliot: A Critical Biography, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012
  • Haight, Gordon S., ed., George Eliot: Letters, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1954, ISBN 0-300-01088-5.
  • Uglow, Jennifer, George Eliot, London, Virago, 1987, ISBN 0-394-75359-3.
  • Jenkins, Lucien, Collected Poems of George Eliot, London, Skoob Books Publishing, 1989, ISBN 1-871438-35-7
  • Wahba, Magdi (1981). Centenary Essays on George Eliot. Cairo, Egypt: Cairo Studies in English. .

Context and background[edit]

  • Beer, Gillian, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, ISBN 0-521-78392-5.
  • Cosslett, Tess, The 'Scientific Movement' and Victorian Literature, Brighton, Harvester, 1982, ISBN 0-312-70298-1.
  • Gilbert, Sandra M., and Gubar, Susan, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-300-08458-7.
  • Hughes, Kathryn, George Eliot: The Last Victorian, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998, ISBN 0-374-16138-0.
  • Pinney, Thomas, ed., Essays of George Eliot, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963, ISBN 0-231-02619-6.
  • Rignall, John, ed., Oxford Reader's Companion to George Eliot, Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-860099-2
  • Shuttleworth, Sally, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-521-25786-7.
  • Thompson, Andrew, 1998, 'George Eliot and Italy: Literary, Cultural and Political Influences from Dante to the Risorgimento', New York, St. Martin's Press, 1998, ISBN 0-312-17651-1.
  • Uglow, Jenny, George Eliot, London, Virago Press, 1988, ISBN 0-86068-400-8.
  • Williams, Raymond, The Country and the City, London, Chatto & Windus, 1973, ISBN 0-19-519810-7.

Critical studies[edit]

  • Alley, Henry, "The Quest for Anonymity: The Novels of George Eliot", University of Delaware Press, 1997.
  • Beaty, Jerome, Middlemarch from Notebook to Novel: A Study of George Eliot's Creative Method, Champaign, Illinois, University of Illinois, 1960.
  • Carroll, Alicia, Dark Smiles: Race and Desire in George Eliot, Ohio University Press, 2003.
  • Carroll, David, ed., George Eliot: The Critical Heritage, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.
  • Daiches, David, George Eliot: Middlemarch, London, Edward Arnold, 1963.
  • Garrett, Peter K., The Victorian Multiplot Novel: Studies in Dialogical Form, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1980.
  • Graver, Suzanne, George Eliot and Community: A Study in Social Theory and Fictional Form, Berkeley, California, University of California Press, 1984.
  • Harvey, W. J, The Art of George Eliot, London, Chatto & Windus, 1961.
  • Leavis, F RThe Great Tradition, London, Chatto & Windus, 1948.
  • Neale, Catherine, Middlemarch: Penguin Critical Studies,London, Penguin, 1989.
  • Sette, Miriam, George Eliot: il corpo della passione. Aspetti della corporeità nella narrativa dell’ultima fase, Pescara, Campus, 2004.
  • Swinden, Patrick, eel., George Eliot: Middlemarch, London, Macmillan, 1972.
  • Trainini, Marco, Vendetta, tienimi compagnia. Due vendicatori in «Middlemarch» di George Eliot e «Anna Karenina» di Lev Tolstoj, Milano, Arcipelago Edizioni, 2012, ISBN 8876954759.

External links[edit]

Blue plaque, Holly Lodge, 31 Wimbledon Park Road, London
Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery, in Riversley Park, home of collection on writer George Eliot

George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann, or Marian, Cross, née Evans, (born November 22, 1819, Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England—died December 22, 1880, London), English Victorian novelist who developed the method of psychological analysis characteristic of modern fiction. Her major works include Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876).

Early years

Evans was born on an estate of her father’s employer. She went as a boarder to Mrs. Wallington’s School at Nuneaton (1828–32), where she came under the influence of Maria Lewis, the principal governess, who inculcated a strong evangelical piety in the young girl. At her last school (1832–35), conducted by the daughters of the Baptist minister at Coventry, her religious ardour increased. She dressed severely and engaged earnestly in good works. The school gave her a reading knowledge of French and Italian, and, after her mother’s death had compelled her to return home to keep house for her father, he let her have lessons in Latin and German. In 1841 she moved with her father to Coventry.

There she became acquainted with a prosperous ribbon manufacturer, Charles Bray, a self-taught freethinker who campaigned for radical causes. His brother-in-law, Charles Hennell, was the author of An Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity (1838), a book that precipitated Evans’s break with orthodoxy that had been long in preparation. Various books on the relation between the Bible and science had instilled in her keen mind the very doubts they were written to dispel. In 1842 she told her father that she could no longer go to church. The ensuing storm raged for several months before they reached a compromise, leaving her free to think what she pleased so long as she appeared respectably at church, and she lived with him until his death in 1849.

The Brays and the Hennells quickly drew her from extreme provincialism, introducing her to many ideas in violent disagreement with her Tory father’s religious and political views. When Charles Hennell married in 1843, she took over from his wife the translating of D.F. Strauss’s Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet, which was published anonymously as The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, 3 vol. (1846), and had a profound influence on English rationalism. After the wedding Mrs. Hennell’s father, R.H. Brabant, invited Evans to visit at Devizes. A rather silly man, he had worked for years on a book (never completed), which was to dispose of the supernatural elements in religion. They read German and Greek together and discussed theology on long walks; soon Mrs. Brabant became jealous of their intimacy, and, before the term of her visit, Evans was forced to leave. Mrs. Hennell felt that her father had acted ungenerously. Out of the humiliation of this episode George Eliot drew the horrible vividness of Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch.

She spent the winter of 1849–50 at Geneva, reading extensively while living with the family of François D’Albert Durade, who painted a portrait of her. Like those by Mrs. Bray (1842) and Sir Frederic Burton (1865), all in the National Portrait Gallery, it shows her with light brown hair, gray-blue eyes, and a very fair complexion. Returning to Coventry, she spent the rest of 1850 with the Brays, pondering how to live on the £100 a year left by her father. After John Chapman, the publisher of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, got her a chance to review R.W. Mackay’s The Progress of the Intellect in The Westminster Review (January 1851), she decided to settle in London as a freelance writer, and in January 1851 she went to board with the Chapmans at 142, Strand.

Life with George Henry Lewes

Soon after her arrival in London, Mrs. Chapman and the children’s governess, who was also John Chapman’s mistress, became jealous of Marian, as she now signed her name, and after 10 weeks she returned to Coventry in tears. Doubtless her feelings were strongly attracted to the magnetic Chapman, whose diary supplies this information, but there is no evidence that she was ever his mistress. A few months later he bought The Westminster Review, and Evans, contrite at the domestic complications she had unwittingly caused, returned to London. For three years, until 1854, she served as subeditor of The Westminster, which under her influence enjoyed its most brilliant run since the days of John Stuart Mill. At the Chapmans’ evening parties she met many notable literary figures in an atmosphere of political and religious radicalism. Across the Strand lived the subeditor of The Economist, Herbert Spencer, whose Social Statics (1851) Chapman had just published. Evans shared many of Spencer’s interests and saw so much of him that it was soon rumoured that they were engaged. Though he did not become her husband, he introduced her to the two men who did.

George Henry Lewes was the most versatile of Victorian journalists. In 1841 he had married Agnes Jervis, by whom he had four sons. In 1850 Lewes and a friend, the journalist Thornton Leigh Hunt, founded a radical weekly called The Leader, for which he wrote the literary and theatrical sections. In April 1850, two weeks after the first number appeared, Agnes Lewes gave birth to a son whose father was Thornton Hunt. Lewes, being a man of liberal views, had the child registered as Edmund Lewes and remained on friendly terms with his wife and Hunt. But after she bore Hunt a second child in October 1851, Lewes ceased to regard her as his wife, though, having condoned the adultery, he was precluded from suing for divorce. At this moment of dejection, his home hopelessly broken, he met Marian Evans. They consulted about articles and went to plays and operas that Lewes reviewed for The Leader. Convinced that his break with Agnes was irrevocable, Evans determined to live openly with Lewes, as his wife. In July 1854, after the publication of her translation of Ludwig Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, they went to Germany together. In all but the legal form it was a marriage, and it continued happily until Lewes’s death in 1878. “Women who are content with light and easily broken ties,” she told Mrs. Bray, “do not act as I have done. They obtain what they desire and are still invited to dinner.”

Major works

At Weimar and Berlin she wrote some of her best essays for The Westminster and translated Spinoza’s Ethics (published in 1981), while Lewes worked on his groundbreaking life of Goethe. By his pen alone he had to support his three surviving sons at school in Switzerland as well as Agnes, whom he gave £100 a year, which was continued until her death in 1902. She had four children by Hunt, the last born in 1857, all registered under Lewes’s name. The few friends who knew the facts agreed that toward Agnes his conduct was more than generous, but there was a good deal of malicious gossip about the “strong-minded woman” who had “run off with” her husband. Evans’s deepest regret was that her act isolated her from her family in Warwickshire. She turned to early memories and, encouraged by Lewes, wrote a story about a childhood episode in Chilvers Coton parish. Published in Blackwood’s Magazine (1857) as The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, it was an instant success. Two more tales, Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story and Janet’s Repentance, also based on local events, appeared serially in the same year, and Blackwood republished all three as Scenes of Clerical Life, 2 vol. (1858), under the pseudonym George Eliot.

Adam Bede, 3 vol. (1859), her first long novel, she described as “a country story—full of the breath of cows and the scent of hay.” Its masterly realism—“the faithful representing of commonplace things”—brought to English fiction the same truthful observation of minute detail that John Ruskin was commending in the Pre-Raphaelites. The book is rich in humour. The germ of the plot was an anecdote her Methodist aunt told of visiting a girl condemned for child murder. The dialect of the Bedes she had heard in the conversations of her Derbyshire uncles with her father, some of whose early experiences she assigned to Adam. But what was new in English fiction was the combination of deep human sympathy and rigorous moral judgment. Adam Bede went through eight printings within a year, and Blackwood doubled the £800 paid for it and returned the copyright.

In The Mill on the Floss, 3 vol. (1860), she returned again to the scenes of her early life. The first half of the book, with its remarkable portrayal of childhood, is irresistibly appealing, and throughout there are scenes that reach a new level of psychological subtlety.

At this time historical novels were in vogue, and during their visit to Florence in 1860 Lewes suggested Girolamo Savonarola as a good subject, George Eliot grasped it enthusiastically and began to plan Romola (1862–63). First, however, she wrote Silas Marner (1861), which had thrust itself between her and the Italian material. Its brevity and perfection of form made this story of the weaver whose lost gold is replaced by a strayed child the best known of her books, though it has suffered unfairly from being forced on generations of schoolchildren. Romola was planned as a serial for Blackwood’s, until an offer of £10,000 from The Cornhill Magazine induced George Eliot to desert her old publisher; but rather than divide the book into the 16 installments the editor wanted, she accepted £3,000 less, an evidence of artistic integrity few writers would have shown. Details of Florentine history, setting, costume, and dialogue were scrupulously studied at the British Museum and during a second trip to Italy in 1861. It was published in 14 parts between July 1862 and August 1863. Though the book lacks the spontaneity of the English stories, it has been unduly disparaged.

George Eliot’s next two novels are laid in England at the time of agitation for passage of the Reform Bill. In Felix Holt, the Radical, 3 vol. (1866), she drew the election riot from recollection of one she saw at Nuneaton in December 1832. The initial impulse of the book was not the political theme but the tragic character of Mrs. Transome, who was one of her greatest triumphs. The intricate plot popular taste then demanded now tells against the novel. Middlemarch (8 parts, 1871–72) is by general consent George Eliot’s masterpiece. Under her hand the novel had developed from a mere entertainment into a highly intellectual form of art. Every class of Middlemarch society is depicted from the landed gentry and clergy to the manufacturers and professional men, the shopkeepers, publicans, farmers, and labourers. Several strands of plot are interwoven to reinforce each other by contrast and parallel. Yet the story depends not on close-knit intrigue but on showing the incalculably diffusive effect of the unhistoric acts of those who “lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Daniel Deronda (8 parts, 1876), in which George Eliot comes nearest the contemporary scene, is built on the contrast between Mirah Cohen, a poor Jewish girl, and the upper class Gwendolen Harleth, who marries for money and regrets it. The less convincingly realized hero, Daniel, after discovering that he is Jewish, marries Mirah and departs for Palestine to establish a home for his nation. The picture of the Cohen family evoked grateful praise from Jewish readers. But the best part of Daniel Deronda is the keen analysis of Gwendolen’s character, which seems to many critics the peak of George Eliot’s achievement.

Final years

In 1863 the Leweses bought the Priory, 21, North Bank, Regent’s Park, where their Sunday afternoons became a brilliant feature of Victorian life. There on November 30, 1878, Lewes died. For nearly 25 years he had fostered her genius and managed all the practical details of life, which now fell upon her. Most of all she missed the encouragement that alone made it possible for her to write. For months she saw no one but his son Charles Lee Lewes; she devoted herself to completing the last volume of his Problems of Life and Mind (1873–79) and founded the George Henry Lewes Studentship in Physiology at Cambridge. For some years her investments had been in the hands of John Walter Cross (1840–1924), a banker introduced to the Leweses by Herbert Spencer. Cross’s mother had died a week after Lewes. Drawn by sympathy and the need for advice, George Eliot soon began to lean on him for affection too. On May 6, 1880, they were married in St. George’s, Hanover Square. Cross was 40; she was in her 61st year. After a wedding trip in Italy they returned to her country house at Witley before moving to 4, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where she died in December. She was buried at Highgate Cemetery.

Gordon S. HaightThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

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