George Eliot
(Mary Ann Evans)
 

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George Eliot (pseudonym of MARY ANN EVANS) was born Nov. 22, 1819, in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, the daughter of an estate agent. She was educated at a local school in Nuneaton and later at a boarding school in Coventry. At the age of 17, after the death of her mother and the marriage of her elder sister, she was called home to care for her father. From that time on she was self-taught. A strict religious training, received at the insistence of her father, dominated Eliot's youth. In 1841 she began to read rationalist works, which influenced her to rebel against dogmatic religion, and she remained a rationalist throughout her life. Her first literary attempt, at which she worked for two years (1844-46), was a translation of Das Leben Jesu (The Living Jesus, 1835-36) by the German theologian David Strauss. In 1851, after traveling for two years in Europe, she returned to England and wrote a book review for the Westminster Review. She subsequently became assistant editor of that publication. Through her work on the Review she met many of the leading literary figures of the period, including Harriet Martineau, John Stuart Mill, James Froude, Herbert Spencer, and George Lewes. Her meeting with Lewes, a philosopher, scientist, and critic, was one of the most significant events of her life. They fell in love and decided to live together, although Lewes was married and a divorce was not possible. Nevertheless, Eliot looked upon her subsequent long and happy relationship with Lewes as a marriage.

Eliot continued to write reviews, articles for periodicals, and translations from the German. Then, with encouragement from Lewes, she began to write fiction in 1856. Her first story, "The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton," appeared in Blackwood's Magazine in January 1857. It was followed by two other stories in the same year, and all three were collected in book form as Scenes from Clerical Life (1858). The author signed herself George Eliot and kept her true identity secret for many years.

Eliot's best-known works are Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Silas Marner (1861). These novels deal with the Warwickshire countryside and are based, to a great extent, on her own life. Travels in Italy inspired her next novel, Romola, a historical romance about the Italian preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola and 15th-century Florence. She began writing the book in 1861, and it appeared in 1863, after being serialized in The Cornhill Magazine. Following the completion of Romola, she wrote two outstanding novels, Felix Holt, the Radical (1866), concerned with English politics, and Middlemarch (1862), dealing with English middle-class life in a provincial town. Daniel Deronda (1876) is a novel attacking anti-Semitism, and The Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879) is a collection of essays. Her poetry, which is considered to have much less merit than her prose, includes The Spanish Gypsy (1868), a drama in blank verse; Agatha (1869); and The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems (1874).

During the period in which she wrote her major works, Eliot was always encouraged and protected by Lewes. He prevented her even from seeing unfavorable reviews of her books. After his death in 1878 she became a recluse and stopped writing. In May 1880 she married John Cross (1840-1924), an American banker, who had long been a friend of both Lewes and herself, but she died in London on December 22.



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