George Eliot Biography

George Eliot Biography

George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Anne Evans, may have been called ugly by the author Henry James, but James also admitted that Eliot was so intelligent that he couldn’t help but fall in love with her. That second part is certainly true: readers have been falling in love with Eliot and her work ever since her first story, “Amos Barton,” was published in 1857. She had previously been a journalist and a translator, but once Eliot began to write novels, she turned fiction on its head with richly textured works such as The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch. Unlike many writers before her, she was interested not so much in what her characters did but how they thought and felt—an interest that paved the way for modern novels that were more experimental than Eliot’s, but perhaps never quite as beautiful.

Facts and Trivia

  • When Eliot’s first novel, Adam Bede, became a success, several men claimed to have written the book. Eliot was forced to come forward as the rightful author.
  • When the reading public discovered that Eliot was a woman, they didn’t know whether to condemn her for being an arrogant woman who thought she could write, or praise her for writing so well.
  • For over thirty years, Eliot lived with philosopher George Henry Lewes, although they never married because Lewes was unable to divorce his wife (who had four children with another man, as well as three with Lewes).
  • Upon Lewes' death, Eliot married John Cross, a man 20 years younger than her.
  • It has been suggested that Herbert Spencer, a famed British philosopher, had an affair with Eliot and then broke up with her. Afterward, he wrote an essay on the repugnancy of ugly women. All of Eliot’s friends knew whom he was writing about.
  • British author Virginia Woolf said that Eliot’s Middlemarch was the first novel written for grown-ups.


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
ph_0111201544-Eliot.jpg George Eliot Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Because of her philosophical profundity and her mastery of fictional technique, Eliot won a reputation as one of the world’s great novelists and helped establish the novel as an appropriate vehicle for the serious exploration of ideas.

Early Life

The woman who wrote her novels under the pseudonym George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans on November 22, 1819, on Arbury Farm, near Coventry in the rich farming district of central England. Her father, a man with an almost legendary reputation for integrity and competence, worked as an estate agent, or general overseer, on the extensive lands of the aristocratic Newdigate family. Her upbringing in the evangelical traditions of the Church of England gave her strong moral convictions that remained with her all of her life and formed the basic moral imperatives of her fiction.

When Evans was twenty-two, she and her father, who had retired from active work, moved to a house just outside Coventry. Evans’ closest friends in Coventry were Charles and Cara Bray and Cara’s sister Sara Hennell. Like many others who took part in the intellectual and religious ferment of early Victorian England, the Brays questioned the validity of Christian theology, although they had no serious reservations about the value of Christian moral teachings. Contact with them reinforced the doubts about her evangelical religion which Evans had already begun to entertain. In 1844, she began translating Das Leben Jesu by the German theologian David Friedrich Strauss, which she published two years later under the title The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. Her work on Strauss further undermined her Christian orthodoxy.

Shortly after her father’s death in 1849, Mary Ann Evans, who was now spelling her name Marian, became associated with John Chapman, editor of the Westminster Review, a prestigious intellectual quarterly whose first editor had been John Stuart Mill. Although the social customs of Victorian England made it impossible for a woman to bear the title of editor of an important journal of opinion addressed largely to a male audience, Evans exercised primary editorial responsibility for the Westminster Review. She not only solicited and selected articles and planned the content of the issues, but she wrote many reviews. (“Reviews” in Victorian intellectual journals were really independent essays that might run to fifteen or twenty pages in length.) Although shy and retiring by nature (her shyness may have been reinforced by her lack of physical beauty—she had a prominent nose and rather heavy features), Evans was at the center of intellectual life in Victorian England.

Among the many people with whom Evans became acquainted at this time was George Henry Lewes. One of the most versatile of the Victorian intellectuals, Lewes was a biologist, novelist, drama critic, biographer of Goethe, and author of a history of philosophy. Lewes’s wife, Agnes, was openly adulterous, but Lewes had accepted her extramarital affairs and registered her illegitimate children as his own. When Lewes and Evans fell in love, there seemed to be no way that Lewes could divorce Agnes. Not only was divorce in Victorian England expensive and legally complex, but the usual grounds of divorce, adultery, had been eliminated by Lewes’s generous acceptance of Agnes’ illegitimate children. After deciding that they could hurt only themselves by a common-law marriage, Marian Evans and George Henry Lewes agreed to live together as husband and wife. In July, 1854, they began a honeymoon trip to Germany; Marian wrote to tell her friends of this relationship and to ask that they henceforth address her as Marian Lewes.

Life’s Work

Her common-law marriage with Lewes initiated the most productive period in Evans’ life. Lewes provided her with the emotional support she needed and encouraged her when she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. Because of the scandal which was associated with her relationship with Lewes and because she did not want to compromise her reputation as a translator and a reviewer, Evans wrote under a pen name; she selected “George Eliot.” Lewes protected her anonymity and carried on all negotiations with publishers.

George Eliot’s first published fiction was “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton,” which appeared in the issue of Blackwood’s Magazine that came out on New Year’s Day, 1857. With two other short works of fiction which also appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine—“Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story” and “Janet’s Repentance”—it was reprinted in book form in Scenes of Clerical Life in 1858. Her first major work of fiction was Adam Bede, published by Blackwood’s in 1859. Adam Bede was a popular and critical success, and “George Eliot” was hailed as an important new talent. Among the principal writers of the time, Charles Dickens was one of the few who suspected that Adam Bede had been written by a woman.

In chapter 17 of Adam Bede, Eliot makes one of the most important statements of the creed of the realistic novelist. Art, she says, should always remind us of the world’s “common coarse people, who have no picturesque sentimental wretchedness”; the artist should be “ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things.” Moreover, the novelist’s purpose is not only to achieve the kind of accuracy of representation one finds in Dutch painting but...

(The entire section is 2288 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Novels for Students)
George Eliot Published by Gale Cengage

George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans (later Marian Evans and in the last year of her life Marian Cross), who was born on November...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819, on an estate her father managed in Warwickshire. She knew from her childhood the Midlands world so lovingly portrayed yet so rigorously judged in her novels. After moving with her father to Coventry in 1841, she began reading in the sciences and German Higher Criticism, and she broke with the church in 1842. When her father died in 1849, she had the world before her, and, in 1851, she went to try her luck as a freelance writer in London, where she became friends with such notable liberals as John Chapman, Herbert Spencer, and most important, G. H. Lewes, with whom she was to live as wife in all but law from 1854 until his death in 1878. With Lewes’s encouragement, George Eliot, as she styled herself, began writing her fiction. She lived with Lewes at the intellectual heart of London. In May, 1880, she married John Walter Cross, her banker. She died at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, on December 22 of the same year.

George Eliot Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The woman known to countless readers as George Eliot—a name she did not use until she was nearly forty—was born on November 22, 1819, and christened Mary Ann Evans, the third child of Robert Evans and his second wife Christina Pearson. Evans, a man of extraordinary competence and unimpeachable integrity, worked as a general overseer of Arbury Hall, the seven-thousand-acre estate of the Newdigate family in Warwickshire. A shy and homely girl, Eliot excelled as a student in nearby boarding schools. Under the influence of a favorite teacher, Maria Lewis, the strict and conventional adherence to the Church of England that Eliot learned from her parents acquired an overlay of pious Evangelicalism.

After her mother’s...

(The entire section is 1011 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819, in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England. (She changed her name in 1857 to George Eliot.) During her infancy, the family moved to Griff House, also on the seven-thousand-acre Arbury Estate near Coventry, which Robert Evans, Mary Ann’s father, managed for the Newdigate family. Her mother’s name was Christina Pearson. It was in this large, old farmhouse, with its wide lawns and mature trees, surrounded by fields, farmhouses, canals, and coach roads, that Evans lived until she was twenty, gathering impressions that form much of the landscape of her fiction. She roamed the meadows with her brother Isaac and toured the estate with her father, waiting in farmhouse kitchens or the...

(The entire section is 962 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In its concern with human motives, especially unconscious ones, George Eliot’s fiction is a major stage in the development of the psychological novel. Her treatment of sexual identity and relationships influenced the fiction of Henry James, D. H. Lawrence, and James Joyce. Depicting marriage as an inescapable trap, she treats both male and female characters with sympathy but is particularly concerned to expose and reform the suffering of subjugated women. Her analyses of Self and Other are often explained as deriving from the work of Ludwig Feuerbach, but there seems little doubt that Eliot s remarkable insight grew primarily from her own experience and imagination.

(The entire section is 106 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Novels for Students)

George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, born November 22, 1819, at South Farm, Arbury, Warwickshire, England. She was the youngest...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans in England on November 22, 1819. Her mother died when she was 16, and, apart from her time away from...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

George Eliot was the pen name used by Mary Ann Evans. She was born on November 22, 1819, at Arbury Farm, Warwickshire, in the parish of Chilvers Coton, and was baptized at what has since become the famous Shepperton Church. Her mother was Christina Pearson. Her father was Robert Evans, a carpenter, builder, and agent. She attended numerous schools, at one of which she became an intimate friend of Maria Lewis, a teacher with whom she exchanged letters for years and who did much to deepen her strong sense of religion. Thus at the age of seventeen she already had an excellent educational background when her sister’s marriage made it necessary that she return home to look after the house for her father.{$S[A]Evans, Mary Ann;Eliot,...

(The entire section is 943 words.)

George Eliot Biography

(Novels for Students)

George Eliot, neé Mary Ann Evans, was born on November 22, 1819, in Chilvers Coton, in Warwickshire, England, the daughter of estate manager...

(The entire section is 506 words.)