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.


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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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 4362 words.)

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Critical Essays