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Books & Authors, History & Biography

George Eliot (November 22, 1819 - December 22, 1880)

 

Despite 19th-century sexism and public disapproval of her personal life, George Eliot rose to become one of England's most respected and admired novelists.

Born Mary Ann Evans in 1819, the intellectually voracious Eliot grappled with difficult spiritual, academic, and social questions from a young age. When she set out to become a writer, she chose to do so under a masculine penname to avoid her contemporaries' perceptions of women authors as silly and unserious. By the time her true identity was common knowledge, her work had already garnered enough critical and public admiration to overcome much of that resistance. Her 1871-72 novel "Middlemarch," in particular, has endured as a deft, humanizing, class-spanning examination of provincial society and a masterpiece of English literature.

While Eliot's writings were well-received, however, she herself was less welcome in "proper" social circles because of her long-term relationship with fellow author George Henry Lewes, whom she first met in 1851. The married-but-separated Lewes was unable to divorce his openly unfaithful wife, Agnes, due to the vagaries of English law, but he and Eliot grew committed to each other and considered themselves married, living as such until his death in 1878. The scandalized public took its time warming to the couple's defiance of convention, but their obvious devotion to each other and their respected intellectual achievements eventually smoothed over the ruffled feathers of public opinion. Sadly, Eliot's own brother, whom she idolized, only reconciled with her after her 1880 marriage to family friend John Walter Cross a mere seven months before her untimely death due to heart failure.

 

In honor of Eliot's birth and accomplishments, consider checking out these and other resources from The Library.

 

Eliot's novels and some of their adaptations to other media:

 

Middlemarch

 

 

 

Silas Marner

 

 

 

The Mill on the Floss

 

 

 

 Adam Bede

 

 

 

Daniel Deronda

 

 

 

Books and articles about Eliot's life and works:

 

George Eliot in Love by Brenda Maddox

 

 

George Eliot* in Columbia Granger's World of Poetry

George Eliot* in Biography in Context (Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography)

Middlemarch and Me* by Rebecca Mead in MasterFile Premier (New Yorker)

 


* Library card required for use outside the Library

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