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Chapter XIX. Chapter XX. Chapter XXI. Book Three. Find out more about this determined lady and the legacy of literature she left behind in our short biography below, then explore our activities and resources for kids. Her father Robert was an estate manager at Arbury Hall and her mother Christiana was the daughter of a mill owner. Mary Ann grew up with an older sister and brother, Chrissey and Isaac. Although their parents had five children together, the youngest — twin boys — died shortly after birth.

When Mary Ann was five, she went to boarding school where she developed an intense love of reading. At 16, her formal education stopped, however, when her mother died and she returned home to help run the household. She continued to read avidly though, using the books from the library at Arbury Hall. When she was 21, the family moved to a house near Coventry, as her brother had recently married and taken over the family home. Mary Ann would live with her father until his death in , when she was She eventually settled in London , to become a writer, and called herself Marian Evans.

During her years in Coventry, she had been introduced to John Chapman, a publisher from London. Chapman asked Mary Ann to become an editor for the Westminster Review , where she worked for two years. In , Mary Ann met George Lewes , an author and philosopher. They became great friends. Although George was married, he was estranged from his wife, and he and Mary Ann went on to live together until his death in This was very unusual at the time.

In her early twenties, she fell out with her father when she refused to go to church. She also became estranged from her brother Isaac, because he disapproved of her relationship with George. George was a great support to Mary Ann and encouraged her writing. Then in , her first complete novel , Adam Bede, became a great success. People wanted to know who George Eliot was. Some tried to take the credit, but Mary Ann eventually revealed her identity.

The Life of George Eliot

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 Misses Franklin 's school, Evans was exposed to a quiet, disciplined belief opposed to evangelicalism. After age sixteen, Evans had little formal education. 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".

The other important early influence in her life was religion. She was brought up within a low church Anglican family, but at that time the Midlands was an area with a growing number of religious dissenters. In 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 radical, free-thinking Brays, whose "Rosehill" home was a haven for people who held and debated radical views.

Through this society Evans was introduced to more liberal and agnostic theologies and to writers such as David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach , who cast doubt on the literal truth of Biblical stories.


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. 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 , when she was Five days after her father's funeral, she travelled to Switzerland with the Brays.

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.

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While residing there, she read avidly and took long walks in the beautiful Swiss countryside, which was a great inspiration to her. On her return to England the following year , 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 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 issue and continuing until the end of her employment at the Review in the first half of Women writers were common at the time, but Evans's role as the female editor of a literary magazine was quite unusual.

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. The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes —78 met Evans in , and by they had decided to live together.

Lewes was already married to Agnes Jervis, although in an open marriage. In addition to the three children they had together, Agnes also had four children by Thornton Leigh Hunt. 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 , but which was not published in her lifetime.

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  • The trip to Germany also served as a honeymoon for Evans and Lewes, who subsequently considered themselves married. By contrast, Lewes and Evans declined to conceal their relationship, and it was this refusal which perhaps gave an additional edge to the reproaches of contemporary moralists. While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review , Evans resolved to become a novelist, and set out a pertinent manifesto in one of her last essays for the Review , "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" [18] The essay criticised the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction written by women.

    In other essays, she praised the realism of novels that were being written in Europe at the time, an emphasis on realistic storytelling confirmed in her own subsequent fiction. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, George Eliot; as she explained to her biographer J. Cross, George was Lewes's forename, and Eliot was "a good mouth-filling, easily pronounced word" [19].

    Evans's first complete novel, published in , was Adam Bede.

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    • This public interest subsequently led to Marian Evans Lewes's acknowledgment that it was she who stood behind the pseudonym George Eliot. 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. Her relationship with Lewes afforded her the encouragement and stability she needed to write fiction, but it would be some time before the couple were accepted into polite society.

      Acceptance was finally confirmed in when they were introduced to Princess Louise , the daughter of Queen Victoria. The queen herself was an avid reader of all of Eliot's novels and was so impressed with Adam Bede that she commissioned the artist Edward Henry Corbould to paint scenes from the book. When the American Civil War broke out, Eliot expressed sympathy with the North , which was a rare stance in England at the time.

      She was influenced by the writings of John Stuart Mill and read all of his major works as they were published. After the success of Adam Bede , Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. Her last novel was Daniel Deronda , published in , after which she and Lewes moved to Witley , Surrey.