George Eliot

Mary Anne Evans was born at Griff House, England, near Nuneaton, November 22, 1820. Upon reaching womanhood, she married the eminent English author, George H. Lewes. By his suggestion, she commenced to write fiction. Her literary name was George Eliot, and by that name we shall know her in the world of letters. She died in London, December 22, 1880.

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Her father, Mr. Robert Evans, was able to give his daughter an exceptionally good education. There were and are so many bad schools for girls that it was a piece of singular good fortune that Mrs. Wellington, at Nuneaton, and afterward Miss Franklin, at Coventry, undertook her education. To Mrs. Wellington, the writer in the “Graphic” thinks that George Eliot owed some of the beauty of her intonation in reading English poetry. Besides the studies at school, she was fortunate in finding a willing instructor in the then head master of Coventry Grammar School, Mr. Sheepshanks; and motherless as she was, she possibly studied more deeply than a mother’s care for a delicate daughter’s health would have permitted. However this may be, the years that she spent in Coventry, on her father’s removal to Foleshill, till his death in 1849, were years of excessive work, issuing in a riper culture than that attained by any other prominent English woman of our age, and only approached by that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her first introduction to serious literary work was brought about by Mr. and Mrs. Bray, of Coventry. Mrs. Bray’s brother, Mr. Charles Hennell, was interested in a translation of Strauss’ “Leben Jesu,” which had been entrusted to the lady he was about to marry, and who had performed about one-fourth of the work. When the lady was married, the work of completing the translation was turned over to our author, who performed her duty most acceptably.

On Mr. Evans’ death, in 1849, his daughter went abroad with the Brays, and staid behind them at Geneva for purposes of study. Some time after her return to England she became a boarder in the house of Mr. — now Dr. — Chapman, who with his wife, was in the habit of receiving ladies into their family. She assisted Mr. Chapman in the editorship of the “Westminster Review,” and her literary career in London was fairly begun. Her work on the “Westminster Review” was chiefly editorial. During the years in which she was connected with it she wrote far fewer articles than might have been supposed. The most important of them were the following, written between 1852 and 1859, inclusive: “Women in France,” “Madame De Sable;” “Evangelical Teachings” (on Dr. Cumming); “The Natural History of German Life;” “German Wit” (on Heine); “Worldliness and Other Worldliness” (on Young and Cowper).

While in London she formed numerous valuable acquaintances among literary persons, among whom may be mentioned Herbert Spencer, Mr. Pigott, and George H. Lewes. Her acquaintance with Lewes resulted in her marriage to him. These two eminent scholars lived together most happily; and each profited by the companionship of the other.

Her own somewhat somber cast of thought was cheered, enlivened and diversified by the vivacity and versatility which characterized Mr. Lewes. Was the character of Ladislaw, to ourselves one of very great charm, in any degree drawn from George Henry Lewes, as his wife first remembered him? The suggestion that she should try her hand at fiction undoubtedly came from Mr. Lewes. Probably no great writers ever know their real vein. But for this outward stimulation, she might have remained through life the accurate translator, the brilliant reviewer, the thoughtful poet, to whom accuracy of poetic form was somewhat wanting, rather than as the writer of fiction who has swayed the hearts of men as no other writer but Walter Scott has done, or even attempted to do.

In the maturity of her life and intellectual powers she became known as a writer of fiction. There are those who regard the “Scenes of Clerical Life” as her best work. Beautiful as they are, that is not our opinion, and, at any rate, the “Scenes” failed to attract much notice at first. The publication of “Adam Bede,” in 1859, however, took the world by storm. Five editions were sold within as many months. Considerable anxiety was manifested as to the authorship of the novel. In this matter, the actual author was greatly complimented, for the popularity of her work induced one Joseph Liggins to copy the entire book, and then, by exhibiting his manuscript, to claim the authorship. The impostor received some money by subscription before the authorship of “Adam Bede” was fully settled. In 1859 also appeared “The Mill on the Floss,” a work fully up to the standard of her former production; and in 1861, “Silas Marner” sustained George Eliot’s reputation as a powerful writer. In 1863 she published a more ambitious work than any before attempted. It was an historical novel of Italian life in the days of Savonarola, entitled “Romola.” By many this is considered her greatest intellectual effort. She published “Felix Holt, the Radical,” in 1866; “Middlemarch, a Study of English Provincial Life,” 1871-’72; “Daniel Deronda,” a story of modern English life, 1876; “The Gypsie Queen,” an elaborate dramatic poem, 1868; “Agatha,” a poem, 1869. In 1878 her husband died, thus leaving her alone. The loss was deeply felt by her, but she soon commenced to enter society again, when she married Mr. J. W. Cross. Although many of her friends were not favorable to the new union, yet it proved to be a happy one. In company with Mr. Cross, she visited Italy, and her health seemed greatly benefited by that sunny clime. Upon returning to England, however, the severe winter which followed was most unfavorable. She moved to her new home in Chelsea, but from the effects of a severe cold, died within two weeks of the change, and was laid to rest by the side of Mr. George Henry Lewes.

The complete works of George Eliot have been issued in this country, in eight volumes. While she has written some verses of considerable merit, yet her fame rests upon her prose works. There is probably no question but what she is the greatest female novelist England has produced, and a large class of critical writers deem her the greatest that ever lived.

Biography from: http://www.2020site.org/literature/index.html

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