Adam Bede: Biography: George Eliot

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George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans on November 22, 1819, in Warwickshire, near Nuneaton, England, at South Farm, on the Newdigate estate, the third child of Robert and Christiana Evans. Her father was the manager of Arbury Hall on the estate. She was allowed access to the library there and was greatly influenced by the classics. Brought up in an Evangelical religion, she shed her faith after meeting freethinking friends, the Brays, in her twenties. She met such famous radicals at their home in Coventry as Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her first publication was a translation from the German of David Strauss’ The Life of Jesus (1846), which demythologized Christ and talked about him as a man.

Eliot mingled in intellectual circles and was interested in the latest thinking in philosophy and science. She became an editor for the left-wing The Westminster Review in 1851. She met George Henry Lewes the same year, and they began to live together in 1854 after he left his wife. Theirs was a loving and unconventional companionship that lasted twenty-four years. Lewes was a writer and philosopher but is chiefly remembered now for his support and encouragement of Eliot, who was shy and full of self-doubt.

Eliot traveled to Germany with Lewes to work on her translations of Feuerbach and Spinoza. They considered themselves married and lived openly together, but Mary Ann was not received in polite company because of that. Eliot wanted to write fiction but did not like the sentimental novels written by other female authors of the time. Preferring European realistic novels, she wrote in a similar style of English rural life, which she knew so well. In 1858, the short pieces collected as Scenes of Clerical Life began to appear in Blackwood’s Magazine. Her first complete novel was Adam Bede, 1859, a popular success.

Other novels include The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Felix Holt the Radical (1866), Middlemarch (1871-72), and Daniel Deronda (1876). She also wrote poetry and short stories. Queen Victoria read Eliot’s novels, and the author was received by the royal family in 1877, despite her unmarried status. When Lewes died, she edited his work and married John Walter Cross, an American banker twenty years younger. She died shortly after, at the age of 61 in 1880. Her fiction turned English taste towards realism in the novel.

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