Middlemarch: Biography :George Eliot


Biography

George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans on November 22, 1819, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, the third child of Robert and Christiana Evans. Her father, like Mr. Garth in Middlemarch, was the manager of an estate. She was allowed access to the library there and was greatly influenced by the classics. She was brought up in an Evangelical religion, which she shed after meeting freethinking friends, the Brays, in her twenties. Through the Brays, Eliot met such famous radicals 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, which demythologized Christ and presented him as a man rather than as the son of God.

Eliot mingled in intellectual circles and was interested in the latest thinking in philosophy and science. She became an editor for the left-wing periodical, 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 Eliot was not received in polite company because of that. She liked the realistic novels in Europe and began to write realistic portraits of English rural life, which she knew so well. Her first complete novel was Adam Bede (1859), an instant success.

Other novels include The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Felix Holt (1866), Middlemarch (which was published in eight books from 1871 to 1872) and Daniel Deronda. She also wrote poetry and short stories. Her fiction was so popular, she was received by the royal family in 1877. When Lewes died, she edited his work and later married John Walter Cross, an American banker twenty years younger. She died shortly after, at the age of 61, in 1880. Middlemarch is her masterpiece and turned the genre of the novel towards realism in English taste.

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