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  • 11/22/2003

George Eliot

pseudonym for Mary Ann Cross, also Marian Evans, original surname Evans

(22 Nov.1819-22 Dec.1880)

Victorian writer, a humane freethinker, whose insightful psychological novels paved way to modern character portrayals - contemporary ofDostoevsky (1821-1881), who at the same time in Russia developed similar narrative techniques. Eliot's liaison with the married writer and editor George Henry Lewes arise among the rigid Victorians much indignation, which calmed down with the progress of her literary fame.
"Marriage, which has been the bourne of so many narratives, is still a great beginning, as it was to Adam and Eve, who kept their honeymoon in Eden, but had their first little one among the thorns and thistles of the wilderness. It is still the beginning of the home epic - the gradual conquest or irremediable loss of that complete union which makes the advancing years as a climax, and age the harvest of sweet memories in common." (FromMiddlemarch, 1871-72)
Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was born in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire. Her father was a carpenter who rose to be a land agent. When she was a few months old, the family moved to Griff, a 'cheerful red-brick, ivory-covered house', and there Eliot spent 21 years of his life among people that he later depicted in her novels. She was educated at home and in several schools, and developed a strong evangelical piety at Mrs. Wallington's School at Neneaton. However, later Eliot rejected her dogmatic faith. When her mother died in 1836, she took charge of the family household. In 1841 she moved with her father to Coventry, where she lived with him until his death in 1849. During this time she met Charles Bray, a free-thinkingCoventry manufacturer. His wife, Caroline (Cara) was the sister of Charles Hennel, the author of a work entitledAn Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity(1838).The reading of this and other rationalistic works influenced deeply Eliot's thoughts. After her father's death, Eliot travelled around Europe. She settled in London and took up work as subeditor ofWestminster Review.
InCoventry she met Charles Bray and later Charles Hennell, who introduced her to many new religious and political ideas. Under Eliot's control theWestminster Review enjoyed success. She became the centre of a literary circle, one of whose members was George Henry Lewes, who would be her companion until his death in 1878. In 1854 Eliot went toGermany.
Eliot's first collection of tales, SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE, appeared in 1858 under the pseudonym George Eliot - in those days writing was considered to be a male profession. It was followed by her first novel, ADAM BEDE, a tragic love story in which the model for the title character was Eliot's father. He was noted for his great physical strength, which enabled him to carry loads that three average men could barely handle. When impostors claimed authorship ofAdam Bede, it was revealed that Marian Evans, the Westminsterreviewer, was George Eliot. The book was a brilliant success. Her other major works include THE MILL ON THE FLOSS (1860), a story of destructive family relations, and SILAS MARNER (1861). Silas Marner, a linen-weaver, has accumulated a goodly sum of gold. He was falsely judged guilty of theft 15 years before and left his community. Squire Cass' son Dunstan steals Marner's gold and disappears. Marner takes care of an orphaned little girl, Eppie and she becomes for him more precious than the lost property. Sixteen years later the skeleton of Dunstan and Marner's gold is found. Godfrey Cass, Dunstal's brother, admits that he is the father of Eppie. He married the girl's mother, opium-ridden Molly Farren secretly before hear death. Eppie and Silas Marner don't wish to separate when Godfrey tries to adopt the girl. In the end Eppie marries Aaron Winthorp, who accepts Silas Marner as part of the household.
MIDDLEMARCH (1871-72), her greatest novel, was probably inspired by her life atCoventry. Among Eliot's translation works are D.F. Strauss'sDas Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (published anonymously in 1846), Ludwig Feuerbach'sDas Wesen des Christentum,and Spinoza'sEthics (unpublished).Eliot's thoughts of religion were considered at that time advanced.
Middlemarch is a novel of English provincial life in the early nineteenth century, just before the Reform Bill of 1832. The book was called by the famous American writer Henry James a 'treasure-house of detail.'
In 1860-61 Eliot spent some time in Italy collecting material for her historical romance ROMOLA. It was published serially first in the Cornhill Magazineand in book form in 1863.Henry James considered it the finest thing she wrote, "but its defects are almost on the scale of its beauties." In 1871 she mentioned to Alexander Main: "I have the conviction that excessive literary production is a social offence."
After Lewes's death Eliot married twenty years younger friend, John Cross, an American banker, on May 6, 1880. They made a trip toItaly and according to a story; he jumped inVenice from their hotel balcony into theGrand Canal. After honeymoon they returned to London, where she died of a kidney ailment on the same year on December 22. Cross never married again. In her will she expressed her wish to be buried in Westminster Abbey, but Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey rejected the idea and Eliot was buried in Highgate Cemetery. Eliot's interest in the interior life of human beings, moral problems and strains, anticipated the narrative methods of modern literature.

Selected works:


ADAM BEDE, 1859 - Rehdin miehen rakkaus

THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, 3 vol., 1860 - Mylly joen rannalla - film 1937, dir. by Tim Whelan, starring Frank Lawton, Victorian Hopper, Fay Compton, Geraldine Fitzgerald; film 1997, dir. by Graham Theakston, starring Emily Watson, James Frain

SILAS MARNER, 1961 - Kankuri ja hنnen aarteensa - film A Simple Twist of Fate (1994), dir. by Gilles MacKinnon, starring Steve Martin, Gabriel Byrne

ROMOLA, 1863



AGATHA, 1869

MIDDLEMARCH 1871-72 - Middlemarch


DANIEL DERONDA, 1876 - George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda performed on PBSSunday, March 30, 2003 -see:ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre





ESSAYS, 1963

Taken from:

For more information:
The Novels of George Eliot:http://www.princeton.edu/~batke/eliot/ghindex.html

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