The History of Literature Podcast

184 George Eliot

Perhaps the greatest of all the many great English novelists, George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans in 1819 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. Her father Robert managed an estate for a wealthy family; her mother Christina was the daughter of a local mill-owner. Among her rather large family, Mary Ann stood apart as the only one with a taste for intellectual pursuits. Her views on philosophy and theology led her to reject religion at the age of 22, leading to a row with her father that lasted months. She spent the next fifteen years in a kind of quest for intellectual companionship, which led to some humiliating episodes before finally resulting in a successful, if socially fraught, relationship with an unhappily married journalist named George Henry Lewes.

After making a living as a freelance editor and translator, Evans turned to writing novels at the age of 37. Published under the pseudonym “George Eliot,” her first novel Adam Bede was an immediate success, praised for the depth of its psychological insights and the clarity of its moral vision. Eliot followed Adam Bede with several classics of English literature including The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda. She was, remarked Virginia Woolf, one of the few English novelists who wrote books for grown-up people.

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