Pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans
English Woman Novelist
1819 – 1880 A.D.
George Eliot, the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans, foremost of english women novelists. Her father was a carpenter and builder in Derbyshire, in the heart of that stolid farming life of the English midlands which she was later to mirror back so faithfully. The details of the author’s early years, her companionships [sic], her physical surroundings and mental growth, might easily be filled in from her writings, since few novelists have drawn so freely from their own personal and intimate experiences, and there can be no doubt that George Eliot’s own personality is set forth in the character of Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss. Like Maggie, too, she was not a precocious child, preferring play to study, and with difficulty learning to read.
After some years passed at a school in Coventry, her thirst for knowledge awakened, and she studied among other subjects, German, Italian, Greek and Latin, though assiduously and unsystematically that at the age of nineteen she could describe her mind as “an assemblage of disjointed specimens of history, ancient and modern, scraps of poetry picked up from Shakespeare, Cowper, Wordsworth, and Milton, morsels of Addison and Bacon, Latin verbs, geometry, entomology and chemistry.”
Her first literary work was a translation of Strauss’s Life of Jesus, published in 1846, without attaining much success, after which she became assistant editor of the Westminster Review, and wrote several notable papers. She now became acquainted with many distinguished authors of that period – among them Henry Lewes. Her friendship with the last-named led to a closer relationship which she regarded as a marriage, though a legal marriage was impossible, since Lewes already had a wife living, from whom he was separated under circumstances that precluded the possibility of divorce. that both Miss Evans and Lewes regarded their union as possessed of all of the solemn force of a lifelong tie there can be no doubt. Equally certain is it that whatever fame George Eliot achieved as a novelist, she owed to the encouragement and unswerving faith of Lewes, and it is more than likely that without the stimulus of his belief in her powers her novels would never have been written.
Her first essay in fiction, The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, appeared in Blackwoods Magazine in 1857. and was followed by Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story and Janet’s Repentance, but her fame was not established until 1859 when Adam Bede met with a success (in her own words) “triumphantly beyond anything she had dreamed of.”
Then more followed in rapid succession, The Mill on Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt and Middlemarch. In 1876 her last novel, Daniel Dronda appeared, and in 1878 the death of Mr. Lewes seems also to have been the death-blow to her artistic vitality, and beyond a few essays, she wrote no more.
In estimating her literary genius, Mrs. Craigie (“John Oliver Hobbes”) says:
“Thackeray is brilliant; Tolstoi is vivid to a point where life-likeness overwhelms any consideration of art; Balzac create a whole world; George Eliot did not create, but her exposition of the upper and middle class minds of her day is a masterpiece of scientific psychology.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.