Who Wrote under the Name of George Eliot?
George Eliot was the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans (1819-80), the daughter of a Warwickshire land agent, who became one of the key figures in the development of the English novel. She used a man’s name because in those days there was great prejudice against women a writer. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s lifetime, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances.
She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. Another factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny, thus avoiding the scandal that would have arisen because of her adulterous relationship with the married George Henry Lewes.
Her first work was a translation of Strauss’s Life of Jesus, which she completed in 1846. Four years later she started contributing to the Westminster Review, a radical philosophical journal, and gradually became part of the literary life of London.
In 1854 she began living with George Henry Lewes, another writer, with whom she stayed until his death in 1878. The first of her stories, Scenes from Clerical Life, appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857, and won immediate acclaim. Thus encouraged, she produced Adam Bede in 1859, The Mill on the Floss in 1860 and Silas Marner in 1861.
Visits to Italy inspired her to write Romola, a historical novel set in 15th Century Florence, which was serialized in the Cornhill magazine in 1862-3. Middlemarch, considered by many to be her greatest novel, was published by instalments in 1871-2, as was her last work, Daniel Deronda, in 1874-6. Her novels are full of psychological insight and are written with a fine sense of humor and pathos.
In 1863 George Eliot and George Lewes bought the Priory, 21 North Bank, Regents Park, where Sunday afternoon gatherings became a feature of the Victorian literary scene. Their unconventional relationship was close and happy, and respected by those who knew them. When Lewes died, she was distraught, for he had fostered her career and managed all the practical details of her life. In May, 1880, she married John Walter Cross, a friend 21 years her junior, on whom she had come to depend for sympathy and affection. But she died in December of the same year after a honeymoon in Italy, and was buried in Highgate Cemetry.