English novelist. Her works include the pastoral Adam Bede (1859); The Mill on the Floss (1860), with its autobiographical elements; Silas Marner (1861), containing elements of the folk tale; and Daniel Deronda (1876). Middlemarch, published serially (1871–72), is considered her greatest novel for its confident handling of numerous characters and central social and moral issues. She developed a subtle psychological presentation of character, and her work is pervaded by a penetrating and compassionate intelligence.
Born in Astley, Warwickshire, George Eliot had a strict evangelical upbringing. In 1841 she was converted to free thought. As assistant editor of the Westminster Review under John Chapman from 1851 to 1853, she made the acquaintance of the writers and thinkers Thomas Carlyle, Harriet Martineau, Herbert Spencer, and the philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes. Lewes was married but separated from his wife, and from 1854 he and Eliot lived together in a relationship that she regarded as a true marriage and that continued until his death. Lewes strongly believed in her talent and as a result of his encouragement the story ‘Amos Barton’ was accepted by Blackwoods Magazine in 1857. This was followed by a number of other short stories, and their success persuaded Eliot to embark on writing her full-length novels including Adam Bede which was highly praised and placed her among the leading contemporary novelists. Lewes died in 1878, bitterly lamented by Eliot. In 1880 she married John Cross (1840–1924), her accountant and a friend of long standing.
At the age of 22, Eliot moved with her father to Coventry where she made the acquaintance of Charles Bray (1811–84) and Mrs Bray, whose brother Charles Hennell (1809–50) had written An Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity (1838). Both Bray and his brother-in-law were freethinkers and, influenced by her association with them, she began to reconsider her religious convictions. In 1844, when Miss Brabant (later Mrs Hennell) had to resign the task of translating David Strauss's Leben Jesu, Eliot brought it to a successful conclusion, though when it was published in 1846 her name did not appear.
While employed as assistant editor of the Westminster Review, she contributed occasional articles and reviews. She was living in London at this time and also found time to translate The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach, which was published in 1854 under her own name. The third phase of her life, the ‘George Eliot’ period, dates from 1853 when she met Lewes; the following year they decided to live together. Lewes's encouragement of her fiction writing led to the publication of ‘Amos Barton’, ‘Mr Gilfil's Love Story’, ‘Janet's Repentance’, and other stories which were collected in 1858 as Scenes of Clerical Life.
Encouraged by the success of these short stories, Eliot began a full-length novel, Adam Bede, which was followed by The Mill on the Floss, which has often been regarded as her masterpiece. Silas Marner, a shorter novel, appeared the following year. At this time, Eliot, accompanied by Lewes, went to Florence to gather material for a projected historical novel of the time of Savonarola, Romola, for which she was offered the hitherto unprecedented sum of £10,000, for the serial and book rights. It appeared monthly in the Cornhill Magazine, of which English writer William Makepeace Thackeray was editor from 1862 to 1863.
Felix Holt, the Radical appeared in 1866, The Spanish Gypsy and Agatha (two poems) in 1868 and 1869, and in 1871–72 came Middlemarch, which is among the greatest novels of the 19th century in terms of scope, complexity, and simple truth to life, and which raised Eliot's reputation to its greatest height. She published Jubal and other Poems in 1874. The subsequent novels Daniel Deronda and Theophrastus Such (1879), though successful, did not add to her reputation.
Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life
Eliot, George Silas Marner
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