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Who is George Eliot?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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George Eliot is the pen name of the critically acclaimed English Victorian writer, Mary Ann Evans. Her literary contributions include The Mill and The Floss, Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Middlemarch. She is considered by many to be one of the finest authors of the Victorian era, in many cases as good or better than Charlotte Bronte. Her work clearly stands shoulder to shoulder with the work of Dickens, and she was excellent at addressing the social strata of rural communities.

Many women writers in the Victorian Era had ceased to use male pen names, as writing became a more respectable trade for women. George Eliot probably used a pen name because her personal life would have been considered less than respectable. She would have been considered in her time as a “kept woman,” as she lived with a married man named George Lewes.

Lewes’ wife refused to divorce him, thus he and George Eliot privately pursued their relationship. To keep this undercover was vastly important; otherwise she would probably not have been read. Some few knew about her relationship, but she was not completely successful in keeping her private life from being discussed. Louisa May Alcott refers to her lifestyle in Little Women, mentioning how Eliot is lost to the true light.

It is clear from the semi-autobiographical Middlemarch, which many consider her finest work, that the decision to pursue an unconventional romantic relationship with Lewes was not an unreasoned or quick decision for George Eliot. In fact, in this novel, the character of Dorothea is cautiously drawn, evidencing the difficulties of an imprudent marriage from which one cannot escape.

Dorothea is often taken as a model of the young George Eliot. She is quite chaste, and prizes acquirement in education above all other things. Eliot sought knowledge as a young girl, learning languages usually reserved for the education of men, such as German and Greek. Though educated on fairly conservative Christian principles, Eliot soon became exposed to more liberal Christian theology. She certainly used such knowledge to defend her longstanding relationship with Lewes.

Lewes died in 1880, and George Eliot married a friend, John Cross, a man 20 years her junior. She did not survive a year beyond this marriage, dying just after her 61st birthday. In total she wrote 11 novels. Her last work was Daniel Deronda, published in 1876.

Though George Eliot was read during her time, she did not enjoy the popularity of writers like Dickens. She is acknowledged for her precise character studies, and her exploration of the life and limitations of rural communities. Later writers like D.H. Lawrence and Henry James viewed her as the one of the inspirations for Edwardian and modern writers.

Among feminist critics, George Eliot is considered a particularly important novelist because her portrayal of women is keenly accurate. In The Mill on The Floss, the powerlessness and futility of women’s lives is tragically recorded. Though Eliot was able to escape traditional Victorian male control, she clearly saw how most women lived, and the power they lacked. However, her character sketches never seem to lecture as Bronte’s did. Instead she allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions regarding the nature and lives of the characters she portrays.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Feb 14, 2011

My favorite George Eliot novel is Middlemarch. I told my brother to read it while he's on vacation and even though he is not big on Victorian novels, he loved it! He even gifted the George Eliot DVD collection to me, which I must say are very good adaptations. If you don't like reading so much, that might be a good way to find out about her works. The collection has Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner, Adam Bede and the Mill on the Floss.

By ysmina — On Feb 13, 2011

George Eliot quotes are fantastic. They are so meaningful, I love them. I actually use them a lot. Two of my favorites are:

"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."

"One must be poor to know the luxury of giving!"

By bear78 — On Feb 12, 2011

I'm planning on writing about Eliot for a final paper because I find both her work and personal life really interesting. I actually think of her as a role model because she was such an intelligent and open-minded woman for her time. She knew seven languages! I think that's really impressive.

I would like to reflect her personality- her thoughts and feelings, beliefs in this paper. Most of the George Eliot biographies I have found use her personal letters as the major source of information. But these don't tell us much about how her writing related to her real life which I would really like to know more about. I mean, how did the difficulties she faced in her personal relationship with George Lewis, for example, impact her when deciding the tone, the characters and storyline of her literature? I think I will have to use insight and perhaps some imagination when writing about her. I wish she had written her own autobiography while she was alive.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia...
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