George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
When Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819, her father, Robert Evans, was steward of the Newdigate family and governor of their property in Warwickshire. Her mother, Christiana Pearson, daughter of a small landowner, was his second wife and together they already had two children: Christiana, born in 1814 and Isaac, born in 1816. Robert Evans, himself the fourth son of a carpenter in Derbyshire was widowed before their marriage with two children: Robert born in 1802 and Fanny born in 1805.|
The family moved to Griff House in Arbury Estate when Mary Ann was four months. Isaac and Mary Ann went to school in front of the house, but they often ran away to play together. Mary Ann was full of admiration for her older brother and followed him everywhere.
In 1824 she entered Mrs Wallington school, where she is considered as an exceptional student. Mary Ann admired her teacher, a very religious person, Maria Lewis, who is an adherent of the evangelical doctrine of John Jones.
Thanks to her excellent results, at the age of thirteen, she was able to attend the best school for girls in that time, the Mary and Rebecca Franklin school, girls of pastor. Mary Ann is so serious and even pompous that her co-students had difficulties believing that she once was a baby! She shines in painting, style exercises in English and French, and she reads the authors of the most divergent. Her very good results gave her a little more confidence in herself, but because of her introvert nature she still stayed somewhat isolated. In addition, with regard to religion, she was a intransigent puritanical. At Christmas 1836 she was forced to leave school because her parents were sick. Her father finally recovered, but her mother died of cancer in 1837. The same year Christiana married a doctor, and Mary Ann took care of the household of her father, which gives her a kind of independence. In addition to her very demanding daily business, she continued to read, little by little romantic authors as well, and she learned German, Italian and science. Because of her rigid principles she lives fairly isolated, but slowly loses her faith, and the conflict between belief and emotions will cause some hysterical crises.
In 1841 Isaac got married and took over the management of Griff House with his wife. Mary Ann and her father moved to Bird Grove, Foals Hill outside of Coventry. She began translating Das Leben Jesu by Strauss, and was done in 1846. In the meantime her former teacher, Mrs. Franklin, introduced her to the evangelical community where she became acquainted with Charles and Cara Bray, as well as Charles and Sara Henell, who diverted her from her Unitarian faith. In the house of the Bray, at Rosehill, discussions of all kinds with new and original ideas about religion and philosophy took place. Her father was outraged by her new convictions, especially because he was afraid that they would prevent her of meeting serious candidates for marriage. Mary Ann pretended to resign but suffered from a severe crisis of faith.
In 1848 her father was sick again and he died in May 1849. The Bray urged her to travel with them in Europe, and she stayed some time alone, in Geneva. After a strong depression she changed her name: she was now Marian or Marianne. Back in England she visited his brother Isaac, but was very poorly received. Finally she took a suitcase and left for London in 1851 to make her fortune in literature.
For five years she worked as an editor assistant John Chapman at the Westminster Review, a popular radical magazine. In her new environment she made new friends, men and women, and she falls in love successively with John Chapman, Herbert Spencer and eventually George Henry Lewes, an extroverted man who liked to pass from woman to woman. The fact that he is still married and father of the family, does not stop them at all from starting an affair and to finally live together. Marian abandons her poorly paid work at The Westminster Review and translated works of the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, Das Wesen des Christentums, then they left on a trip to Weimar and Berlin.
In March 1855 they were back in England where their lives was not always easy because of their cohabitation.
They had to earn money for their own couple, but also for the maintenance of Lewes’ children, and to help his sister Chrissey, a widow with six children. George Lewes worked for a magazine and Marian wrote articles, reviews, essays and translated Ethica, the book of Spinoza. At the same time she studied classical languages and read modern writers as Charlotte Brönte, Jane Austen and George Sand, an author very discussed in England because of her ideas about free love. She was also studying the nature and kept a journal.
Starting 1855 she shows an interest in feminist views, while keeping an ambivalent attitude: on one hand she believed that the law allowed unfair restrictions against women, but at the same time she did not believe in an idealistic image of women and equality. She exposed her ideas in two books: Silly Novels by Lady Novelists and Women in France.
Encouraged by Lewes, she began to write fiction in 1855, but under a male pseudonym, George Eliot, to avoid a series of restrictive guidelines for female authors. Titles of her hand: Janet's Repentance, Scenes of a Clerical Life, Mr. Gilfil's Love Story.
In 1857 the Lewes live a quiet life in Richmond: working, walking in the park, reading and writing. They do not get many visits, but they regularly leave to travel and the novel Adam Bede is finalized in Germany. The year after, they left for Switzerland, where George visited his sons at school but they were actually staying in Munich and Dresden where they were better accepted as an unmarried couple.
Back in England Marian was concerned about her sick sister and wrote to her brother Isaac, telling him her life with Lewes. The result is that Isaac, shocked, cut all kind of relations with her.
Adam Bede is published in February 1859 and was a great success: the book was republished, translated into four languages and brought a lot of money. The Lewes bought a house, Holly Lodge in Southfield. In March, Chrissey died without having had any chance of seeing Marian again.
When Marian revealed her nickname the reactions of their friends were diverse. Herbert Spencer was jealous of her success, and some people even said that the book was not written by Marian but by a certain Joseph Higgins who had published the book a few years earlier. Ultimately she felt more shame than pride in her success. Fortunately George was there to encourage her and regulate contracts with publishers. Marian wrote other novels such as The Lifted Veil, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Romola. During one of their trips to Europe, Charles, the son of George, went back with them to England and they moved to London. Their circle of acquaintances was enlarged but Marian was still a little isolated as she didn’t like visits.
In 1863 they bought another house The Priory on the North Bank near Regent's Park Canal. Marian works in a drama in verse, The Spanish Gipsy, but the first version did not go well and she suffered from depression. George Lewes did not feel too well either, but he recovered when he started working for a new magazine, which gave him more opportunities to meet with many friends.
After the publication of Felix Holt, they travelled back to Europe. Marian wrote more poetry and her reputation grew. At home they received visits from admirers, including both members of the aristocracy that people known as Cosima Wagner and Clara Schumann. Thornton, the second son of George, returned from South Africa, seriously ill and was treated by Marian until his death in 1869. She wrote Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. Her novels even attracted the attention of Queen Victoria and the Princess Louise asked her banker to give a dinner to enable her to meet George and Marian.
In 1878 George became ill and died of cancer on November 1878. Marian was destroyed by the pain and remained several months without receiving people, except John Cross, a banker appointed by her husband to help with the financial aspects of her existence.
A year and half later she consented to marry John Cross after three requests. He was 20 years younger than her. When they married in May 1880, gossips starting running again, this time, because of the age difference. It is said that John did not dare to say no to the marriage proposition made by Marian.
Isaac, unlike the others, after twenty years of silence, contacted her to congratulate her.
The newly wed went on honeymoon in Italy, where John, in unclear circumstances, jumped out the window in the Grande Canal and was saved by a gondolier. They talked about depression or fever, and his brother came from England to escort them back home. In England, when John recovered, Marian started to feel sick. On December 19, she complained about harm in the throat and she died unexpectedly on December 1880.
George Eliot began her life as a rigid puritanical to move towards free thinking.
His private life was subject to much criticism and had caused a complete rupture with her brother. She preferred a certain solitude and writing cost her a lot of energy: to avoid the criticism she started to travel after the publication of each book. It is quite possible that she would have never become a famous author without the influence of George Lewes, extroverted and joyful. It was he who encouraged, who helped with the plots of her novels, and who appeared as a literary agent. After his death her novels never completely lost the interest of people but she was considered as a typical Victorian author.
During the second half of the twentieth century interest expands again when some of her novels were turned into movies.