George Eliot (1819 –1880): Biography, Famous Works and Influence

George Eliot (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880, born Mary Ann Evans (later Marian Evans), was a renowned novelist, born in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire. She was the youngest surviving child of Robert Evans, who worked as an agent for the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall. Evans received her education at Mrs Wallington’s school in Nuneaton and later attended the Misses Franklin’s school in Coventry. In her youth, Evans was close to her brother Isaac, although they later became estranged. Initially influenced by evangelicalism, her beliefs shifted under the influence of Charles Bray, a freethinking manufacturer from Coventry. Despite this, religious concepts of love and duty continued to resonate with her and were evident in her works, which often featured affectionate portraits of Dissenters and clergymen.

Evans pursued a rigorous education, reading extensively and completing a translation of D. F. Strauss’s “Life of Jesus,” which was published anonymously in 1846. In 1850, she met John Chapman and became a contributor to the Westminster Review. She moved to 142 Strand, London, in 1851 as a paying guest in the Chapmans’ home, leading to an emotional attachment that proved problematic. She became the assistant editor of the Westminster Review in 1851 and developed strong feelings for Herbert Spencer, although they were not reciprocated. Nevertheless, they remained friends.

In 1854, Evans published a translation of Ludwig Feuerbach’s “Essence of Christianity” and endorsed his view that religious belief is an imaginative necessity and projection of human interests. During this time, she entered into a relationship with G. H. Lewes, as they could not marry due to Lewes’ existing marriage. They lived together and traveled to the Continent, with Lewes providing constant support throughout Evans’s working life. Although their relationship caused anxiety, it was eventually accepted by their friends.

Evans’s first work, “The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton,” appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857, followed by “Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story” and “Janet’s Repentance.” These works, collectively known as “Scenes of Clerical Life,” garnered praise for their domestic realism, pathos, and humor. Speculation arose about the identity of “George Eliot,” with many assuming the author to be a clergyman or clergyman’s wife.

Also read; John Langshaw Austin (1911–1960): Biography, famous works and Influence

Here are some details about some of George Eliot’s notable books:

“Middlemarch” (1871-1872): Set in the fictional town of Middlemarch, this novel is considered George Eliot’s magnum opus. It explores the lives of several interconnected characters, delving into themes of marriage, ambition, and societal expectations. “Middlemarch” is celebrated for its realistic portrayal of human nature and its insightful social commentary.

“Adam Bede” (1859): This novel was George Eliot’s first major literary success. It tells the story of Adam Bede, a carpenter, and his love for Hetty Sorrel, a young woman from the village. The novel explores themes of love, betrayal, and morality, and is praised for its vivid descriptions and compelling characters.

“The Mill on the Floss” (1860): Drawing heavily from George Eliot’s own childhood experiences, this novel follows the lives of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, siblings growing up in rural England. It examines the complexities of family relationships, societal expectations, and the tension between individual desires and duty.

“Silas Marner” (1861): This novel tells the story of Silas Marner, a reclusive weaver whose life is transformed when he adopts a young girl named Eppie. Set in the English countryside, the book explores themes of redemption, community, and the power of love and human connections.

“Daniel Deronda” (1876): In this novel, George Eliot explores themes of identity, morality, and the search for meaning. It follows the intertwined lives of Daniel Deronda, a young man of unknown parentage, and Gwendolen Harleth, a headstrong young woman. The book delves into issues of religion, Zionism, and feminism.

Some of Geroge Eliot’s poems are:

  1. “O May I Join the Choir Invisible”: This poem reflects on the power of individual actions and their impact on the world. It expresses a desire to live a meaningful life and be remembered for the positive contributions made.
  2. “Agatha”: This poem explores the theme of unrequited love and the pain it can bring. It portrays the internal struggle of the speaker, who longs for the affection of another but is unable to attain it.
  3. “Brother and Sister”: A sonnet sequence recalling Eliot’s happy childhood and the bond between siblings. It reflects on the passage of time and the changes that occur in relationships as individuals grow older.
  4. “The Legend of Jubal”: This poem delves into the power of music as a transformative force. It tells the story of Jubal, who becomes the first musician and uses his melodies to heal and bring harmony to the world.
  5. “Armgart”: This poem explores the sacrifices and struggles faced by artists in pursuit of their creative endeavors. It portrays the inner turmoil and dedication of the titular character, a passionate singer.

In addition to her novels, and poems, Eliot wrote novellas and essays. Her letters and journals were edited by Cross and later by G. S. Haight. Notable biographies of George Eliot include Rosemary Ashton’s “George Eliot: A Life” (1996).

Also read; Ben Jonson (1572- 1637) A Scottish Poet and Dramatist; Biography and famous works