Bert Hornback looks at what Martin Amis and Julian Barnes have both described as 'probably the ...
"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
Mary Ann (later Marian) Evans was born in 1819, in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, where her father was the manager of the Arbury Hall Estate. Early in her life the family moved to Griff, a pleasant red-brick house, where she was to spend 21 years of her life. Her father invested in an education for her, something not often afforded to women. Through the influence of one of her schoolmistresses, she was, for a time, an enthusiastic evangelical, but later rejected this faith. Her mother died in 1836 and Eliot was left in charge of the household. In 1841 they moved to Coventry, where she continued looking after the household until her father's death in 1849.
It was during this time that she came under the influence of Charles Bray, a free-thinker. This influence can be detected in her work, with her affectionate portraits of Dissenters and clergymen. After her father’s death she travelled around Europe before settling in London, where she met J. Chapman, who helped her to obtain a job with the Westminster Review. In 1851 Eliot took up an editorial post at the Review and enjoyed great success. At this time she met George Henry Lewes, who would remain her companion until his death in 1878. The relationship was extremely controversial, because Lewes was already married to a woman who was mentally unbalanced and had born several children to another man.
As writing in those days was considered to be a male preserve, she wrote her first collection of tales, Scenes of Clerical Life, under the pseudonym of George Eliot. This was followed by her first novel, Adam Bede, where the main character was based on her own father. Her other major works were The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Her greatest work, Middlemarch (1871-72) was inspired by her life in Coventry.
After the death of George Lewes in 1878, Eliot spent the next two years editing Lewes's final work, Life and Mind, ready for publication. In May 1880 she married John Cross, an American banker and her financial adviser who was twenty years her junior. Following a honeymoon in Venice they returned to London, where Eliot died of kidney failure on December 22nd, 1880.
TITLES BY GEORGE ELIOT