Celebrated English novelist George Eliot was born Mary Anne Evans, on 22nd November 1819. Raised in Warwickshire, Mary was forced to leave school at an early age after her mother died in 1836, so she could become her father’s housekeeper. In 1841, Mary and her father moved to Coventry, where she looked after him until his death in 1849. Mary then travelled around Europe, before eventually settling in London.
Although Mary had inherited strict religious views from her father, she was always open minded and, once she was free from her family, became a freethinker. In London, Mary joined a circle of intellectuals that included Tennyson and Dickens.
In 1850, Eliot began contributing to the Westminster Review, a leading journal for philosophical radicals, and later she became its editor. Adopting her male pen name in the hope that she’d be taken more seriously, she published Amos Barton, a short story which was later to appear in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858).
Amongst her literary friends, Mary met George Henry Lewes. George was a married man, but despite this, they came to live together as a couple until his death. This caused a society scandal which led to Mary being shunned by friends and family alike.
George Eliot’s first novel, Adam Bede‘, was published in 1859 and was a great success. Her other novels include The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel Deronda (1876).
It was the popularity of Eliot’s novels which earned her social acceptance back. Soon her home with George Lewes became a meeting place for fellow writers. After Lewes’ death in 1878, George remarried. Her husband had been a friend for many years; John Cross, who was 20 years younger than her.
Mary ‘George Eliot’ Evans died on 22th December 1880. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery in north London, leaving an incredible literary heritage behind her.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.