George Eliot was the pen name for the author born as Mary Anne Evans in 1819 in Warwickshire, England. The female author adopted her pseudonym to ensure her work was taken seriously and to avert public disclosure of her relationship with the married man, George Henry Lewes, a philosopher and literary critic. She wrote seven books, including the highly regarded Middlemarch (1871-72) and Silas Marner (1861). Lesser known works included poems, short stories, and noteworthy historical letters.
As a young girl, Evans was a voracious reader and possessed obvious intelligence. Yet she was also trapped in the Victorian Era (the period in England between 1837 - 1901) and subject to its vagaries and customs. This led to an unusual situation. Her father believed that her lack of physical beauty would be an impediment to her marriage prospects. Since she was obviously intelligent, he invested in a boarding school education for Evans until she was 16. Regardless of the rationale for her education, this was an unusual privilege for young women in the Victorian Era.
Her literary career began in earnest in 1851 when she became the assistant editor for the Westminster Review; a journal owned by a radical, left-wing publisher, effectively managing its operations and serving as its leading essayist. Her stint at the journal was a successful one, but Eliot had deeper literary ambitions and was determined to become a novelist. One of her last essays for the periodical was a critique of the ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction written by women. Other essays emphasized the value of realistic fiction, which later became her clear genre of choice.
Eliot's works of realistic fiction offer vivid and complex character portraits and usually involve plots of social outsiders and small-town persecution. She inspired other Victorian realist authors such as Thomas Hardy. In the 1900s she was championed by Virginia Woolf and influential literary critics, who considered her one of the greatest Western authors of all time. Beloved children's author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was named after her Middlemarch character, Dorothea Brooke.