George Eliot

A picture of the author George Eliot

George Eliot was born Mary Anne Evans in 1819 in Warwickshire, England. The female author adopted the pen name George Eliot to ensure her work was taken seriously and to avert public disclosure of her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, a philosopher and literary critic.

As a young girl, Eliot 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 it vagaries and customs. This lead to a unusual situation. Her father believed that her lack of physical beauty and attractiveness would be an impediment to her marriage prospects. Since she was obviously intelligent, he invested in a boarding school education for Eliot until she was 16. Regardless of the circumstances, 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 1900's she was championed by Virginia Woolf and influential literary critics, who considered her one of the greatest Western authors of all time.

Eliot wrote seven books, including the highly regarded Middlemarch (1871-72) and Silas Marner (1861). She also wrote some poetry, short stories and noteworthy letters.

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