November 22, 1819
Born in: Warwickshire, England
Died on: December 22, 1880
Mary Anne Evans, popularly know as George Elliot, was one of the most famous and acclaimed English writers during the Victorian era. Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Elliot to write her novels, because in that period, female novelists were seen not more than romantic writers. Mary Anne wanted that people should take her work seriously, which lead to her writing under a man’s name. Her childhood was similar to most country girls at that time, but as she grew up there were new views, ideas and a new future that awaited her. At a time when most women would have been happily doing their household stuff, she was out there defying the norms and mores of that period which lead to the emergence of the pseudo name, George Elliot.
Childhood and Early Life
Mary Anne Evans, born on November 22, 1819 in Arbury, Warwickshire, was the third child in the family of Robert Evans, a local farmer and Christiana Evans. Mary Anne’s education began at Miss Latham’s boarding school and after that she was sent to the Elms in 1828, which was run by Mrs. Wallington. She furthered her education at Miss Franklin’s school in Coventry. While at Miss Wallington’s Anne was greatly influenced by the teachings of Miss Marie Lewis, a governess at the school with strong evangelical beliefs. Her mother Christiana Evans died on February 3, 1836, and she had to leave school to be at home, to take care of her father. However, not the one to give up, Anne continued her education by studying at home, with the help of Miss Marie Lewis. A noteworthy influence on her early days was her confusion and doubt regarding Christianity and everything about a women being always left behind in the social system.
Anne and her father had to move to Folshill in Coventry in 1841 after her brother Issac married and took over the house they were living in. Her social circle widened while at Coventry and she came into contact with Charles Bray and Cara Bray. Charles Bray was a rich businessman who shared the same religious views as Anne. At Coventry, Anne started to converse with religious radicals and nonconformists, which led to her loss of faith in Christianity. Her rejection of Christianity was not approved by her father, and things got sour between them. Mary Anne continued with her free thinking attitude and started work on translation of David Strauss’ Life of Jesus, which she completed in 1846. Her father died in 1849 due to extensive illness.
After her father’s death, Anne left on a tour to Switzerland with the Bray’s to deal with the grief. Mary Anne returned to England in 1850, and came in contact with John Chapman, a London publisher and bookseller. He was quite impressed with her translation of Strauss and so asked her to write for the Westminster Review. It was not the typical job for a woman in that era. John Chapman asked Mary to write a review of Robert Mackay’s The Progress of the Intellect, which appeared in his paper, The Westminster Review. She stayed in Chapman’s home with his wife Susanna, and his live-in mistress Elizabeth Tiley. Chapman and Marry Anne gradually fell in love with each other, but Anne had to move out because of resistance from Chapman’s wife and mistress. Though Chapman was the editor of Westminster Review, it was Mary Anne who did most of the work, until her departure in 1856. Though women writers were a common sight during that time, what was uncommon or rare was for a woman to be at the top of a literary enterprise. Despite being dominated by the male chauvinistic society, Mary continued with her endeavor for excellence.
Relationship with Henry Lewis
Mary met George Henry Lewis in 1851 and by 1854 they moved in together. George Henry Lewis was not the best looking person in town, but had an impressive personality. George Henry Lewis was married to Agnes Jervis, but things were not bright and faithful between them. Marriage between Mary and Henry was also not possible, because there were lot of complications. Since there was no legal sanction to their living together, talks about their illicit affair made the rounds of London.
The Path to Success
During her years at Westminster Review, Mary Anne had already become very popular in a male dominated era under her pen name, George Elliot. George Henry Lewis was her mental and emotional support system, and kept inspiring her till his death. Her first work Scenes of Clerical Life published in 1858 was a huge success. She published her first novel Adam Bede in 1859, which became hugely popular. The novel was published under an anonymous identity, but with the increasing popularity and curiosity among people, it was made public that George Elliot was indeed the writer. Another best selling novel, The Mills and the Floss was published the very next year. The novel, Middlemarch which was published in 1869, broke all records. This novel made her both popular and rich. At times, she was even referred to as ‘the greatest living English novelist’. Mary Anne’s last novel, Daniel Deronda was published in the year 1876, the same year Henry Lewis breathed his last, ending the 26 years of union.
Marriage and Death
Mary Anne became the center of another controversy when she married John Cross, a man twenty years younger than her on 16th May, 1880. Her legal marriage delighted her brother Issac, though it not well taken by the members of the society. However, the marriage could last for only six and a half month, as she died on the 22nd December 1880. She was buried in the Highgate Cemetery London, next to the grave of George Henry Lewes.
1819: George Elliot was born
1836: George Elliot’s mother died
1846: Completed the translation of Strauss’ Life of Jesus
1849: George Elliot‘s father died
1851: Became assistant editor at Westminster Review; Met George Henry Lewes
1854: Moved in with George Henry Lewis
1858: Published ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’
1859: Published her first novel ‘Adam Bede’
1871: Published ‘Middlemarch’, her best selling novel
1876: Published her last novel ‘Daniel Deronda’; George Henry Lewis died
1880: Got married to John Cross
1880: Left for the heavenly abode