On this day in 1869, George Eliot begins work on her masterpiece Middlemarch .
Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans in Warwickshire, England, in 1819, attended several schools, then lived with her father in Coventry in 1841 after her mother’s death. In Coventry, Eliot grew close with her neighbors, the radical intellectual Bray family. With their encouragement, Eliot began writing translations and reviews. After her father’s death in 1849, she moved to London to become a freelance writer. There, she boarded with the family of John Chapman, who had published some of her work. Chapman purchased the Westminster Review in 1842, which Eliot edited for three years.
About this time, Eliot became involved with married journalist and writer George Henry Lewes. Divorce was extremely difficult in Victorian England, so Lewes and Eliot lived together but never married. Her polite Victorian acquaintances refused to call on her. Fearful that her unconventional relationship would provoke unfair criticism of her work, she began publishing fiction under the pseudonym George Eliot. Her earliest published fiction, several rural sketches, were published as a book, Scenes of Clerical Life (1858).
Her first full-length novel, Adam Bede, was published in 1859. It was well received, as were most of her six other novels, including The Mill on the Floss (1869) and Silas Marner (1861). Middlemarch, published in eight parts from 1871 to 1872, was Eliot’s greatest work. The novel presented a sweeping survey of all social classes in a rural town, drawing psychological insights that set the stage for the modern novel.
After Lewes’ death in 1878, Eliot married John Cross, her investment manager who was some 20 years her junior. She died seven months later.