Mary Ann Evans, later known as George Eliot, is born on this day in Warwickshire, England.
Eliot attended several schools until her mother’s death in 1841, after which she moved to Coventry with her father. 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. Lewes was unable to obtain a divorce under strict Victorian statutes, 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 other 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 masterpiece. 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.