Related Content

Related Overviews

G. H. Lewes (1817—1878) writer

Herbert Spencer (1820—1903) philosopher, social theorist, and sociologist


David Friedrich Strauss (1808—1874)

See all related overviews in Oxford Reference »


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literature


Show Summary Details


George Eliot

(1819—1880) novelist

Quick Reference


daughter of Robert Evans, agent for a Warwickshire estate. She became a convert to evangelicalism when she was at school; she was freed from this by the influence of Charles Bray, a freethinking Coventry manufacturer, but remained strongly influenced by religious concepts of love and duty; her works contain many affectionate portraits of Dissenters and clergymen. She translated Strauss's Life of Jesus which appeared without her name in 1846. In 1850 she met J. Chapman, contributed to the Westminster Review and became assistant editor in 1851. In this year she became a paying guest in Chapman's house, where her emotional attachment to him proved an embarrassment; she subsequently met Spencer, for whom she also developed strong feelings which were not reciprocated. In 1854 she published a translation of Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity; she endorsed his view that religious belief is an imaginative necessity for man and a projection of his interest in his own species, a heterodoxy of which the readers of her novels only gradually became aware. At about the same time she joined G. H. Lewes in a union without legal form (he was already married) that lasted until his death. ‘The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton’, the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, appeared in Blackwood's Magazine in 1857, followed by ‘Mr Gilfil's Love‐Story’ and ‘Janet's Repentance’; these at once attracted praise for their domestic realism, pathos, and humour, and speculation about the identity of ‘George Eliot’. Adam Bede (1859), which established her as a leading novelist, was followed by The Mill on the Floss (1860) and Silas Marner (1861). Romola was published in the Cornhill in 1862–3; Felix Holt, The Radical appeared in 1866. She travelled in Spain in 1867, and her dramatic poem The Spanish Gypsy appeared in 1868. Middlemarch was published in instalments in 1871–2, and Daniel Deronda, also in instalments, in 1874–6. She was by now recognized as the greatest living English novelist, by readers as diverse as Turgenev, H. James, and Queen Victoria. In 1878 Lewes died. Her Impressions of Theophrastus Such appeared in 1879, and in 1880 she married the 40‐year‐old John Walter Cross who had become her financial adviser. She died seven months later. After her death her reputation declined somewhat, and L. Stephen indicated much of the growing reaction in an obituary notice (1881) which praised the ‘charm’ and autobiographical elements of the early works, but found the later novels painful and excessively reflective. In the late 1940s a new generation of critics, led by Leavis (The Great Tradition, 1948), introduced a new respect for and understanding of her mature works; Leavis praises her ‘traditional moral sensibility’, her ‘luminous intelligence’.

George Eliot also wrote various poems and short stories; her letters and journals were edited by Cross (3 vols, 1885); her complete letters were edited by G. S. Haight (9 vols, 1954–78), who also wrote a life (1968).

Subjects: Literature

Reference entries

View all reference entries »