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Darwin Correspondence Project

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)


George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross (née Evans)), replica by François D'Albert Durade, oil on canvas, 1849, NPG 1405
© National Portrait Gallery, London


George Eliot was the pen name of celebrated Victorian novelist Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880). She was born on the outskirts of Nuneaton in Warwickshire and was educated at boarding schools from the age of five until she was 16. Her education ended when she was required to come home to nurse her mother and, following her mother's death, to care for her father and to run the family household. In 1841 she moved to Coventry with her father and continued to care for him until he died. Coventry widened her social network and after her father's death she travelled to Switzerland with friends and stayed on in Geneva for some months. She then moved to London and became Assistant Editor for the 'Westminster Review' and was largely responsible for the magazine's success at that time. In 1851 she met the philosopher, writer and critic George Henry Lewes who was to become her partner for the next 25 years, until his death in 1878. Lewes already married but living separately from his wife. He and Evans set up home together and faced much societal criticism and isolation. Mary Ann's brother Isaac refused to acknowledge her or her relationship until Lewes died. Despite these setbacks the couple lived happily; she referred to herself as Marian Lewes and her novels, under her pen name, acheived great acclaim.

Darwin and his family were keen readers of her work and were pleased to meet her and Lewes at their home in London on 30 April 1876. Darwin subsequently asked that his daughter Henrietta and her husband, might also call on the Leweses and she was happy to oblige. After reading 'On the Origin of Species', Eliot wrote to a friend, Barbara Bodichon, that the book would have 'great effect in the scientific world, causing a thorough and open discussion of a question about which people hitherto felt timid. So the world gets on step by step towards brave clearness and honesty!'




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