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George Eliot : A Brief Biography

George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans on November 22, 1819, in Warwickshire, England. She was the daughter of Robert Evans and Christina Pearson, and was the youngest of their five children. A precocious and religious child, Evans was teaching Sunday school to the local farm children at the age of 12.

After her mother's death in 1839, Evans served as both companion and assistant to her father, a land agent. During this period she also became acquainted with religious free-thinkers and began to question the orthodoxy of the Anglican Church. In 1846 she published an English translation of German author D. F. Strauss's The Life of Jesus Critically Examined.

In 1849, after the death of her father, Evans moved to London. There she worked as a writer and editor for the Westminster Review. In 1854 she published a translation of German author Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity.

In London Evans met George Henry Lewes, a writer, critic, philosopher, and actor. The two intellectuals went from colleagues to friends to live-in lovers. Though Lewes was married with children when he began his relationship with Evans, his wife had been living with another man for several years. Because of legal and financial restrictions, however, Lewes was unable to obtain a divorce, and he and Eliot were much criticized for living together.

At the suggestion of Lewes, Evans began writing fiction in September 1867, beginning what she called a new era in her life. At this time she took the pen name George Eliot -- George after her lover and Eliot because she said it was "a good mouth-filling word."

Her first work was a collection of stories and sketches about the people of Warwickshire, the town of her youth. This collection, called Scenes from Clerical Life, was quickly published in Blackwood's magazine. Her next writing venture, the novel Adam Bede (1860), was a popular and critical success.

Everyone was curious to find out who the mysterious George Eliot was. Several people claimed the honor, but finally, Evans stepped forward.

Evans continued writing at a prodigious pace. A year after Adam Bede, she wrote The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner. The following year Romola was published in Cornhill magazine. She wrote the political novel Felix Holt the Radical in 1866 and The Spanish Gypsy in 1868. She became an unequivocal success, and was no longer scorned for her unorthodox relationship with Lewes. She went on to write her most acclaimed novel, Middlemarch, between 1871 and 1872, followed by Daniel Derornda in 1876.

During their heyday, Evans and Lewes's home became a meeting place for intellectuals of the era including the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, and the German composer Richard Wagner.

In 1878, after a steep decline in health, George Lewes died in his sleep. Devastated by the loss, Evans immersed herself in work.

During the next year, Evans made final corrections to one of Lewes's manuscripts, set up a scholarship in his name, and wrote Impressions of Tehophrastus Such. In the spring of 1880, she married John Walter Cross. Evans was 61 and Cross 41, but she was beyond scandal. They lived together until December of 1880, when Evans died, five days after catching a cold.

Because she had not lived by the rules of the church, her body was forbidden burial in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. Instead, her husband chose a plot near where George Lewes lay in Highgate Cemetery.

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