The Life and Works of George Eliot: Biography of a Literary Giant


George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans, was a pioneering English novelist, poet, journalist, and translator. She is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the Victorian era, and her works have withstood the test of time, remaining relevant and loved by readers to this day.

Born on November 22, 1819, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, Evans was the youngest of five children. Her father was a land agent and her mother was a devout Methodist. Evans had a thirst for knowledge from an early age and was a voracious reader. She received a solid education from her family and explored subjects like classical literature, philosophy, and theology. However, her formal education ended at the age of 16 when her mother passed away, and she was expected to take on household duties.

In 1851, Evans moved to London to work as a writer and editor for the influential literary journal, The Westminster Review. It was during this time that she adopted the pen name “George Eliot,” as it was believed that a male author would be taken more seriously in the male-dominated literary world. She continued to use this pseudonym for the rest of her life, even after her true identity was revealed.

Eliot’s first novel, “Adam Bede,” was published in 1859 and was an instant success. Set in rural England, the novel explored the lives of ordinary people and their struggles with love, duty, and morality. The novel was praised for its rich descriptions, vivid characters, and strong moral themes. It also established Eliot as a prominent figure in the literary world and marked the beginning of her lifelong career as a successful writer.

In 1860, Eliot published “The Mill on the Floss,” which was based on her own childhood and relationship with her brother. It is considered to be one of her most autobiographical works and is often praised for its realistic portrayal of sibling relationships. The novel was a critical and commercial success, solidifying Eliot’s position as a literary giant.

However, it was Eliot’s third novel, “Silas Marner,” published in 1861, that brought her widespread popularity. The novel tells the story of a lonely weaver who finds love and redemption after adopting a foundling child. It is a heartwarming tale of human relationships and has been adapted into several films and television series over the years.

Eliot’s most ambitious and acclaimed work, “Middlemarch,” was published in 1871-72. Set in a fictional English town, the novel is a complex study of human character and society. It explores themes like marriage, religion, and class, and is considered to be one of the greatest novels in the English language. It has been praised for its nuanced characters and its incisive commentary on Victorian society.

Aside from her novels, Eliot was also a prolific essayist and translator. She wrote essays on a wide range of topics, from literary criticism to political and social issues. She also translated works from German, including the influential philosopher Spinoza’s “Ethics,” which gained her recognition in the academic world.

Eliot’s personal life was also the subject of much fascination and speculation. She lived with the critic and philosopher George Henry Lewes for over 20 years, although they could not legally marry due to his previous marriage. After Lewes’ death, Eliot married John Walter Cross, a family friend, in 1880. However, her happiness was short-lived as she passed away only seven months later at the age of 61 due to kidney disease.

In conclusion, George Eliot’s life and works continue to captivate readers and inspire writers. Her novels are a testament to her keen observations of human nature and her deep understanding of the complexities of society. She broke barriers in the male-dominated literary world and left a lasting legacy as one of the greatest writers in English literature. As Virginia Woolf once said, “Eliot will be read with affection and respect when authors whose names are now in the ascendant, and who attempt to catch her attention, are forgotten.”