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GEORGE ELIOT

423

LLIAM MALITI

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intellectual as she was, she was easily influenced by others. From the first her tastes had been distinctly studious and scholarly, and in 1846 she began her literary career by translating a German work in harmony with the skeptical ideas she had adopted. Her home was broken up by her father's death in 1849, and two years later, after a short Continental tour, she settled in London assistant editor of The Westminster Review, to which she had already contributed. Her Warwickshire life was over,

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GEORGE ELIOT

(1819–1880)

Mary Ann, or Marian, Evans (George Eliot) was born in 1819 at South Farm, Arbury, in Warwickshire. Her father, George Evans, was agent to Sir Roger Newdigate, of Arbury Hall, within the boundaries of whose estate the farm lay. Arbury Hall is in the northeastern corner of the county, some thirty miles from Stratford. It lies in the same rich and well-watered region that nourished the youth of Shakespeare; a sleepy, abundant land, prosperous, and steeped in drowsy centuries of quiet. In some part of this rich Midland district, at Griff House, near Nuneaton, at school in Coventry, or at Foleshill on its outskirts, the first thirty-two years of George Eliot's life were passed. She was identified with its local interests by birth and by daily contact; her earliest and tenderest recollections clustered round it, and the grace of its liberal beauty, sanctified by memory, remained with her until the end. This English provincial life, thus flowing in the very currents of her blood, became the living material of her art. She was at once of it, and, by the greatness of her genius, apart from it; able both to depict it from within, and to feel it from without. The rural or provincial background which is the setting of so many of her stories is painted from reality, and many of her best-known characters were drawn from, or suggested by, the Warwickshire people she had early known and loved.

At sixteen George Eliot lost her mother and left school to keep house for her father, gaining some experience of farm-life which she afterward used in her

description of the Poyser household in Adam Bede (1859). In 1841 she became intimate with a family named Bray, wealthy people who lived in the vicinity of Coventry, and under their influence abandoned forever her faith in Christianity as a divine revelation, seeing in it only a human creation of man's hopes and needs. Her nature, though prone to speculation, was by no means wanting in religious feeling, but,

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intellectual as she was, she was easily influenced by others. From the first her tastes had been distinctly studious and scholarly, and in 1846 she began her literary career by translating a German work in harmony with the skeptical ideas she had adopted. Her home was broken up by her father's death in 1849, and two years later, after a short Continental tour, she settled in London assistant editor of The Westminster Review, to which she had already contributed. Her Warwickshire life was over,

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and, like Shakespeare when he first turned his face toward London, she stood at the entrance to a new world. The Westminster Review numbered Herbert Spencer, the philosopher, and many other distinguished writers among its contributors, and George Eliot's connection with it naturally gave her a place in literary circles.

Among others she met Mr. George Henry Lewes, a discursive, brilliant, but somewhat erratic writer, who combined keen literary sympathies with a distinctly scientific and philosophical bent. A deep attachment grew up between them, but marriage was impossible, as Mr. Lewes' wife, from whom he was separated, was still alive, and through a technicality of the law a divorce could not be obtained. Believing the law unjust, George Eliot took a step which, even in its purely social or legal aspects, must be looked upon as a serious error. She entered upon a lifelong union with Mr. Lewes, which, it must be remembered, was in her eyes a true marriage. It was at the suggestion of Mr. Lewes that George Eliot turned from her distinctly scholarly and critical labors as essayist and translator to begin that work in fiction on which her fame mainly rests. Heretofore her writing had represented chiefly the scholarly side of her mind; it had been the outcome of her studies of books. Now, under Mr. Lewes' encouragement, the other side of her genius declared itself by the publication Clerical Life; The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton (January, 1857). Adam Bede, her first long story, and one of the most wonderful and spontaneous of her books, appeared in 1859, and it was felt "that a new power had arisen in English letters." Adam Bede was followed by masterpieces at intervals of one, two, or three

years; thoughtful books of substantial workmanship, not fluently written, with Scott's easy joy in power, but with unspeakable effort, self-discipline, and toil. The Spanish Gypsy (1868), a dramatic poem, marked a new literary departure, but George Eliot's poetry, though thoughtful and mechanically correct, is distinctly inferior to her prose. Mr. Lewes died in 1878. Barely two years later the world was electrified by the news of George Eliot's marriage to a young London banker, Mr. John Walter Cross. At this time George Eliot was slightly over sixty and Mr. Cross some twenty years her junior. When the intensity of her devotion to Mr. Lewes is taken into account we are inclined to regard this second marriage as a proof that George Eliot's nature was dependent rather than self-reliant. "In her moral development," writes Mr. Cross, "she showed from her earliest years the trait that was most marked in her all through life, namely, the absolute need of some one person who should be all in all to her, and to whom she should be all in all.” In the fall of 1880 her health was failing, and in December of that year she died suddenly after a brief illness.

George Eliot as Novelist. — George Eliot stands easily in the front rank of English novelists; she must, moreover, be recognized as one of the most influential and distinctly representative writers of the time. Her novels reveal to us a profound and tragically serious student of life. Interested above all in moral problems, she is to be ranked with “the teachers and seekers after light” who were so great a power in the nineteenth century. Yet George Eliot is more than a thinker, precisely as Browning is more than a thinker; both are artists, and give us, not abstract doctrines,

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