Mary Anne Evan was born on 22nd November 1819 to a local farming family in “South Farm” on the Arbury Estate in Warwickshire, England. Considered as one of the leading writers of the Victorian era, Mary Anne opted pen name ‘George Eliot’ that now holds high esteem among the critics of English literature. Explaining her choice of a male pen name she said that this was to ensure her work is taken seriously.
Since her early age Eliot was very fond of reading, this together with her intelligence compelled her father to support Eliot’s education. She started her formal education in 1824. On completion of her school Eliot returned to her family home Griff House on the Arbury Estate. Being impressed by her performance in school, Eliot’s father bought her many books and hired a tutor as he wanted her to continue her studies. Her father’s vital role in estate management won her access to the library of Arbury Hall. This aided her classical education which found its impression on Eliot’s work. One other influence that is observed in her writings is religion.
At the age of 21, Eliot started questioning her Christian faith. This was the time when she embarked on a period of great change when she moved to Foleshill, near Coventry, with her father. The closeness to Coventry society gave her an opportunity to become part of Coventry’s intellectual circle where she developed acquaintance with a number of freethinking intellectuals like Charles and Cara Bray. She also met John Chapman with the help of Brays. Chapman later became publisher of Eliot’s first translation – Life of Jesus in 1846, and her first employer in 1850 when she moved to England after the death of her father. Chapman had bought Westminster Review Journal and Eliot joined it as assistant editor. She played a main role in running the journal and made many contributions in the form of essays and reviews. Here she started trying her pen in non-fiction genre. Many of her articles were published anonymously.
In 1852 Eliot met George Henry Lewes, a prolific author, philosopher, and critic; who is credited to be a great deal of support for her. Later they became lovers and lived together until the demise of Lewes. This relationship was a source of criticism for both Lewes and Eliot as they never memorialized their union legally. Lewes encouraged Eliot to continue writing fiction. Her first complete novel ‘Adam Bede’ which was a great success and triggered suspense in the readers was published in 1859. People wanted to know about this George Eliot who writes with bitter and cunning intellect. There were many imposters who claimed to be the author; however in the end Marry Anne Evan stepped forward and declared herself as George Eliot. She later said that she did not want her reputation to precede her work and thus chose a male pen name. After the success of Adam Bede she continued publishing many successful novels for next fifteen years. Her readers praised her illustration of rural society; this also became one of the reasons for her instant success as her readers could relate their lives with Eliot’s writings. She died on 22nd December 1880 and left behind a legacy of literary work to benefit many generations of writers, critics and novelists.