George Eliot

Biografie şi Bibliografie

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Mary Anne (Mary Ann, Marian) Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880), better known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist and translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and well known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure her works were taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot's life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances. An additional factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived for over 20 years.

Biography

Early life and education

Mary Anne Evans was the third child of Robert Evans (1773–1849) and Christiana Evans (née Pearson), the daughter of a local farmer, (1788–1836). When born, Mary Anne, sometimes shortened to Marian,[2] had two teenage siblings, a half-brother, Robert (1802–64), and sister, Fanny (1805–82), from her father's previous marriage to Harriet Poynton (?1780–1809). Robert Evans was the manager of the Arbury Hall Estate for the Newdigate family in Warwickshire, and Mary Anne was born on the estate at South Farm. In early 1820 the family moved to a house named Griff, part way between Nuneaton and Coventry. Her full siblings were Christiana, known as Chrissey (1814–59), Isaac (1816–1890), and twin brothers who survived a few days in March 1821.

The young Evans was obviously intelligent and a voracious reader. Because of Evans' lack of physical beauty and thus slim chance of marriage, and because of her intelligence, her father invested in an education not often afforded females From ages five to nine, she boarded with her sister Chrissey at Miss Latham's school in Attleborough, from ages nine to thirteen at Mrs. Wallington's school in Nuneaton, and from ages thirteen to sixteen at Miss Franklin's school in Coventry. At Mrs. Wallington's school, she was taught by the evangelical Maria Lewis—to whom her earliest surviving letters are addressed. In the religious atmosphere of the Miss Franklin's school, Evans was exposed to a quiet, disciplined belief opposed to evangelicalism.

After age sixteen, Eliot had little formal education. Thanks to her father's important role on the estate, she was allowed access to the library of Arbury Hall, which greatly aided her self-education and breadth of learning. Her classical education left its mark; Christopher Stray has observed that "George Eliot's novels draw heavily on Greek literature (only one of her books can be printed correctly without the use of a Greek typeface), and her themes are often influenced by Greek tragedy". Her frequent visits to the estate also allowed her to contrast the wealth in which the local landowner lived with the lives of the often much poorer people on the estate, and different lives lived in parallel would reappear in many of her works. The other important early influence in her life was religion. She was brought up within a narrow low church Anglican family, but at that time the Midlands was an area with a growing number of religious dissenters.

Move to Coventry

In 1836 her mother died and Evans returned home to act as housekeeper, but she continued correspondence with her tutor Maria Lewis. When she was 21, her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, so Evans and her father moved to Foleshill near Coventry. The closeness to Coventry society brought new influences, most notably those of Charles and Cara Bray. Charles Bray had become rich as a ribbon manufacturer and had used his wealth in building schools and other philanthropic causes. Evans, who had been struggling with religious doubts for some time, became intimate friends with the progressive, free-thinking Brays, whose home was a haven for people who held and debated radical views. The people whom the young woman met at the Brays' house included Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through this society, Evans was introduced to more liberal theologies, and writers such as David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, who cast doubt on the literal veracity of Biblical stories. In fact, her first major literary work was translating into English Strauss' Life of Jesus (1846), which she completed after it had been begun by another member of the Rosehill circle. A road in Coventry, George Eliot Road was named after her in Foleshill.
Geneva, plaque at George Eliot's residence

When Evans lost her religious faith, her father threatened to throw her out, although that did not happen. Instead, she respectably attended church for years and continued to keep house for him until his death in 1849. Five days after her father's funeral, she travelled to Switzerland with the Brays. She decided to stay in Geneva alone, living first on the lake at Plongeon (near the present United Nations buildings) and then at the Rue de Chanoines (now the Rue de la Pelisserie) with François and Juliet d’Albert Durade on the second floor ("one feels in a downy nest high up in a good old tree") (her stay is recorded by a plaque on the building). She read avidly and took long walks amongst a natural environment that inspired her greatly.

Move to London and editorship of the Westminster Review

On her return to England in 1850, she moved to London with the intent of becoming a writer and calling herself Marian Evans. She stayed at the house of John Chapman, the radical publisher whom she had met at Rosehill and who had printed her translation. Chapman had recently bought the campaigning, left-wing journal The Westminster Review, and Evans became its assistant editor in 1851. Although Chapman was the named editor, it was Evans who did much of the work in running the journal, contributing many essays and reviews, from the January, 1852 number until the dissolution of her arrangement with Chapman in the first half of 1854.

Women writers were not uncommon at the time, but Evans's role at the head of a literary enterprise was. The mere sight of an unmarried young woman mixing with the predominantly male society of London at that time was unusual, even scandalous to some. Although clearly strong-minded, she was frequently sensitive, depressed, and crippled by self-doubt. She was considered to have an ill-favoured appearance, and she formed a number of embarrassing, unreciprocated emotional attachments, including that to her employer, the married Chapman, and Herbert Spencer.

Relationship with George Lewes

The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes met Evans in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes was married to Agnes Jervis, but they had agreed to have an open marriage, and in addition to the three children they had together, Agnes had also had several children by other men. Since Lewes was named on the birth certificate as the father of one of these children despite knowing this to be false, and was therefore considered complicit in adultery, he was not able to divorce Agnes. In July 1854 Lewes and Evans travelled to Weimar and Berlin together for the purpose of research. Before going to Germany, Evans continued her interest in theological work with a translation of Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity and while abroad she wrote essays and worked on her translation of Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, which she completed in 1856, but which was not published in her life-time.

The trip to Germany also served as a honeymoon as Evans and Lewes now considered themselves married, with Evans calling herself Marian Evans Lewes, and referring to Lewes as her husband. It was not unusual for men and women in Victorian society to have affairs; Charles Bray, John Chapman, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Engels and Wilkie Collins all had affairs, though more discreetly than Lewes and Evans. What was scandalous was the Leweses' open admission of the relationship.

Writing

Literary assessment

Throughout her career, Eliot wrote with a politically astute pen. From Adam Bede to The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner, Eliot presented the cases of social outsiders and small-town persecution. Felix Holt, the Radical and The Legend of Jubal were overtly political, and political crisis is at the heart of Middlemarch, in which she presents the stories of a number of denizens of a small English town on the eve of the Reform Bill of 1832; the novel is notable for its deep psychological insight and sophisticated character portraits.

Readers in the Victorian era particularly praised her books for their depictions of rural society, for which she drew on her own early experiences, and she shared with Wordsworth the belief that there was much interest and importance in the mundane details of ordinary country lives. Eliot did not, however, confine herself to her bucolic roots. Romola, an historical novel set in late 15th century Florence and touching on the lives of several real persons such as the priest Girolamo Savonarola, displays her wider reading and interests. In The Spanish Gypsy, Eliot made a foray into verse, creating a work whose initial popularity has not endured.

The religious elements in her fiction also owe much to her upbringing, with the experiences of Maggie Tulliver from The Mill on the Floss sharing many similarities with the young Mary Anne Evans's own development. When Silas Marner is persuaded that his alienation from the church means also his alienation from society, the author's life is again mirrored with her refusal to attend church. She was at her most autobiographical in Looking Backwards, part of her final printed work Impressions of Theophrastus Such. By the time of Daniel Deronda, Eliot's sales were falling off, and she faded from public view to some degree. This was not helped by the biography written by her husband after her death, which portrayed a wonderful, almost saintly, woman totally at odds with the scandalous life people knew she had led. In the 20th century she was championed by a new breed of critics, most notably by Virginia Woolf, who called Middlemarch "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". The various film and television adaptations of Eliot's books have re-introduced her to the wider-reading public.

Works

Novels

    * Adam Bede, 1859
    * The Mill on the Floss, 1860
    * Silas Marner, 1861
    * Romola, 1863
    * Felix Holt, the Radical, 1866
    * Middlemarch, 1871–72
    * Daniel Deronda, 1876

Poetry

    * The Spanish Gypsy (a dramatic poem), 1868
    * Agatha, 1869
    * Armgart, 1871
    * Stradivarius, 1873
    * The Legend of Jubal, 1874
    * Arion, 1874
    * A Minor Prophet, 1874
    * A College Breakfast Party, 1879
    * The Death of Moses, 1879
    * From a London Drawing Room
    * Count That Day Lost
    * I Grant You Ample Leave

Other

    * Translation of "The Life of Jesus Critically Examined" Volume 2 by David Strauss, 1846
    * Translation of "The Essence of Christianity" by Ludwig Feuerbach, 1854
    * Scenes of Clerical Life, 1858
          o The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton
          o Mr Gilfil's Love Story
          o Janet's Repentance
    * The Lifted Veil, 1859
    * Brother Jacob, 1864
    * Impressions of Theophrastus Such, 1879

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