English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Other Irish Story Writers
Thomas Adolphus Trollope
Poetry Of The Early Victorian Period
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the sixth decade of the Century a new name appeared in imaginative literature, to which at once high rank was awarded. This was George Eliot, the pseudonym of Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans, who was then living with George Henry Lewes as his wife, though they had not been legally married. Marian Evans was born at Nuneaton in Warwickshire in 1819. Her parents were respectable, religious, narrow-minded people, but after her mother's death she came in contact with persons of somewhat wider culture, who held extreme Unitarian views. Influenced by the culture, she quickly adopted their views, and at their request translated Strauss's "Life of Jesus." After a year of study in Geneva, she settled in London, contributing to the "Westminster Review" and making more translations. Thus she was introduced to George Henry Lewes (1817-1878), a versatile but not very successful writer, though an able critic. Mr. Lewes had separated from his wife, and he induced Miss Evans, who had little regard for the conventions of society, to take the vacant place. At first they were utterly condemned by the London world, but after her genius was manifested, they were practically forgiven. The lowness of their fortunes led Mr. Lewes to suggest that his consort should use her ability for social description in fiction. The first result appeared in "Blackwood's Magazine" as "Scenes of Clerical Life," of which "The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton" attracted the most attention. Her first novel, "Adam Bede" (1859) is the finest literary report of the spirit of Methodism. The Quaker preacher, Dinah Morris, was drawn from the author's aunt. The book was the first adequate study of English country life apart from the gentry. "The Mill on the Floss" is a more tragic story, in which Maggie Tulliver is the victim of her own trustfulness. In "Silas Marner" (1861) Methodism again played an important part. These books were the natural, unaffected outpouring of the author's genius: Mr. Lewes, who had discovered and fostered her abilities, drew around her a remarkable circle of worshipers. The constant applause, seldom tempered by criticism, and her own love of philosophical study, led her to yet more arduous efforts. In "Romola" (1863) she treats of Florence in the time of Savonarola, but while the preaching monk is carefully portrayed, the interest lies in the other characters Romola, the idealized school-girl, and the attractive, yet remorseless, villain Tito.
Then the great author, now recognized as a supreme analyst of character, returned to English ground. Yet "Felix Holt, the Radical " (1866) was her least successful work. " Middlemarch " (1817), however, retrieved her fame and presented a memorable picture of literary failure in the scholar Casaubon, said to be drawn from Mark Pattison, and of woman's devotion to a fading ideal in the lovely Dorothea. In "Daniel Deronda" (1876) she embodied a noble conception of the modern Jew, and commended his aspirations on behalf of his race. But stubborn English opinion declined to be moved. Still less did it care for "The Impressions of Theophrastus Such" (1878), a volume of essays. Mr. Lewes died in 1878, and in May, 1880, Miss Evans was formally married to John Walter Cross, but died in the following December. Mr. Cross published her biography, but it gives an inadequate idea of this woman of genius. Her earliest books were faithful delineations of characters that had been familiar to her youth, and abounded in genuine humor. Her later books were more ambitious studies of the complex characters of a larger society, highly philosophical, but not finally satisfying. Her poems never enjoyed public favor.