A farmhouse tucked away within the park at Arbury Hall near Nuneaton was the birthplace of Mary Ann Evans in 1819. Her father Robert Evans was agent to the Newdegate family at Arbury and when Mary Ann was four months old the family moved to Griff House on the edge of the estate.
Here Mary Ann had a very happy childhood with her pretty sister Chrissey and her beloved brother Isaac. She and Chrissey went to boarding school in Nuneaton until Mary Ann was moved, at the age of 13, to a boarding school in Coventry at 29 Warwick Row. She did very well at the Coventry school and remained there until she was 16. At this point her mother died and Mary Ann was with the family at Griff at this sad time. She and Chrissey ran the house between them although it is clear that Robert Evans relied upon his youngest daughter in many things, particularly when Chrissey married and went to live at Meriden. Mary Ann had been a bright scholar at all of her schools and was now having lessons from teachers who went out to Griff from Coventry and Leamington.
Robert Evans retired to Coventry in 1841, taking Mary Ann with him and leaving Isaac at Griff to take over his father's job at Arbury. A new life was beginning for Mary Ann at their new home at Foleshill and she was making new and influential friends, including the Coventry ribbon manufacturer, Charles Bray and his wife Caroline who lived at 'Rosehill' on Radford Road. In their home Mary Ann met men of letters the like of whom she would never have met in Nuneaton, and in a stimulating intellectual circle she blossomed, writing articles for Bray's Coventry Herald newspaper. The previously devout Mary Ann had already had religious doubts and in this new circle she realised her faith had gone. She refused to attend Holy Trinity Church with her father, causing great distress within her family, only resolved because of the pain she was causing her father. She went back to church with him but reserved the right to think her own thoughts during the service!
The nine years she spent in Coventry were very influential but she was now well into her, twenties with no marriage in sight. She was almost engaged to an artist at Baginton but nothing came of it and yet she needed to find someone to love who would love her.
Robert Evans died in 1849 and with a need to now earn her living Mary Ann, now calling herself Marian, moved to London. Here she had a relationship with the publisher John Chapman and another, which she thought might lead to marriage, with the philosopher Herbert Spencer. He was not able to return her love but in the early 1850's, when she was in her thirties, she met and fell in love with George Henry Lewes. He was tied to a faithless wife and they knew they could never marry so, in 1854, defying the rules of Victorian society, they began to live together as man and wife. This liaison, regarded by them as a true marriage even if it could not be a legal one, shocked family and friends and she, in particular, was ostracised by the people who had previously been happy to invite her to dine. When her family in Nuneaton knew about her relationship with Lewes, they disowned her, effectively exiling her from her beloved Warwickshire which is where she felt her true roots were.
Lewes's love, however, so fulfilled her that she was persuaded to try to write fiction, and became the successful author of 8 novels, all of them hugely popular with the exception of Romola. She became one of the highest paid Victorian novelists and was idolised. She chose her pen-name George Eliot to hide her irregular union with a married man, and her fame brought her acceptance in the world which had earlier condemned her.
She and Lewes had no children but she cared deeply for Lewes's three sons who returned her love. Her life with Lewes, ideally happy, ended in 1878 when he died, leaving her distraught and alone, except for Lewes's eldest and last surviving son, Charles, who cared for a very unhappy woman.
After Lewes's death she became close to John Walter Cross, 20 years her junior, and in 1880 she married him. Only then did her brother Isaac and the Evans family accept her once again. Unfortunately she was never able to visit them in Warwickshire because she died seven and a half months after her marriage.
She is buried in London's Highgate Cemetery, having earlier been rejected by Westminster Abbey where her new young husband felt she should have rested amongst the other great names in our literary heritage. However, 100 years after her death a memorial stone was erected to her in Poets' Corner in the Abbey - better late than never!
© 1998 Kathleen Adams and the George Eliot Fellowship
Scenes of clerical life (1858)
Adam Bede (1859)
Daniel Deronda (1874-6)
Felix Holt, the radical (1866)
The mill on the Floss (1860)
Silas Marner (1861)
On this site you may read from the following works:-
Selected e-texts are available for download, free of charge, as plain text from Project Gutenburg or in other formats from Blackmask Online.
The George Eliot Fellowship exists to honour George Eliot and to promote interest in her life and works. Among its objectives are to encourage the collection of books, manuscripts, letters, portraits and other articles associated with the author.
The Literary Encyclopedia has a profile of George Eliot by Nathan Uglow, University of Reading.
The George Eliot section on the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire website includes views, tours, rare pictures, biographic details and more about the places she used as inspiration in and around Nuneaton.
Leslie Stephen's biography of George Eliot, published in 1902, is available to read online at the University of Toronto site.
Mitsuharu Matsuoka from Nagoya University, Japan, has a page on George Eliot which contains links to various other web Sites, including sources of e-texts, and details of The George Eliot Fellowship. It is located at http://www.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/Eliot.html
Other useful sites giving a range of George Eliot website links are Literaryhistory.com, maintained by Jan Pridmore and George P.Landow's Victorian Web, with links grouped by theme.
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updated 7 April 2005
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