George Eliot

George Eliot

George Eliot

George Eliot


As a woman in an illegal marriage, publishing under a male pseudonym, George Eliot was one of the most successful yet controversial writers of the Victorian period. Today she is considered a key figure for women's writing and her novels, including The Mill on the Flossand Middlemarch, are commonly ranked as literary classics.

This guide to Eliot's enduringly popular work offers:

  • an accessible introduction to the contexts and many interpretations of Eliot's texts, from publication to the present
  • an introduction to key critical texts and perspectives on Eliot's life and work, situated in a broader critical history
  • cross-references between sections of the guide, in order to suggest links between texts, contexts and criticism
  • suggestions for further reading.

Part of the Routledge Guides to Literatureseries, this volume is essential reading for all those beginning detailed study of George Eliot and seeking not only a guide to her works but also a way through the wealth of contextual and critical material that surrounds them.


What’s in a name? Writers’ names are rarely a matter of concern for literary critics – and yet in the case of George Eliot (to call her by the pseudonym under which she became famous), the sheer diversity of first names, surnames, diminutives, contractions, aliases and pen names she adopted at various periods in her life and in different contexts acquires a special significance, reflecting something very central not only to her personality as an individual, but also to her achievement as an artist. Her adoption of the surnames of her long-term partner George Henry Lewes and, subsequently, of her husband John Walter Cross was perhaps the simplest and most obvious of those decisions, reflecting her commitment to the marital or quasi-marital relationships into which she entered, whether or not they were recognised by the law. The other choices she made – dropping the final ‘e’ from Mary Anne, then adopting the contracted name of Marian, then reverting to Mary Ann – seem to indicate a process of soul-searching, an attempt to define and redefine herself, and to signal to others the changing nature of her understanding of her identity and her place in the world. This process is perhaps most clearly seen in the way in which she adopted – and dropped – some of the names she used in the family circle and in the company of, and correspondence with, her friends: for some time in her youth, she was ‘Clematis’ (‘mental beauty’) to her friends Maria Lewis and Martha Jackson; even more significantly, later on in her life she became ‘Madonna’ to Lewes, ‘Mutter’ to her stepsons and ‘Mother’ or ‘Madre’ to her younger friends and admirers, Elma Stuart and Emilia Pattison – all of those names carrying complex cultural and emotional associations, particularly for a woman who challenged some of the most fundamental stereotypes and assumptions the society of her time made in relation to the roles it expected women to play as ‘angels in the house’ – obedient wives, devoted mothers, committed Christians. She was a woman who emerged from her relatively humble Warwickshire background to become the most respected English novelist of her time; an intellectual who, despite having received only limited formal education, became one of her epoch’s most erudite thinkers; a determined agnostic who, living in a predominantly Christian society, was prepared, in her personal life, to follow her own moral judgement rather than the received perceptions of morality and religion and yet acquired, through her writing, a kind of moral authority that turned her into something of a national institution, one of the most respected ethical thinkers of her age. One of the most complex personalities of . . .

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