Marian Evans & George Eliot: A Biography

Marian Evans & George Eliot: A Biography

Marian Evans & George Eliot: A Biography

Marian Evans & George Eliot: A Biography

Excerpt

Many years ago I noticed the lack of correspondence between the works of George Eliot and the life as compiled by John Cross. I felt sure that the woman was not as she appeared in this standard biography -- a biography on which all succeeding biographers have drawn heavily -- and I began to carry out research in the hope of writing a biography from the original materials.

I was not successful. Cross was then still alive, holding a great deal of the materials used in his book, and much that he had not used. He allowed me to see but not to use the letters in his possession which have since passed to the Yale University Library. Interest in George Eliot was at a low ebb, and manuscripts were scattered and difficult to find. But although I had to lay aside my project, the research that I had been able to do was not done wholly in vain. It became plain to me that there was more than one reason why the Cross biography took the form it did. It is well known that Cross did not meet George Eliot until she was close on fifty, a famous author and already an oracle. Cross was twenty years her junior, and was and remained a worshipper -- not of the entire woman, but of the woman as he first found her. It was therefore only to be expected that this later aspect of George Eliot -- the aspect he so greatly admired -- would predominate in any account Cross might put together.

Dr. Gordon. S. Haight has long since told us of the manner in which Cross tampered with the text of letters in order to produce the effect of respectability that he desired. But Cross's own prepossessions, however mistaken we may now think them, were not the only handicaps that prevented him from drawing a picture of the whole woman -- of the kind of woman who could have written the novels of George Eliot. He published his biography less than five years after her death. Most of her friends were still living and could only be mentioned with caution. Many of them refused to show him the letters they held; others edited them before allowing him to see them. He met with much opposition.

It may therefore be said that, considering his prepossessions, his handicaps, and the fact that he made no claim to be a professional biographer, Cross did all that could be expected of him.

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