She had a famously scandalous love life and, among other linguistic accomplishments, is responsible for the term pop music. Here are 15 things you might not know about the beloved writer.
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George Eliot was born on the grounds of Arbury Hall and Estate , a sprawling mansion in Warwickshire, England with hundreds of acres of surrounding gardens and farmland. Her father, Robert Evans, worked for the estate's owners, the Newdigate family, as a manager and agent. His job entailed collecting rents from tenant farmers and overseeing the property's coal mine. Eliot was just an infant when her family moved from Arbury Hall to a home in a nearby town.
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But Arbury and the Warwickshire countryside left their mark on her. In Scenes of Clerical Life , Eliot's collection of three short stories, she wrote about the area and drew inspiration from real places and people. And some of her stories mirrored reality pretty closely. In the early s, Eliot wrote for The Westminster Review , a London-based periodical founded by philosophers Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, contributing essays and reviews using the name Marian Evans.
She soon became the de facto editor of the progressive journal, though her role was anonymous.
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Years later, other writers reviewed Eliot's own pseudonymous works in the journal she once edited. Throughout her life, Eliot put her language skills to work translating foreign works into English. Upon reading her translation, one English nobleman called it "the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell. Eliot was by no means a misogynist, but she did have some harsh words for fellow women writers. In an anonymous essay titled "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists," Eliot lamented the frivolous characters and unrealistic plots that she argued were nearly ubiquitous features of novels written by women at the time.
Published in The Westminster Review in , Eliot's essay asserted that these books, full of cliches and improbable romantic endings, made educated women look foolish. She also criticized the writing style of other women of her time, saying they mistook "vagueness for depth, bombast for eloquence, and affectation for originality.
Eliot's appearance was a source of avid discussion during her lifetime, and her looks continue to fascinate readers today.
Eliot herself joked about her ugliness in letters to friends, and the novelist Henry James once described her in a letter to his father as "magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous. Despite her plain appearance, men were drawn to Eliot. In the same letter where he called her "deliciously hideous," James explained his counterintuitive attraction toward her like this: "Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her.
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After various dalliances and a marriage proposal that she turned down, she spent more than two decades with the philosopher and critic George Lewes. But Lewes was already married, and as a result, many in Eliot's social circle including her brother shunned her.
Though Lewes couldn't obtain an official divorce from his estranged wife, he and Eliot lived together as partners until his death in , and she referred to herself as Mrs. Marian Lewes. In , both to avoid the sexism of the publishing industry and distance her literary work from her scandalous romantic situation, she adopted the pen name George Eliot, a male nom de plume that paid homage to Lewes.
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In addition to adopting his first name, some historians have also suggested that "Eliot" derives from "To L ewes , I owe it. After Lewes's death, Eliot channeled her grief by editing his writing and spending time with her lawyer and accountant, John Cross. Although Eliot was 60 and Cross was just 40, the two friends fell in love and married at London's St. George's Church in the spring of After their wedding, the pair traveled to Venice, Italy for their honeymoon. Although Cross wrote a letter to his sister indicating that he was having a delightful time, Eliot knew something was wrong.
Her new husband was depressed, agitated, and losing weight. She called a doctor to their hotel room and was speaking with him when Cross jumped off the balcony into the Grand Canal. Cross was rescued by a hotel worker and the personal gondolier the couple had hired to take them around the waterways. The newlyweds eventually continued on their trip, and they remained married until Eliot's death later that year.
Historians continue to speculate about the reason for his jump, and whether it was a suicide attempt—Cross may have had a personal and family history of mental illness—or some kind of heat-induced delirium. In , Dinitia Smith turned the mysterious incident into a novel — The Honeymoon. You probably don't associate George Eliot with Lady Gaga, but the Oxford English Dictionary credits the Victorian novelist with coining the term pop to refer to popular music. But there is too much 'Pop. Eliot coined a number of other now-common terms in her writing.
For instance, she was the first to use the word browser in the modern sense of someone who is casually looking around like a browser in a bookstore. Eliot's historical novel Romola marked the first recorded time the word was used to mean a person generally surveying something. In it, she describes several friends of Florentine politician Bartolomeo Scala as "amiable browsers in the Medicean park.
Although Eliot was most famous for her novels, she also produced two volumes of poetry. In a later poem , "O May I Join the Choir Invisible," Eliot argues that improving the world during one's lifetime is the only way to achieve permanence. Author Virginia Woolf praised Middlemarch 's mature prose, referring to it as "the magnificent book which with all its imperfections is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people. In , a BBC poll of 82 book critics from around the world named Middlemarch the greatest British novel of all time.
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