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George Eliot - The Woman Behind The Name

By Edited Mar 15, 2016 0 2
George Eliot

What's In A Name?

In an age where female writers were pigeonholed as being capable of writing only lighthearted romances, a woman by the name of Mary Ann Evans took up the nom de plume of George Eliot in an effort to be taken more seriously as a writer. Though the need for this subterfuge to avoid gender stereotyping was lamentable, Evans was certainly successful. She went on to become one of the most popular writers of the Victorian era, and her works are now considered to be classics.

Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819, in Warwickshire England. She became a voracious reader at a very young age, and her intelligence was very apparent to her parents.  Because of this, and because she was not considered to be pretty enough to be very likely to marry a well-to-do husband, her father decided to send her for a more formal education than was customary for young women of the era.  During this time she studied writing passionately, focusing especially on Greek literature.  Greek literature would greatly influence her writing throughout her career, evidenced by the fact only one of her seven eventual novels can be printed without the use of a Greek typeface.

After working for some years as an editor and contributing author at The Westminster Review (under the name Marian Evans), Evans resolved to become a novelist.  She had grown tired of the silly, meaningless plots of the lighthearted romance novels being produced by women authors of the day, and she set out to write works that carried realism and meaning.  Knowing that she was unlikely to be taken very seriously as a first-time female novelist, Evans assumed the pen name George Eliot.  This nom de plume would be used for the rest of her career, even though her true identity became well known after the success of her first novel.

The first novel to be released under the moniker George Eliot was Adam Bede, which was an immediate success with both readers and critics.  The success of this mysterious first-time author prompted a great deal of public inquiry into who George Eliot really was.  After an impostor named Joseph Liggins claimed authorship of the work, the real George Eliot revealed her true identity to the public.  The public, somewhat surprisingly, did not seem to mind that Eliot was really a woman, and her popularity as an author never diminished.

Evans died on December 22, 1880, at the age of 61, the result of a combination of a throat infection and kidney disease.  Her works have remained popular more than a century later, particularly her works Silas Marner and Middlemarch, which are considered to be classics to this day.

Works by George Eliot


  • Adam Bede (1859)
  • The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Silas Marner (1861)
  • Romola (1863)
  • Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
  • Middlemarch (1871–72)
  • Daniel Deronda (1876)


  • The Spanish Gypsy (1868)
  • Agatha (1869)
  • Armgart (1871)
  • Stradivarius (1873)
  • The Legend of Jubal (1874)
  • Arion (1874)
  • A Minor Prophet (1874)
  • A College Breakfast Party (1879)
  • The Death of Moses (1879)
  • From a London Drawing Room (Date Unknown)
  • Count That Day Lost (Date Unknown) 
  • I Grant You Ample Leave (Date Unknown)


Mar 13, 2011 2:19pm
Nicely done
Mar 18, 2011 10:47pm
Very cool article! Thank you.
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