A WOMAN OF CONTRADICTIONS: The Life of George Eliot by Ina Taylor


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The ""contradictions"" of the title lie not so much in George Eliot herself as in the difference between Eliot's idealized image in past biographies and the vital, enormously ambitions, and mercenary woman that Taylor (Victorian Sisters, 1987) claims she really was. Mary Ann Evans (alias George Eliot) first achieved black-sheep status as a moody, unattractive young woman who refused to attend church with her haute-bourgeois family. Before her father could throw her out of the house, he died, and young Mary Ann blithely hied herself to London. There, she worked as an editor and surrounded herself with brilliant and entertaining men, many of whom were oddly attracted by Mary Ann's passionate intensity, despite her bad looks. When she fell in love with fellow journalist George Lewes, who happened to be married, and ran off with him to Europe, London society was scandalized and Evans found herself once again in the role of social pariah. She was now nearly 40, and financial need prodded her to try her hand at fiction. Her talents and Lewes' astute marketing techniques enabled the couple to grow rich on the income from Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, etc., particularly once Evans learned how to force publishers to pay enormous sums for her books. When Evans was 59, George Lewes died. Romantically obtuse, Evans quickly proposed to her 40-year-old financial director, John Cross, who married her out of stunned politeness and subsequently fried to kill himself on their honeymoon. But Evans died instead seven months later, and her grateful husband immediately penned the highly sanitized biography of George Eliot that was to keep subsequent biographers in the dark regarding Evans' true nature--claims Taylor--for decades to come. A straight forward, unsentimental biography that's remarkably well-suited to its subject's uncompromising character, and that vividly evokes the hard-working author, whose strong appetites put her at odds with her Victorian milieu. A previously undiscovered draft of a short section of The Mill on the Floss is appended.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1989
Publisher: Morrow