An elegant and illuminating feminist biography of George Eliot. Eliot has been labeled a conservative by some feminists because of her belief in separate natural spheres for men and woman. Others have rejected her as an elitist who thought only exceptional women like herself could raise themselves above the traditional role of mother and wife. Uglow considers such contemporary objections to Eliot's beliefs with respect, but is never herself dismissive of Eliot's thinking. Uglow argues that Eliot presents women as they are, in all their complexity, and not as they should be. As a biographer, she follows Eliot's lead and ""describes rather than prescribes."" Wisely refraining from a lengthy biographical narrative, she focuses on elements in Eliot's early life--especially her relationship with her father and her brother Isaac--that shaped her ideas about men and women. Uglow's un flashy, intellectually rigorous feminism leads her away from Eliot's ""passionate, emotional side"" and into her mind and works. The readings of key passages in the novels bring together biography, stylistic analysis, psychology, religion, and philosophy, always with grace and frequently with brilliance. Uglow never allows abstractions or ideals to displace the actual texts. The result is a rich exploration of the powerful tensions, in Eliot's own mind and in the minds of her heroines, between the intellect and the heart, imagination and reality, society and the individual, self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment. Intellectual integrity and a real love of the works make this first feminist biography of Eliot truly worthy of its subject.