Placing George Eliot in her world means, for Marghanita Laski, sketching the life of Mary Ann Evans--intellectual, moralist, author of George Eliot's works and performer of Eliot's public role--and finding sources of Eliot's works in Evans' life. This procedure yields a portrait not of the ""horse-faced bluestocking"" seen by Henry James but of a nonetheless unattractive if gifted human being. Always requiring ""someone to lean upon,"" Mary Ann began writing fiction at age 37 after translating David Strauss' demythologizing Life of Jesus and settling into a common-law marriage with George Henry Lewes, whose ""moral coarseness"" and ""emotional vulgarity"" she shared. Nonetheless, the Lewes fascinated leading intellectuals and became prominent and wealthy through their writings, while growing increasingly earnest, respectable, and dull. Laski presents the peculiarities and impressive reputation of this famous couple through the words of their contemporaries, including Queen Victoria, who unexpectedly approved of their liaison. She also points to persons and incidents that found their way into Eliot's fiction, remarking the growth of Eliot's artistry through the gradual freeing of her imagination from the hold of experience. Yet missing here is the kind of criticism required to justify Laski's repeated assertions of Eliot's greatness: we learn little of Eliot's influential ideas or of the aesthetic merits of her art. And this admirable series has elsewhere proved that the constraints of biography need not exclude the light of confident criticism.