The latest life of George Eliot (nÃ¢e Mary Ann Evans), from the biographer of her lifelong companion, G.H. Lewes, brings out this independent-minded woman's shyness and self-doubt as well as her formidable artistic achievements. The opportunity for the Eliot biography industry began when Evans's young widower, John Cross, extended her strong sense of privacy to destroying some of her personal papers and bowdlerizing excerpts from her letters and journals for his respectful official life. This was not enough to stop the rumors and speculation that had begun after Evans made herself notorious by living with the married Lewes well before ""George Eliot"" gained fame as the author of Scenes of Clerical Life and Adam Bede. In the search for the real George Eliot, Ashton (English/University College, London) adds her understated version of Evans's life to the several of the last ten years, the most recent being Frederick Karl's magisterial 1995 volume. Ashton moves swiftly through Evans's life, bringing her up from Midlands provincialism to intellectual cosmopolitanism, without dwelling too long on the religious and personal crises in her life. Evans's break with her family and friends, first over her faith, then over her relations with Lewes, seem especially muted, but the novelist herself always maintained a stoic front in her personal life. Like Evans, Ashton is more at home with intellectual matters, such as her interest in Goethe (and his influence on her), her early journalism for the Westminster Review, and, of course, her novels. Ashton, editor of the Penguin Middlemarch, does her best work in drawing out Evans's perspective from her plots and characterizations. If Gladstone called the first Eliot biography ""a Reticence in three volumes,"" Ashton's is an Admiration in one volume--but a readable and informed one at least.