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Jennifer Egan on Middlemarch

Middlemarch: Jennifer Egan on how George Eliot’s unorthodox love life shaped her masterpiece

Eliot found fulfilment in a relationship that society shunned – no wonder her study of marriage captures a climate of change

By Jennifer Egan

It is striking that the author of the most brilliant literary study of marriage in English was a woman whose unorthodox romantic partnership excluded her from polite society. Mary Ann Evans, who took the pseudonym of George Eliot when she began publishing fiction, lived for 24 years with George Henry Lewes, a philosopher, journalist and critic, whose open marriage to his wife had already resulted in her bearing another man’s child. Lewes’s agreement to his name being on the baby’s birth certificate deprived him later, through a quirk of law, of the right to divorce. Technically, the unmarried Evans was pilfering another woman’s husband by living with Lewes – never mind that Lewes’s legal wife went on to have three more children with her lover, all of whom Evans and Lewes supported (along with Lewes’s three sons) through their writing, editing and translating. Their urgent need for money was partly what prompted Lewes to encourage Evans to try her hand at writing fiction at the age of 37… Read more at The Guardian.

Literary Affairs highly recommends Middlemarch as a classic choice for book clubs.

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