Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 20, 1854 --- Marian and George

Marian Evans, later immortal under her soon-to-be adopted nom de plume George Eliot, leaves for Germany with her lover, London journalist George Henry Lewes. Aboard a fast new steamer to Calais, they passed the night on deck. "The sunset was lovely but still lovelier the dawn."

Marian is unmarried at 35; Lewes is 37 and married, but half of the six children in his home are not his. Marian, the anonymous editor of The Westminster Review, and Lewes, who edited a radical weekly called The Leader, had been lovers for some time. Such unconventional amours, if kept discreet, are commonplace in London's literary world. Few questioned, therefore, the original explanation that the two had gone to Wiemar to do research on Goethe for a book Lewes was writing. However, word soon came back to London that George and Marian were openly living together.

The reaction is one of shock. Marian dismisses the concern of those who "troubled themselves very little while [I] lived in privacy and loneliness." To an estranged friend, she wrote: "From the majority of persons, of course, we never looked for anything but condemnation. We are leading no life of self-indulgence, except indeed, that being happy in each other we find everything easy."

The following March, George and Marian returned to England. Dickens thought them "the ugliest couple in London." Carlyle, who thought Lewes was the "ugliest little fellow," called his erstwhile friend a libertine and Marian a home-wrecker. Lewes answered so strongly that Carlyle agreed to "clear the lady from such unworthy aspersions." Jane Carlyle saw the couple at the theatre and thought them "Propriety personified." The more genial Trollope remained their friend throughout; a regular caller at Marian's Sunday afternoon "at homes" in St. John's Wood. Upon her death, Trollope insisted. "In truth she was one whose private life should be left in privacy."

George and Marian remained together until his death in 1878. While Lewes had continued to move socially, Marian remained uninvited. In 1857, her first novel, Scenes of a Clerical Life, was published under the name George Eliot. While novels by men received more serious attention, it was also no doubt wise to conceal the author's true and, to many, quite scandalous identity.

Marian Evans painted by Durade

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