George Eliot in 1860
image: Wikipedia

 

George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Ann (Marian) Evans (1819-1880) who from 1854 was mixing in circles as the wife of George Henry Lewes although not legally married to him.

They were living in Shottermill from the beginning of May until the end of August 1871 while their London home had major alterations carried out. At the time she was writing her first serial, Middlemarch. They returned to London, where Middlemarch, which had been started in 1869, was finally published with the first of eight parts in December 1871 and thereafter every two months throughout 1872.

After the publication of Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) they sought a place back in Surrey. In December 1877 they bought The Heights on Brook Road at Witley for £5,000. She described it as her “modest little refuge in the not too distant country.” While at The Heights they played tennis and had visits from Tennyson.

George Lewes was also a writer, and his only writing was completed in June 1878, an essay entitled On the Dread and Dislike of Science which was published in Fortnightly Review. George Lewes became unwell later in the year and they returned to London where he died at the end of November, aged 61.

In 1880 Eliot married John Walter Cross, whose family she had known for some time and he had been her financial adviser, and was 20 years younger. He was said to be of unstable character and while on honeymoon in Venice he jumped from a balcony into the Grand Canal, and although rescued he never fully recovered.

In August 1880 Eliot wrote from The Heights at Witley that they were there until the beginning of November when they planned to return for the winter to 4, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

They moved back to Chelsea on the 3rd December, and three weeks later Eliot died unexpectedly on the 22nd December 1880, aged 61. She was not given a burial in Westminster Abbey due to her life with Lewes, and was buried at Highgate Cemetery next to George Henry Lewes. However in 1980 a memorial stone, in the floor, was unveiled in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey to commemorate George Eliot.

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