English, Department of



Rosemary Ashton

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 36 (2005) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019 (36)


Ladies and gentlemen, this is a special year because it is ISO years since George Eliot and G. H. Lewes began to live together openly. 22 November 1854 was her thirty-fifth birthday. Where were she and Lewes? What were they doing?

They were in Berlin, having moved on from Weimar on 3 November. They had left England on 19 July, the day Marian Evans sent her famous telegram to her Coventry friends Charles and Cara Bray and Sara Hennell:

Dear Friends - all three

I have only time to say good bye and God bless you. Poste Restante, Weimar

for the next six weeks, and afterwards Berlin.

Ever your loving and grateful


The journey to Germany was undertaken to bring Lewes's research for his biography of Goethe to a successful conclusion; the more negative reason was the desire to get away from English curiosity and the scandal that would erupt at the news of their living openly together. In Weimar there was no problem about them cohabiting; the Kapellmeister was Franz Liszt, who was living with the Princess Caroline von Sayn-Wittgenstein without raising eyebrows. Once in Berlin, they were again able to socialise with the local literati without embarrassment. Varuhagen von Ense, the literary saloniste and former acqaintance of Goethe, whom Lewes had met on a previous trip to Berlin, was happy to invite them to his house. He bumped into them on Unter den Linden and commented with equanimity in his diary that Lewes, whom he knew to be married, was 'with an Englishwoman, a Miss Evans, editor of the Westminster Review and translator of Strauss's Life of Jesus and Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity'.

Lewes worked away at the Life of Go et he; Marian translated extracts for him, as well as getting on with her own translation of Spinoza. Lewes reported back to their friend Caroline von Sayn Wittgenstein on 16 December 1854, making their relationship sound like that of a cosy old married couple:

Our mode of life is somewhat this. We rise at eight; after breakfast read & work till between one & two; walk in the Thiergarten [zoo] or pay visits till dinner, which is at 3; come home to coffee, and, when not at the theatre or in society Miss Evans reads Goethe aloud to me & I read Shakspeare aloud to her. There you have a programme of our lives.