Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 22 (1991)
In July 1990 I finished writing a biography of G.H. Lewes, which will be published by Oxford University Press in September 1991. There could be no better subject to have than Lewes (1817-1878). He is, of course, best remembered as the faithful companion, the husband in fact if not in law, of Marian Evans, the man without whose energy and support she might not have found the courage to become George Eliot. If he had nothing more than this to recommend him, he would still be worthy of our attention. But Lewes has a great deal more than this to recommend him. When he met Marian Evans in Jeff's bookshop in the Burlington Arcade in October 1851, he was thirty-four years old, and had packed more activity into his thirty-four years than almost any of his contemporaries, with the notable exception of his friend Dickens, a veritable whirlwind of imaginative, political, social, and emotional energy.
The solution to the first problem facing the biographer of Lewes lies in this very fact of his early versatility. For the problem may be stated in the form of the following question: How is one to write a life of Lewes which, while giving due weight to his relationship with George Eliot - the most important relationship of his life, and of hers - will do more than merely reiterate biographies of her or perhaps retread old ground with some new microscope held to the eye, looking for details to add to or minutely adjust the familiar image of Lewes - Lewes as George Eliot's literary agent; Lewes the usher at the door of their home in Regent's Park - known as the Priory - during the years of her fame; Lewes permitting favoured guests to pass through into the inner sanctum where they could fan at the feet of the great Genius within? Since Lewes led a rich and busy life before he knew Marian Evans, the biographer must gratefully take advantage of this good luck and explore to the full Lewes's life up to 1854, when the liaison between him and Marian became publicly known.