English, Department of



Rosemary Ashton

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 28 (1997) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (28)


Fifty years after John Cross's hagiographic George Eliot's Life as Related in her Letters and Journals (1885), Gordon Haight planned a more forthright biography but first found that it would be necessary to re-edit those letters and journals expurgated by Cross and search out material unavailable or unmentioned by Cross. The results was first the seven volumes of The George Eliot Letters in 1954-55 and, in 1968, George Eliot: A Biography, the then definitive life. More material has been coming to light since, notably (but not only) the two supplemental volumes of the Letters Haight added in 1978, and there have been a number of new biographies, the most recent, Rosemary Ashton's George Eliot: A Life. Ashton modestly disclaims any ambition to supersede Gordon Haight's biography 'as a piece of scholarship', though she does have access to a few new letters to John Chapman and to letters of and other material on Lewes, whose biography she published in 1991. She also has much tangential but relevant material that Haight did not (or did not use): letters of Robert and Isaac Evans (George Eliot's father and brother); Henry Crabb Robinson's diary; letters of Bessie Rayner Parkes and Eliza Lynn Linton; letters, the Commonplace Book and engagement diaries of Cara Bray. She has also made use of many GE and GHL Journal entries Haight did not publish, and she has brought to bear significant amounts of relevant published materials: autobiographies, letters, biographies, historical, medical, philosophical studies, and periodicals. Though George Eliot: A Life may not supersede Haight's biography 'as a piece of scholarship' it has admirably and worthily supplemented it.