English, Department of



Gabriel Woolf

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 36 (2005)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


150 years ago, in 1854, George Eliot, still Marian Evans at that point, and George Henry Lewes made the momentous decision to live together. They did so for 24 years until Lewes died and, in the first five years together, made literary history. We know they couldn't marry, we know that neither of them was regarded as physically attractive but, to quote an apposite line from a Shakespeare sonnet: Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediment. Not even in this place.

The inspirational meeting of such minds and the rich love the two bore each other manifest themselves in their almost instant creative outpouring. For it was not just Marian's writing that commanded attention. The first fruit was Lewes's Life of Go et he which gave him a European reputation -long lived. As a young man I remember buying that Life in the Everyman edition. Marian helped him with it and was delighted. He encouraged her with Scenes of Clerical Life: they filled pages of the same numbers of Blackwood's Magazine with Scenes and Lewes's popular Seaside Studies. Then came Adam Bede. In one bound George Eliot overtook George Lewes and he was delighted. He remained always thrilled by her success. Looking through this little treasure trove, the diary from the end of his life, what better entry could I find than this:

At 11 went to the Abbey to attend the marriage of Lionel Tennyson and Eleanor Locker. The Abbey crowded - many of our friends and acquaintances there. The ceremony very touching and interesting One of the most interesting points - at least to me - was that as we all came out of the Abbey I saw a lady gazing devoutly at Polly and then quietly as if unobserved stroke the back of her cloak and pass on. Du Maurier afterwards told me that Mrs. Kendall was in high spirits at having 'touched George Eliot'. Now the lady I saw was not Mrs. Kendall - so that there were two who had this same inspiration.

He was still delighted for her. And it all happened here, in Westminster Abbey. Marian's debt to Lewes is incalculable in terms of love, support, enthusiasm and intellectual companionship. In turn she was able to make his life less hand-to-mouth in economic terms - supporting his first wife, sister-in-law, children; he could contribute to the scientific world that so fascinated him. It was a wonderful partnership.