George Eliot (1819 – 1880), one of the leading Victorian women writers, was the author of a number of famous books, including Adam Bede, Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch.
The name George Eliot was the pseudonym, which Marian Evans adopted for her books and articles and when writing to her publisher, John Blackwood. She said she used this name so that her work would be taken seriously – as although there were published female authors at the time, she wanted to separate her work from ‘light-hearted romances’. Marian lived in the family home in Warwickshire until her father died in 1849. After travelling abroad with the help of family friends, the Brays, she settled in London, was accepted into literary circles and began regularly writing for the Westminster Review.
In about 1852 she began a relationship with another writer, George Henry Lewes, who was already married with three children. What shocked her contemporaries was not that she became his mistress – many Victorians, particularly in literary and artistic circles had a mistress – but that she lived openly with Lewes as his ‘wife’ even though he was already married.
After visiting Weimar in 1854, they returned to England in March 1855, but Marian found that she was no longer accepted in mixed society. This may have prompted their move to lodgings at 7 Clarence Row, East Sheen. In a letter to Charles Bray she described East Sheen as a charming village close to Richmond Park and said: ‘We are panting to be in the country and resume our old habits of undisturbed companionship and work’, and she tells him to catch the train from Waterloo Bridge Station to Mortlake.
In September 1855 the Leweses moved to new lodgings at 8 Park Shot, in Richmond, where they remained until February 1859, when they moved to Wandsworth.
It was in Richmond that Eliot’s literary career took off, first with the publication of Scenes from Clerical Life and then Adam Bede, which brought her in the sum of £1,705. In today’s money, this would amount to about £170,000.
Her success continued with the publication of Mill on the Floss in 1860 and Middlemarch in 1872. Marian Lewes’s health began to deteriorate and he died in 1878. Marian then married John Cross, 20 years her junior, which proved to be an unhappy marriage as he suffered from depression. She died in December 1880. Geoffrey Beevers, a well-known writer, who lives in Richmond, dramatised both Adam Bede and Middlemarch and both were put on at the Orange Tree theatre.