Rosemary Ashton's brilliant and now standard 1996 biography George Eliot was short listed for the Whitbread Biography Award; now she has turned her attention to "Mr George Eliot", George Henry Lewes. She subtitles her book "an unconventional Victorian", and unconventional is certainly the word for Lewes. For instance, he shared his first wife, Agnes, with his best friend Thornton Hunt, and of his seven children by that marriage four of them were Hunt's. But Ashton demonstrates just how attractive a character Lewes was: versatile, generous, energetic, wide-ranging and intelligent--all terms that could be used to describe this biography.
It is of course his "marriage" to George Eliot for which Lewes remains most famous. Ashton captures the heartfelt intensity of their love for one another beautifully, and her command of biographical detail is very entertaining. We can certainly see why Eliot fell in love with Lewes, who comes over as extremely likeable and charismatic. He was also reputedly the ugliest man in Britain. Small, hairy and pockmarked, Carlyle called him "the ape" and Henry James said that "he looks as if he had been gnawed by rats & left". It is something of a disappointment, in a strange way, to see that the photographs Ashton reproduces give us somebody only mildly ugly after all.
Lewes made a living writing journalism, editing Goethe and writing books on science and philosophy. But he also wrote novels, was a superb stage actor, and enjoyed close friendships with the Brontes, Browning, Darwin, Dickens, John Stuart Mill and August Comte and many others. Ashton's account of his magpie life quickly becomes of necessity a survey of the entire artistic and intellectual landscape of 19th-century London. --Adam Roberts
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A lively biography of a minor but fascinating figure."--Virginia Quarterly Review"Not likely to be superseded unless some new material turns up....Important for Victorian scholars, graduate students, and upper-level undergraduates."--Choice"Splendid....Nobody could have done it better than Ashton."--Sunday Times (London)"[A] splendid biography....What emerges from Ashton's work...[is] a familiar life made fresh and moving with new detail and proper emphasis....Rosemary Ashton has given us a witty, humane, and beautifully written book finished to the highest scholarly and critical standards. It is now the one indispensable work on its subject, and it is essential reading as well for anyone interested in George Eliot, in nineteenth-century English radicalism, or in the fine art to which biography can be brought."--Nineteenth-Century Prose"Ashton's book is a well-written, scholarly, undogmatic, sympathetic but not idolatrous study of Lewes. It deserves to be the definitive biography."--Nineteenth-Century Literature