In this sympathetic biography of the celebrated 19th century novelist, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Brenda Maddox clearly presents the author and the creation of her books, some of English literature's most unforgettable.
Beginning with her childhood - her rejection by her mother and acceptance by her father - Maddox shows how Evans adopted a fervent Evangelicalism as a young woman only to lose it when befriended by some freethinking (some of them rather promiscuous) individuals. Promiscuity among 19th century atheistic intellectuals was evidently a reaction to the strict social and religious norms of the day but this opportunity for sexual freedom doesn't seem to have affected the unattractive Evans in any way but to increase her insecurity: she was yearning for love.
She finally found it when she took up a permanent, live-in relationship with George Lewes (who was technically married to a woman who was, in turn, living with another man). Lewes provided Evans with emotional security and a profound friendship that became a guiding light for her writing career: Lewes suggested that Evans - a talented and successful journalist -- begin to write fiction.
Lewes, as Maddox shows, was not only was the creative impetus for the great Victorian novelist but he also served as her emotional support and protector. For instance, Evans was terrified of reading any reviews of her own work and so Lewes constantly prevented her from seeing any. Even after becoming a wild success, gaining a measure of social acceptance in Victorian England (Evans and Lewes never officially married), and gaining reams of adoring fans, Evans still had difficulty believing in herself as a writer and couldn't begin - or finish - a new book without suffering from severe depression. With Lewes at her side, however, she was able to ultimately persevere.
Especially riveting for George Eliot fans are the sections of Maddox's biography which describe the creation of the novels: where Evans found the inspiration for each story's kernel, where she lived when she wrote each one, and what she - and others -- had to say about them as they came into being (many of them via serialization).
Utilizing reams of personal letters, which bring immediacy to the narrative, Maddox paints an unforgettable portrait of a complex woman -- equal parts talent and insecurity - who because she was so lucky in love, was able to write some of the greatest novels in the English language.