George Eliot, Voice of a Century: A Biography

Frederick Robert Karl, Author
Frederick Robert Karl, Author W. W. Norton & Company $30 (708p) ISBN 978-0-393-03785-2
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
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English novelist George Eliot, born Mary Anne Evans, defied Victorian convention and her father's Anglican propriety by eloping in 1854 with biographer-novelist George Henry Lewes, a married man living apart from his wife. Cocooned in this common-law marriage, she adopted her masculine pen name both to facilitate publication and ``as a way of taking on power and protection she did not feel.'' She soon achieved fame and wealth with novels (Silas Marner; Middlemarch) that are preoccupied with retribution, blackmail, murder and secret selves whose disclosure leads to destruction. In the fullest portrait to date of Eliot's (1819-1890) emotional life and artistic development, New York University English professor Karl (Franz Kafka: Representative Man) reveals a woman of deep contradictions. Eliot's fictional heroines are rebels who put to shame male ego and presumptions of power, yet she was politically conservative and believed that women were not ready for the franchise. This masterful biography illumines neglected facets of Eliot's life and work-her lifelong illnesses, her translation of Spinoza and her neglected novels Felix Holt, the Radical and Daniel Deronda; the latter's protagonist, of mixed Jewish and Christian heritage, is emblematic of Eliot's ``reaching toward some cure for the Western world as for herself.'' Photos not seen by PW. (June)
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