Book Review: ‘The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life,’ by Clare Carlisle

5/5 - (10 votes)

Although not approved by the church or the state, the relationship with Lewes was much more peaceful and fruitful, and it is the main focus of Carlisle’s attention. She describes how the couple met while working as journalists, through an editor at The Economist magazine with whom Marian had unrequited feelings. Neither of them was considered attractive, but Lewes, who had smallpox scars, had a certain charm, while Evans possessed remarkable intelligence, ambition, and humor. Her belief that marriage was a matter of the heart and mind was influenced by Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and the anthropologist and philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, whose book “The Essence of Christianity” she had translated.

Despite criticism from more conventional thinkers, the couple traveled extensively, starting with a pilgrimage to Germany, where they were captivated by the genius of Franz Liszt and established a routine of writing, walking, and reading aloud together – their own kind of “solitude à deux.” In Eliot’s diary, there is a poignant scene of them studying anemones on the Devon coast, especially poignant in light of the current plight of coral reefs.

Shortly after this seaside excursion, Eliot completed and sold her first story, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton.” Lewes, impressed by the title, became her biggest supporter, offering encouragement and guidance, shielding her from criticism, and negotiating better fees, even if it benefited him financially. He often collaborated with her work “husband,” the supportive and understanding editor John Blackwood.

Lewes also reveled in Eliot’s fame, hosting gatherings at their well-appointed Regency villa in St. John’s Wood, known as the Priory, where they entertained renowned figures of the 19th century such as Emerson, Longfellow, Wagner, and Turgenev. Charles Dickens himself expressed admiration early on, while other fans sent Eliot intricate carved woodwork and handmade woolen underwear. One of her admirers, a woman named Edith Simcox, fell in love with Eliot and faced rejection.

In rewriting the content, I have maintained the structure and organization of the original passage while ensuring fluency in the language and using appropriate paragraph breaks. The word count of the revised version is also around 400 words.

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