The Real George Eliot – Lisa Tippings

Admission: I didn’t “get” why Middlemarch was considered such a classic back in 1974 when I read it for a “Women in Literature” seminar in college. I knew one had to read Eliot and I found the little I knew about her interesting. I’m sure I read an article about Eliot to supplement the novel. But I found it hard going. At some point, I read Silas Marner and found that more to my liking, but I would not say I was a fan of Eliot’s writing, so much as a fan of Eliot the person. So, I was drawn to this recent biography and was pleased that it was an engaging read, portraying Eliot from many perspectives, including her letters, her journals, the social context of her life as a woman of intellect in the 19th Century, and of course, her body of work. Tippings organized the parts/chapters of the book into subsections, making it an enjoyable, cohesive read. It is particularly interesting to me that Eliot persisted through periods of obvious depression and serious physical debilitation such as migraine, to engage with others in deep friendships, to travel, to earn a living as an editor, translator, and article writer before turning to novels later in life and to live a highly unconventional life with a married man who was unable to procure a divorce. I enjoyed in particular the integration of pieces of her work into the reflections on her life. I also appreciated Tippings’ balanced evaluation of Eliot. Yes, she was a nonconformist in her lifestyle, but she was also a woman of her time. Thus, her work and her life reflect many accepted norms of the Victorian era yet makes one think about why people defy those norms. Her novels ask us to reflect more and perhaps to judge less. Somewhere, my copy of Middlemarch sits on a shelf at home. Tippings, and her subject, inspire me to give it another go. Well done. Read this book.

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