No wonder it ached

Dinah Birch

  • The Journals of George Eliot edited by Margaret Harris and Judith Johnston
    Cambridge, 447 pp, £55.00, February 1999, ISBN 0 521 57412 9
  • George Eliot: The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes
    Fourth Estate, 384 pp, £20.00, November 1998, ISBN 1 85702 420 6

It is odd that the pseudonym ‘George Eliot’ has proved so durable. It persisted long after the identity of Adam Bede’s author had become public knowledge, and there has been no serious attempt to dislodge it since. Why has George Eliot never been known by her own name? One reason is that it has never been quite clear what it was. She began life as Mary Anne Evans, daughter of Robert Evans, a sturdy and prosperous land agent in Warwickshire. But Mary Anne sounds rather like a servant’s name (the White Rabbit’s housemaid is called Mary Ann). As the rising fortunes of the family gave her a lady’s education, she began to experiment and adapt – trying out Marianne, losing the final ‘e’, and later settling on Marian. Throughout her life, she accumulated nicknames: Minie, Polly, Pollian, together with more dignified and maternal tags in middle age – Madre, Mutter or Madonna.

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