Gnawed by rats, burnt at Oxford

Claire Tomalin

  • G.H. Lewes: A Life by Rosemary Ashton
    Oxford, 369 pp, £25.00, September 1991, ISBN 0 19 812827 4

George Henry Lewes was a close contemporary of Dickens, born five years after him, in 1817, and dying eight years after him, in 1878. Both men worked themselves to the limits of their strength and endurance, and probably shortened their lives by doing so; both tend to be seen as prototypical Victorians, whereas they were formed by the Regency period and kept a certain flamboyance, together with a dislike of the insularity and hypocrisy to which they saw England succumbing. Dickens, the idol of the public, grumbled, and was forced into secret strategies; Lewes, with much less at stake, proclaimed his atheism and radicalism and braved out his unorthodox marital situations, though even he finally destroyed the letters and journals that would allow us to understand his private history as we should like to. He is best known as the consort and enabler of George Eliot, for which he deserves our homage. But he was far more than that. Although he has been the subject of earlier biographies, he has not been written about with the depth and sympathy that Rosemary Ashton brings to him.

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