Hi everyone! Welcome to the third week of our Middlemarch group read.
Please feel inspired to post status reports, favorite quotations, and thoughts and impressions.
If you feel like reading more, I thought I'd do a brief romantic profile of George Eliot this week. (Inspired by my mother, whom I told about Middlemay. She told me that she and my father had read a George Eliot poem at their wedding, and then she asked me if George Eliot was a lesbian. I thought it would be useful to clear up some misconceptions about Eliot's absolutely fascinating personal life.)
The Loves of George Eliot*
Mary Anne Evans was not considered a very beautiful woman, and although she had fallen in love with several men during her twenties, when she was already very active in the literary scene, she had never seen any of those feelings reciprocated. In 1851, when she was 32 years old, she was a spinster. That was the year she met George Lewes, a philosopher whose mind was the perfect complement to hers, and who nurtured and encouraged her work. He was, unfortunately, married, but he believed that marriage was an unfair and sexist institution, and as a result had allowed his wife, Agnes, to carry out an open affair with their neighbor. Even as this affair dragged on and his marriage became less and less viable, Lewes was unable (and possibly unwilling) to divorce Agnes because, by allowing his name to appear as father on the birth certificate of one of the children Agnes had with the neighbor, he was legally complicit in the adultery. George Lewes was raising several of his neighbor's children as well as his own in a house that Mary Anne Evans decided to move into in 1854.
Although they were never legally married, Evans and Lewes acted like husband and wife (and referred to each other as such) for the next 24 years. They were not discreet about their relationship, and as a result, Evans (but not Lewes; there's fair for you) was effectively shut out of Victorian society, and not allowed into "good" houses. They were, however, deeply committed to each other mentally and emotionally, and when Lewes died, Evans went into an intense period of mourning, during which her weight dropped to 80 pounds (or something; I can't remember the exact number).
Then, two years later, Evans did the unthinkable again. In her deep mourning, she had made a friend who was also in mourning, and the two of them became very close consoling each other. This friend, John Cross, was mourning his recently deceased and beloved mother. I should mention he was twenty years Evans's junior. When they got married in 1880, everyone was scandalized all over again.
Evans died only one year later at age 61 of kidney problems and a throat infection. Despite her many acknowledged contributions to English literature, she was denied burial at Westminster Abbey because of her apparently inappropriate quarter-century monogamous relationship with Lewes. But (as I'm slowly learning as I read Middlemarch!) Evans/Eliot left us plenty to think about in terms of romance, society, and women's roles, and I'm glad she had the fortitude to stick by her choices despite what everyone else had to say about it.
*I got all this from Parallel Lives, a great book by Phyllis Rose. If you're into Victorian romances, you'll love it.