George Eliot's Death Coverage2

George Eliot Dead – December 22, 1880

Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880; alternatively “Mary Ann” or “Marian”), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s lifetime, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances. She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic.

Her death was shared in the January 1881 issue of the National Citizen and Ballot Box, a leading Suffrage newspaper in the United States:

George Eliot Dead

The unlooked for tidings that this grand woman, the greatest novelist of the century, has suddenly finished her career on earth, will bring deep sorrow, to a large circle of her readers, and untold bereavement to many a heart.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Newspapers Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily, The Revolution, and the National Citizen and Ballot Box.

The event occurred at 10 o’clock Wednesday evening, at her residence in St. John’s Wood. On Sunday Dec. 19. she caught cold, and in the evening, after the departure of several old friends who had been visiting her, and who left her in apparently good health and spirits, she was seized with a sudden chill.

Portrait of George Eliot by Samuel Laurence, c. 1860

Portrait of George Eliot by Samuel Laurence, c. 1860

The cold first attacked the larynx. On the following day, at Dr. Andrew Clark’s request, Dr. Mackenzie of Lowndes square visited her. His report on her case, however, was not such as to afford serious cause for anxiety, and not until Wednesday evening about 6 o’clock did the case assume an alarming aspect. Dr. Clark then discovered that the pericardium was seriously affected, and at once pronounced the case almost hopeless. George Eliot passed away quietly and almost painlessly.

Marian C. Evans was the daughter of a Warwickshire dissenting minister, who is also said to have been a steward to the Newdegate family of that county. Of her mother nothing is definitely known, but report says that to her she is indebted for her large head and remarkable brain. Only the most meagre details are known of her life; it is not certain whether she was born in 1820 or three years earlier, and even the statement as to her father’s occupation has been denied. She had never herself contributed anything to the public knowledge of her girlhood or indeed of any part of her life, and it is only known that she was about 37 when she published “Scenes in Clerical Life,” in Blackwood, her first work that attracted general attention in 1857. Before “Scenes in Clerical Life” appeared, she had been a frequent contributor to the Westminster Review, and had translated Strauss’s “Life of Jesus” when only 26 years old.

Portrait by Frederick William Burton, 1864

Portrait by Frederick William Burton, 1864

Her command of languages was unusual, and embraced, it has been said, a knowledge of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Russian. She was an admirable Latin and Greek scholar. How she secured her education, her father being very poor, is not known; but among the many reports that have obtained currency concerning her, in the absence of definite information, it is said that a friend of her father, becoming interested in the girl’s remarkable precocity of mind, furnished the necessary means.

Her pseudonym of George Eliot was first signed to the “Scenes in Clerical Life.” In 1859, “Adam Bede” appeared, and at once obtained a vast success. “The Mill on the Floss,” “Romola,” “Felix Holt,” and “Middlemarch,” appeared at intervals of from one to three years thereafter. “Daniel Deronda” was published four years ago.

“The Impressions of Theophrastus Such,” which appeared eighteen months ago, was her last considerable work, although several notable articles in the British reviews since have been attributed to her. For many years the question of whether George Eliot was man or woman was a subject of debate in England.

Charles Dickens was the only one who guessed the sex of “George.” He wrote to the publisher a private letter praising “her” genius, and would not give up his opinion despite a loyal, though false correction.

There appeared in print the following characteristic letter, addressed to the inquisitive world in general, and asking:

“If the act of publishing a book deprives a man of all claim to the courtesies usual among gentlemen? If not, the attempt to pry into what is obviously meant to be withheld, (his name,) and to publish the rumors which such prying may give rise to, seems to me quite indefensible; still more so to state those rumors as ascertained truths. I have the honor to be, air, yours, &c.,” –George Eliot

Source: National Citizen and Ballot Box, January 1881

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