An Inventory of Her Collection in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Center
Born Mary Ann Evans in 1819, George Eliot was the daughter of a land agent who managed estates in the rural midlands, a formative experience that gave her an insight into country society that later greatly influenced and enriched her first works of fiction. At different times of her life, she also spelled her name as Mary Anne, Marian, and Marianne, adopting the pen-name of Eliot only after her first work of fiction was published in 1857.
Eliot was brought up in a narrow religious tradition, and at school she became a convert to Evangelicalism. Charles Bray, a free thinking manufacturer, influenced her skepticism of orthodox beliefs, although she never strayed from the ethical teachings of her childhood religion. Her works contain themes of love and duty, and affectionate portraits of clergymen and dissenters. She began her literary career with translations from the German of two works of religious speculation, of which Strauss’s Life of Jesus was published in 1846 without her name.
In 1849, after the death of her father, she moved to London and quickly became involved in literary circles. In 1851, John Chapman made her the assistant editor of the Westminster Review although she had been contributing articles and reviews to the periodical for only a year. It was through Chapman’s influence that she met G. H. Lewes, who was then separated from his wife. She began living with him without a legal union in 1854, an arrangement that caused her some anxiety and strife with friends and family, but one that ultimately proved both long lasting and beneficial to her literary career. Only after meeting him did she begin writing works of fiction, and Lewes remained a strong supporter of her work until his death in 1878.
"The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton," one of three stories brought together in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857 under the name of George Eliot, the first work that bore this pseudonym. These stories were praised for domestic realism, pathos, and humor, and caused speculation about the identity of George Eliot, who many believed was a clergyman or a clergyman’s wife. Scenes marked the beginning as well of a long relationship with Blackwood Press, which would publish all of her works save Romola.
Begun in 1858, Adam Bede (1859) established her as a leading English novelist, praised by readers as diverse as James H. Turgenev and Queen Victoria. Following Bede were a series of novels, including The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1862-3), Felix Holt, (1866), Middlemarch (1871-2), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Until Romola, a historical novel about society in Florence, Italy, her novels had concerned country life. In 1879, a collection of her most successful Westminster Review essays, entitled The Impressions of Theophrastrus Such, was published. In 1880, she married John Walter Cross, her financial advisor and friend who was twenty years younger than she. Eliot died seven months later.
The Ransom Center's collection of George Eliot materials is arranged in two series: I. Works, 1860-1880 (10 boxes), and II. Letters, 1854-1880 (1 box), with items arranged alphabetically where possible. The majority of the collection was acquired from Blackwood Press in London, the original publisher of all but one of Eliot's novels. This collection was previously accessible through a card catalog, but has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.
Galley proofs, page proofs, or printed copies for ten of Eliot’s books, all with the author’s handwritten corrections, make up the bulk of this collection. Several of the volumes are print copies corrected by the author for subsequent editions, such as the Blackwood edition of Romola, which was originally published by Smith London. (Eliot's proof copy from Smith's original publication of Romola is also included in this collection.) Other books appear in "cheap copies": proof copies of the novels gathered loosely in brown paper covers. Still other works are unbound, the longest of which is the page proof copy of Middlemarch, composed of nearly 4,000 loose sheets.
The Letters series is composed of two loose letters and a bound volume of letters from Eliot to American writer Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward. In addition to the letters, the volume includes engraved portraits of Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Herbert Spencer, and Eliot herself. The letters are variously signed "M. E. Lewes" and "M. A. Cross," demonstrating even within such a small collection the multiple ways in which Eliot referred to herself on paper.
Open for research
Purchase, 1976 (R 7034)
Patricia Monticello, 2004; Stephen Cooper, 2005