It’s easy to forget, as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth, how radical George Eliot actually was. The face that smiles tenderly out at us from François d’Albert-Durade’s portrait (pictured), on the dust jacket of her books, seems to epitomise the moralising Victorians — very establishment. And perhaps this is why her dramatic and shocking life story is so oddly absent from the English public imagination.
How radical was she? ‘May I unceasingly aspire to unclothe all around me of its conventional, human, temporary dress, to look at it in its essence and in its relation to eternity…’
This is an early letter from Marian Evans, or Mary Ann Evans as she was then (she changed her name repeatedly); the provincial girl in Warwickshire, before she met the Coventry sophisticates who changed her life.