In 1819, the celebrated Victorian writer George Eliot was born at South Farm, Arbury, four miles from Astley Book Farm. She was christened Mary Ann Evans. Three months after her birth, her family moved to Nuneaton, four miles away. Her father was a land manager for the Arbury Estate. Mary Ann used to go with him on visits to tenants and to the hall. While her father conducted estate business, she would sit and listen to tales from the servants. Many of these stories resurfaced in her writing. When she grew older, Mary Ann was invited to make use of the library at the hall. She took every opportunity to do so, until the death of her mother. Aged 16, she left school to become her father’s housekeeper, a role she filled until he died in 1849. At the same time, she was gaining a reputation as a journalist. In 1846, Charles Bray, a family friend, bought The Coventry Herald and Observer. He asked Mary Ann, or Marion, as she then liked to be called, to become the assistant editor. She wrote many articles and book reviews.
At the age of 30, she moved to London to take up a position as deputy editor of the Westminster Review. There, she met theatre critic and philosopher George Henry Lewes. In 1854, they moved in together. Lewes was married, and their relationship caused a scandal. Lewes encouraged her to write fiction, but advised her to take a male pen name if she wanted to be published. Women authors were associated mainly with romantic fiction at the time. The name George came from her partner’s first name, while she thought Eliot sounded crisp and clean. As George Eliot, she became a rich and successful author. The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch were two of her most successful books. Six out of her eight novels, including these, were set in and around North Warwickshire, the place where she grew up.