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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.

Scan­dalous li­ai­son

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.

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