George Eliot: An Extraordinary Victorian

As some dismal signs of Ameri­can women’s condition — the creeped-out smile squeezed between a governor’s hands, my ex-professional neighbor loping around an Amazon ware­house, the Asian women slain in Georgia — keep flashing at me, I wonder what George Eliot (1819–1880) would have thought of it all.

Eliot was born with the name Mary Anne Evans, and with off-putting looks and a restless, powerful brain. Studying on the side as a young woman (she was becoming one of the last true polymaths), she kept house for and nursed her widowed father, who forced her to attend church on the principle that a daughter had to show the neighborhood a submissive conformity.

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