Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Eliot because she thought her novels would be taken more seriously with a male name.
George Eliot (1819–1880) was a famous English novelist living in Victorian times. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans but she chose a male pen name for her writing. At the time, female authors were known for lightweight romantic novels, but Mary Ann wanted her work to be taken seriously. Find out more about this determined lady and the legacy of literature she left behind in our short biography below, then explore our activities and resources for kids.
- Some people think Mary Ann’s pen name was chosen in honour of her lifelong friend George Lewis. George, followed by the surname ‘Eliot’ to stand for ‘L – I owe it’.
- Today, Nuneaton has several buildings named after George Eliot and her work, including George Eliot Hospital, The George Eliot School and Middlemarch Junior School.
Favourite George Eliot Quotes
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
“Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.”
A Short Biography of George Eliot
George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans in 1819 near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, England. Her father Robert was an estate manager at Arbury Hall and her mother Christiana was the daughter of a mill owner. Mary Ann grew up with an older sister and brother, Chrissey and Isaac. Although their parents had five children together, the youngest – twin boys – died shortly after birth.
When Mary Ann was five, she went to boarding school where she developed an intense love of reading. At 16, her formal education stopped, however, when her mother died and she returned home to help run the household. She continued to read avidly though, using the books from the library at Arbury Hall. When she was 21, the family moved to a house near Coventry, as her brother had recently married and taken over the family home. Mary Ann would live with her father until his death in 1849, when she was 30.
After her father’s death, Mary Ann travelled in Europe. She eventually settled in London, to become a writer, and called herself Marian Evans. During her years in Coventry, she had been introduced to John Chapman, a publisher from London. Chapman asked Mary Ann to become an editor for the Westminster Review, where she worked for two years.
In 1851, Mary Ann met George Lewes, an author and philosopher. They became great friends. Although George was married, he was estranged from his wife, and he and Mary Ann went on to live together until his death in 1878. This was very unusual at the time. Mary Ann had always refused to let other people’s views sway her actions. In her early twenties, she fell out with her father when she refused to go to church. She also became estranged from her brother Isaac, because he disapproved of her relationship with George.
George was a great support to Mary Ann and encouraged her writing. In 1856, she began a series of stories set in Warwickshire, which were published in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’ under the pen name George Eliot. Then in 1859, her first complete novel, Adam Bede, became a great success. People wanted to know who George Eliot was. Some tried to take the credit, but Mary Ann eventually revealed her identity. Over the next 15 years, she would produce another six novels, including The Mill on the Floss (1860), which touched on her estrangement from Isaac; Silas Marner (1861), a tale of a linen weaver; Romola (1863), a historical novel set in 14th century Italy; and her most famous work, Middlemarch (1871–72), which portrayed the lives of different social classes living in a small town. Readers loved George Eliot’s realistic portrayal of country life, and her understanding of people’s deepest emotions.
When George died in 1878, Mary Ann was overcome with grief. A great friend, John Cross, was concerned for her welfare and proposed marriage several times. She eventually accepted in 1880. John was 20 years younger, and their marriage would only last seven months. Mary Ann had suffered from kidney disease for some years and became seriously ill in December 1880. She died in her sleep, aged 61, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, north London, next to her lifelong friend, George Lewes.
Our George Eliot Resources
Comprehension worksheets ask older children to understand a reading passage and answer questions based on the text. Here's one all about famous author George Eliot.
George Eliot is widely recognised as one of the most important writers of the nineteenth century, and our factsheet is a great way to learn a little about her.
This worksheet asks the kids to imagine they are interviewing George Eliot - what would be some good questions to ask her, and what would the audience like to hear?
Our newspaper writing prompts are a fun way to research and learn some facts about famous people and practise some writing skills too. This newspaper writing prompt features the famous novelist George Eliot.
Our simple cartoon-style posters are a great way to introduce younger children to famous people. This poster features George Eliot, one of the leading female English novelists of the 19th century.
This portrait of Mary Ann Evans, more commonly known as George Eliot, was painted in 1864 when she was about 45 years old.
"Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles." This lovely poster features two big smiles and a famous quote by George Eliot!
Here's a simple quote worksheet that's ideal for younger children. Can they write about what the quote by George Eliot means, then rewrite it in their own words?
Use our fun story paper for writing what you have learned about George Eliot. We have lined or handwriting versions - and of course there's a colouring picture, too!
The kids can use this George Eliot story paper for copy work writing down passages from her novels, or for writing down some facts about this famous author.
Print out this blank timeline worksheet then get the kids to fill in the important events in George Eliot's life.
Here's a slightly tricky crossword puzzle all about author George Eliot for the kids to get stuck into. We've included the solution too...
This simple worksheet is aimed at younger children, to help them record what they have learned about George Eliot. They can have fun thinking about what they would say to her if they met her!
Our George Eliot writing page is perfect for children to record their own research. Available in colour or black and white.
Here's a fun worksheet to get the kids thinking about what makes a great book. Many critics have said George Eliot's Middlemarch is the greatest novel in the English language, but can the children write about the best book they have read, and what they think makes a book great?