“The standing apology for women who become writers without any special qualification is that society shuts them out from other spheres of occupation. Society is a very culpable entity, and has to answer for the manufacture of many unwholesome commodities, from bad pickles to bad poetry.”
Mary Ann Evans (1819 – 1880), best known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist, and poet of the Victorian era. She wrote seven novels, most notably The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and, above all, Middlemarch (1871–72), renowned for the depth of its psychological insight and portrait of its main character, Dorothea Brooke.
Evans adopted her pen name for various reasons. First, to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances, which she skewers and critiques in this essay, but also so that her fiction might be judged separately from her existing and publicly-known work as editor and critic. She also wanted to shield her private life from public scrutiny and scandal from her relationship with a married man, George Lewes, and later, her marriage to a man 20 years her junior, John Cross. Her esteem has grown considerably over the years. English literary critic V. S. Pritchett said of her, “I doubt if any Victorian novelist has as much to teach the modern novelists as George Eliot.”