In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O’Shaughnessy

‘The train had shuddered to a halt.’

In this novel, Kathy O’Shaughnessy imagines Marian Evans, the woman most of us know best as the novelist George Eliot.  Who was this woman?  This great Victorian novelist who wrote some of the best novels of her era.

In this novel, and in real life, Marian Evans was a scandalous figure. She lived, without the benefit of lawful matrimony, with George Henry Lewes.  She lived in sin: an affront to polite society.  How much, I wonder, did this shunning have an impact on her writing?

As I turned the pages, I was transported into the world imagined by Ms O’Shaughnessy.  A world enhanced by quotes from Marian Evans’s letters and diaries.  A world which encompasses her life through her relationship with George Lewes, her writing, her fame and her second marriage.

Interspersed between the chapters set within Marian’s life are present-day chapters in which Kate, Ann and Hans are working on interpreting Marian Evans as both a writer and a woman.  It is an interesting dual journey: an imagined life being lived; a lived life researched.  A novelist can do this where a biographer cannot.

I grew up with George Eliot books in my home, but where I was encouraged to research the lives of other Victorian novelists, George Eliot was not discussed.  I can’t remember when I first learned George Eliot was a pseudonym: it would have been after I first read ‘The Mill on The Floss’.

I picked up this novel after a couple of friends recommended it, and I am glad I did.  The bare biographical facts of Marian Evans’s life have never been enough to draw me further into her fiction, but this novel has me wanting to read more.  Ms O’Shaughnessy has succeeded in breathing life into the woman Marian Evans, the novelist George Eliot, in making me curious about her work.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith