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George Eliot: Childhood

The writer George Eliot was born Mary Anne Evans on 22 November 1819. Her father, Robert Evans, was the manager of the Arbury estate in Warwickshire, England. Mary Anne was the third child born to him and his wife Christiana. Evans also had two older children from a previous marriage. The Evans household was dominated Mary Anne's father and her older brother Isaac, with whom she was close. Robert Evans was a God-fearing, authority-respecting man. "I was accustomed to hear him utter the word 'Government' in a tone that charged it with awe and made it part of my effective religion in contrast with the word 'rebel,' which seemed to carry the stamp of evil in its syllables," Eliot recalled later of her father.1 Mary Anne craved her father's approval. In a classic Freudian pattern, she sought attention all her life from unavailable older men.

Her father's position as the head employee on a grand country estate allowed Mary Anne an intimate look at both upper-class and working-class life. These details came in handy in her later fiction. It also gave her access to the estate's library. Robert Evans was proud of his youngest daughter's intelligence and indulged her with books whenever she wanted them.

Mary Anne was educated at a series of boarding schools. Teachers remembered the intelligent student as "a queer, three-cornered, awkward girl, who sat in corners and shyly watched her elders."2 As a student at Mrs. Wallington's Boarding School in Nuneaton, Mary Anne grew close to teacher Maria Lewis. Lewis identified the young woman's gifts and took her under her wing. The two remained close friends for years, corresponding long after Mary Anne had completed her studies. She learned piano, spoke French, and was known as an excellent writer.

When Mary Anne was nineteen, her mother died. The young woman left school and moved back to Warwickshire to care for her father. In 1841, Robert Evans retired from Arbury and moved with his daughter to Foleshill, a town not far away. It was there that George Eliot's life would really begin.

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