George Eliot

David Friedrich Strauss (1808–1874).
The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined.
Translated from the 4th German ed. by Marian Evans
New York: Calvin Blanchard, 1856. (BT301)

Marian Evans (1819–1880), best known as “George Eliot,” was one of the finest and most influential novelists of the Victorian era. Born in Warwickshire, Evans excelled at several schools for girls and supplemented her education through voracious reading. Drawn to radical intellectual circles in Coventry, she became interested in the theological work of University of Tübingen professor David Friedrich Strauss, whose book Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (Tübingen, 1835-1836) examined the early documentation of Jesus Christ as a historical figure while denying his divinity. Despite not having formal training in the German language, Evans translated this three-volume work into English; it was published by John Chapman in 1846. Exhibited is the second English edition of 1856, bearing the translator’s given name on its title page.

In 1851 Chapman hired Evans to be the assistant editor of The Westminster Review, a radical magazine to which she contributed numerous articles. In “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” (1856), a criticism of the trivial and unlikely plots in contemporary fiction by women, Evans used the pseudonym “George Eliot” for the first time. Some biographers suggest that she utilized this male pseudonym so that her writings could succeed on their own merits without undue focus on her gender, or so that attention on her scandalous cohabitation with the married philosopher George Henry Lewes could be avoided. But another factor may have been a desire to distance her novels from the bad publicity that surrounded her translation of the controversial Life of Christ by Strauss.

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