It comes as a surprise to many high school students reading ‘Middlemarch’ that its author, George Eliot (1819-80), was in fact a woman writing under a pseudonym.
From 1880 known as Mary Ann Cross, the name that appears on her memorial, she first used the name ‘George Eliot’ in 1857.
‘George’ was the name of her partner, the critic George Henry Lewes (1817-78) whom she was buried alongside in Highgate Cemetery, and she chose ‘Eliot’ because it was ‘a good mouth-filling, easily pronounced word’.
Her denial of Christian faith and her irregular life meant that she was not buried in Westminster Abbey, but her greatness was finally recognised with the erection of a plaque there on the centenary of her death in 1980.
Close by Eliot and Lewes at Highgate are a number of their friends and associates, such as the publisher John Chapman (1821-94), diarist Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867), and secularist George Holyoake (1817-1906).