The Man Who Claimed To Be George Eliot

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
George Eliot aka Mary Ann Evans

In 1857, when she was 37 years old , Mary Ann Evans started to use her pen name George Eliot when she published in Blackwood’s Magazine the three stories later included in “Scenes of Clerical Life”.
In a letter Evans sent to her publisher William Blackwood, at that time unaware of her true identity, she suggested using the name George Eliot in place of her own, in order to conceal the gender of the author. Eliot assured him that the pen name was necessary to employ ‘as a tub to throw to the whale in case of curious enquiries’, that is to create a diversion so as to avoid unpleasant situations.
At that time a woman’s name on a book cover led readers to assume it was a frivolous or a Gothic story, suitable for a female readers only. Instead she wanted her work to be taken seriously, and to be read by men as well as women.

The book was well received, and was widely believed to have been written by a country parson, or a man who knew well that fictionalised North Warwickshire where the stories were set.
The acute caricatures of the folk of that particular area suggested that the author had a deep local knowledge.

Two years later, when she published “Adam Bede”, her first complete novel, set again in a rural, pastoral, and close-knit community, she used the same pseudonym.
The book was an immediate success and was recognised as a significant literary work. Once more the readers from North Warwickshire were eager to know not only if they appeared in in the book but also who stood behind it. Certainly someone living in the area because only a local person could have such an intimate knowledge
They were sure that it would not take them long to identify George Eliot. The region was not full of literary talents, and even literacy was hardly common.
Their suspicions fell upon Joseph Liggins, a man from Attleborough, who had attended university even though he had not completed his degree, and had also written for a newspaper before returning to Attleborough where was working as a private tutor for some wealthy families
There was no one else. So one day, the local intellectuals decided to confront him.
He did not discourage the idea, feeling rather flattered to be identified with such an acclaimed author, and finally he was prompted to confess that he was the mysterious George Eliot.
But then a question arose: if he had become a great author, then why was he leading such a humble life? Was William Blackwood not paying him?
Therefore letters began to appear in newspapers, even on the Times, harshly criticizing the stingy publisher.
It was at this point that Mary Ann Evans’s life took an unexpected turn and she felt obliged to reveal herself as the true author.
She had been born in North Warwickshire but had left it for Coventry, and then for London, some years before. That’s why she knew the area.
Nevertheless, some people were still puzzled: she was simply a woman, surely not capable of such great writing.
This was exactly the reason why she had decided to use a male pseudonym. A further reason was that she wanted to hide her irregular social position, since she was living with a married man, i.e. philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes (see here). As expected, the revelations about her compromising social position surprised and shocked many of her admiring readers, but this did not affect her popularity as a writer. She was even a favourite novelist of Queen Victoria. However some time would pass before the couple were accepted into polite society.

And Liggins? Always poor, exposed as a scammer, he was abandoned by those who had supported him.
He plunged back into obscurity and oblivion and died, not mourned by anyone, in the Nuneaton workhouse.

L’uomo che sosteneva di essere George Eliot

“Non è mai troppo tardi per essere chi avresti potuto essere”
(George Eliot, cioè Mary Anne Evans)

Nel 1857, all’età di 37 anni, Mary Ann Evans iniziò a usare lo pseudonimo George Eliot quando pubblicò nel Blackwood’s Magazine le tre storie incluse poi in “Scenes of Clerical Life”.
In una lettera inviata da Evans al suo editore William Blackwood, ancora ignaro della sua vera identità, suggerì usare il nome George Eliot al posto del proprio, per nasconderne il sesso. Eliot lo assicurò che lo pseudonimo sarebbe stato utile “come una vasca da lanciare alla balena in caso di curiosità”, cioè per creare un diversivo in modo da evitare situazioni spiacevoli.
A quel tempo il nome di una donna sulla copertina di un libro faceva supporre ai lettori che si trattasse di un romanzo frivolo o gotico, adatto solo alle lettrici. Invece lei voleva fermamente che il suo lavoro fosse preso sul serio e letto sia da uomini che da donne.

Il libro venne accolto favorevolmente e si credette che fosse stato scritto da un parroco di campagna, o da un uomo che conoscesse bene l’immaginario North Warwickshire dove erano ambientate le storie.
Le pungenti caricature della gente di quella particolare zona suggerivano che l’autore avesse una profonda conoscenza della realtà locale.

Due anni dopo, quando pubblicò “Adam Bede”, il suo primo romanzo completo, ancora ambientato in una comunità rurale ben compatta, utilizzò lo stesso pseudonimo
Il libro ebbe un successo immediato e è venne riconosciuto come un’opera letteraria di valore. Ancora una volta i lettori del North Warwickshire erano ansiosi di sapere non solo se comparivano nel libro ma anche chine era il vero autore. Sicuramente qualcuno che viveva nella zona perché solo una persona del posto avrebbe potuto averne una conoscenza così intima.
Erano sicuri che non ci sarebbe voluto molto a identificare George Eliot. La regione non aveva grandi talenti letterari, persino l’alfabetizzazione era rara.
I loro sospetti caddero su Joseph Liggins, un uomo di Attleborough, che aveva frequentato l’università, anche se non l’aveva completata, e aveva anche scritto per un giornale prima di tornare ad Attleborough dove lavorava come insegnante privato per alcune famiglie benestanti
Non c’era nessun altro. Così un giorno gli intellettuali locali decisero di parlargli.
Lui non li dissuase, piuttosto lusingato dall’ essere identificato con un autore così acclamato, e alla fine fu spinto a confessare di essere lui il misterioso George Eliot.
Allora sorse una domanda: se era diventato un grande autore, allora perché allora viveva in modo così povero? William Blackwood non lo pagava?
Cominciarono così ad apparire lettere sui giornali, anche sul Times, in cui l’avaro editore veniva aspramente criticato.
Fu a questo punto che la vita di Mary Ann Evans prese una svolta e lei si sentì obbligata a rivelarsi come la vera autrice.
Era nata nel North Warwickshire ma l’aveva lasciato per Coventry, e poi per Londra, alcuni anni prima. Ecco perché aveva una profonda conoscenza di quei luoghi.
Tuttavia, alcuni restavano perplessi: quella era semplicemente una donna, certo non capace di una tale opera.
Questo era proprio il motivo per cui aveva deciso di usare quello pseudonimo maschile, a cui andava aggiunto un ulteriore motivo: voleva celare la sua irregolare posizione sociale, poiché conviveva con un uomo sposato, il filosofo e critico George Henry Lewes (vedi qui). Infatti le rivelazioni su quella situazione compromettente sorpresero e scioccarono molti dei suoi lettori, anche se ciò non influì minimamente sulla sua popolarità come scrittrice. Pensate che era persino la scrittrice preferita della regina Vittoria! Tuttavia sarebbe trascorso un po’ di tempo prima che la coppia fosse accettata in società.

E Liggins? Sempre più povero, smascherato come truffatore, fu abbandonato da chi lo aveva sostenuto.
Ripiombò nell’oscurità e nell’oblio e morì, non compianto da nessuno, nell’ospizio di Nuneaton.

62 thoughts on “The Man Who Claimed To Be George Eliot

    1. In Italy we have a proverb saying: “Il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi.” (The devil makes the pots but not the lids.)
      If one decides to do something dishonest or evil (like the devil), something always happens to foil the plan and the truth sooner or later comes out

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Scopro Mary Ann ancor più avantissima!
    GRAZIE Luisa!
    Su Liggins il velo è già calato, inutile infierire … anche se …
    Piuttosto pensavo che anche in tempi molto meno lontani in fondo la Rowling ha trasformato il suo vero nome in J.K. più o meno per lo stesso motivo …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, love this story of George Eliot, especially before Thanksgiving when the title of the book “Far From The Madding Crowd” is what I am thinking of, trying to prevent myself from going anywhere on Black Friday.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Che storia !!! Ci si stupisce tanto ai giorni nostri di vicende etc., ma anche un tempo c’erano ugualmente gli imbroglioni. Tutt’oggi è soltanto la storia che si ripete e credo che si sia sempre ripetuta, cambiano le modalità perchè cambiano le epoche la differenza se così vogliamo chiamarla, è soltanto questa. Buona serata cara Luisa 😘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. wonderful ..wish you a blessed day ahead of you may all your wishes and prayers being answered by God amen……I am so sorry for stumbling into your comment box without no permission from you I didn’t meant to intrude into your comments i found truth in your comments cause not everyone is able to express the truth cause we are all afraid forgetting we are the government your words that attracted me to reply 🙏.. Keep on saying the truth is encouraging not everyone will agree cause the truth is always bitter if will say the truth it will always set us free… Wish you a long life with you and and your family amen .. please reply to my comments

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It doesn’t seem like that long ago in history that women weren’t encouraged to learn to read or write and that they hid under male personas. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is quite surprising to know that George Eliot was a woman novelist . It also denote the condition of women writers in olden days . To become a popular writer she pretended to be a woman . There existed a very miserable condition of a woman in North Warwickshire that time . Was there a phase in the history of the human society when liking and disliking of one’s literary works depended on one’s gender ? If we looked at your blog , we get the answer as ‘yes’ . Thanks !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately I must say that, reading the various comments that were added to this post, I can deduce that even today it is sometimes difficult for a woman to have her qualities fully recognized in the field of art or literature.
      Thank you for your thorough comment!

      Like

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