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Commentary by Contemporaries

An understanding of how George Eliot’s contemporaries were reading and responding to her published works helps us appreciate her reach, her fame, and her historical significance. To browse or sort within this section, start by selecting Life or Works.

Contemporaries on Life

In this section, you will find assessments of Eliot’s life by her contemporaries—everything from brief commentary in periodicals to book-length biographies. Obituary notices are well represented, including several later tributes written by famous authors whose own work was influenced by Eliot’s, including Henry James and Virginia Woolf. Most significant is the biography written by her husband, John Walter Cross, which includes many of Eliot's letters and journal entries. Reviews of Cross’s biography are collected here for the first time.

It is interesting to note how often early biographical sketches included incorrect information. We retain these, of course, for the benefit of comparison and the historical interest of these records.

Contemporaries on Works

In this section, you will find commentary on Eliot's works published in periodicals during and shortly beyond her lifetime. The George Eliot Archive offers far more reviews and commentary on Eliot's works than any print volume. For example, we've curated forty reviews of Middlemarch alone, approximately twice as many as previously identified.

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We are indebted to preceding editors of print collections for pointing the way to the original sources of many of these contemporary reviews and articles. We began by finding the original reviews listed in David Carroll's The Critical Heritage (1971) and Stuart Hutchinson's Critical Assessments (1996) and then began searching for the sources referenced in the work of K. K. Collins, George Eliot: Interviews and Recollections (2010), which was especially helpful.

From there we began to scour the databases for reviews and articles referencing George Eliot, including Google Books, HathiTrust, Gale News Vault, 19thC Periodicals, Chronicling America, TROVE, British Newspaper Archive, British Newspapers Online, British Library Newspapers, Newspaper.com, NewspaperArchive, and others. Our collection was made possible by those who have digitized periodicals and made them searchable across many databases.

As we continue to discover more commentary by George Eliot's contemporaries, we will add it here, either under the "Works" or the "Life" tab, or, in some cases, under both. Over the summer of 2020, we have been able to process and publish more than 500 new documents.

If you are searching for a particular document about George Eliot (anything in the public domain published prior to 1925) and don't find it, please send a note to Dr. Beverley Rilett, brilett2@unl.edu.