Except for his long, devoted, but unmarried liaison with Marian Evans, ‘George Eliot’, George Henry Lewes is little known nowadays. Rosemary Ashton’s thorough and well-written new biography recalls him as a considerable figure in the world of Victorian letters, adding a good deal to what we know of him from biographies and editions of George Eliot. This is a considerable achievement when there are great chunks of his early life for which very little is known of his activities. Autobiographical clues – used with due caution – have had to be picked up from his fiction, and the world of the self-taught, ill-paid aspiring journalist and essayist is skilfully recaptured.
Few of Lewes’s own papers have been preserved prior to his meeting with George Eliot in 1851, and not much is known of his wife Agnes, with whom he lived in an ‘open’ marriage that resulted in five children to him, followed by four to his friend Thornton Hunt. This