A review by Nalini Haynes
In Love with George Eliot is a glorious debut novel that tells the compelling story of England’s greatest woman novelist as you’ve never read it before. She has shocked polite society, and women rarely deign to visit her. In secret, though, she has begun writing fiction under the pseudonym George Eliot. — Scribe Publications.
George Eliot is a still-famous 19th century author, best known for her novel Middlemarch. Her name is Mary Ann Evans Lewis. Due to a patriarchal society oppressing women, Evans took the pseudonym George Eliot. O’Shaughnessy fell in love with George Eliot as a teenager, which romance results in this historical fiction. She takes historical records, including direct quotes from diaries and letters, and embeds them within this historical fiction retelling of Mary Ann Evans’s life.
The story follows Mary Ann Evans from her hapless love affairs where she’s one of a harem to her long-term de facto relationship with Lewis to her post-Lewis life. A woman with a fierce intellect, she is compelling to her contemporaries and contemporary readers. Her alleged ugliness is interesting, especially when positioned alongside those vying for her attentions both intellectual and intimate.
Intimate relationships, both straight and queer
It appears that Lewis, Mary Ann’s ‘husband’ of many years, may have been unfaithful to her. Society accepted men’s infidelity while frowning upon women’s ‘indiscretions’. However, this is Mary Ann’s story, not Lewis’s. This unconventional marriage appears to set the stage for a lesbian love affair until quotes from diaries disperse this erroneous assumption. I confess to a modicum of disappointment. And yet, O’Shaughnessy is being faithful to historical records… I rest assured that somewhere someone will write fanfic where Mary Anne’s romantic life is more (or less?) interesting and yet ends in a more fulfilling manner.
The end of this novel is fully embedded in historical records. With this understanding, the end is, if nothing else, a warning to women regarding our vulnerable position in the patriarchy.
I fell in love with In Love With George Eliot. It is an insightful historical novel, revealing the social dynamics and hypocrisies of the era. Evans’s suffering at the barbs and venal vengeances of her era is a panacea to those of us who are outsiders in this present era. What I interpreted as foreshadowing of a lesbian romance disappointed. In Love with George Eliot gains potency with the knowledge my hopes were crushed just as Evans crushed her suitors’ hopes.
The ending is somewhat tragic but this, too, is based on careful research. O’Shaughnessy is quick to point out some of the fictional elements of her novel to emphasise the fictional component, a tactic that earns my deepest respect. (My interview of O’Shaughnessy is here.) I thoroughly enjoyed In Love With George Eliot and highly recommend this historical fiction. 5 out of 5 stars.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN (13): 9781925849103
Imprint: Scribe Publications
Format: paperback, pp. 400
Category: historical fiction