ELIOT, George (1819-1880)
Plaque erected in 1905 by London County Council at Holly Lodge, 31 Wimbledon Park Road, Wimbledon, London SW18 5SJ, London Borough of Wandsworth
"GEORGE ELIOT" Novelist Lived Here
The first blue plaque erected south of the Thames was to the novelist George Eliot. One of the greatest writers of her time, Eliot was living at Holly Lodge, 31 Wimbledon Park Road, Wandsworth, when she wrote The Mill on the Floss (1860).
CRITIC AND NOVELIST
Born Mary Anne Evans in Warwickshire, George Eliot – as she would later become known – moved to London in 1851 to work as assistant editor of the Westminster Review. She got to know many literary figures, including Thomas Carlyle, and became well-known for her incisive articles on subjects as diverse as literature, science, philosophy and theology.
She assumed the pseudonym George Eliot in 1857 when she published her first piece of fiction, the short story ‘Amos Barton’. A pseudonym suited her desire for anonymity, but offered protection for another reason. Since 1854 she had been widely shunned for living openly with the writer and critic George Henry Lewes (1817–78), a married man who was unable to obtain a divorce from his estranged wife.
Eliot’s anonymity didn’t last long, however. Her first novel, Adam Bede, caused a sensation on its publication in February 1859 and, tired of the intense speculation surrounding the author’s identity, she revealed her real name in June of the same year.
It was at the time of Adam Bede’s publication that Eliot and Lewes moved to Holly Lodge, a mid-19th-century semi-detached brick house in Wandsworth. She had already begun work on The Mill on the Floss, and completed it at Holly Lodge in March 1860. It was published the following month.
Holly Lodge remained their home from February 1859 until September 1860. Initially Eliot expected to be there ‘for years to come’, describing the house to her friend Sara Hennell as:
very comfortable, with far more of vulgar indulgences in it than I ever expected to have again; but you must not imagine it a snug place, just peeping above the holly bushes. Imagine it rather as a tall cake, with a low garnish of holly and laurel.
However, Eliot soon became discontented. In the face of new-found success, she felt Holly Lodge to be overlooked by ‘houses full of eyes’, and found its situation ‘inconvenient’. By late September 1860 she and Lewes had moved to Marylebone, and in 1863 they bought The Priory, a large house near Regent’s Park (now demolished).
Eliot gradually became accepted in London society once more, and at The Priory entertained famous guests such as Charles Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Henry James and Frederic Leighton. James described ‘the great G.E.’ as ‘both sweet and superior’ with ‘a delightful expression in her large, long, pale equine face’. By the time her sixth novel, Middlemarch, appeared in 1871–2, she was established as one of the leading novelists of the day.
A couple of years after Lewes’s death in 1878, Eliot married her friend John Walter Cross and moved to 4 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. She died there a few months later on 22 December 1880, and a second plaque to Eliot was erected at the house in 1949.