In 1853 Marian Evans became the wife of George Henry Lewes. He had married at an early ago a woman possessed of many charms of person. They went to live in a large house at Kensington with five other young couples, keeping house on a co-operative arrangement, with many attractions of social entertainment therewith. One result was the desertion of her home by Mrs. Lewes in connection with one of the men into whose company she was constantly thrown by this manner of life. She soon repented, and Lewes forgave her, receiving her back to his home. A second time, however, she left him. His having condoned her fault made it impossible for him to secure a divorce according to the laws of England at that time. He seems to have done what he could to retain her faithful devotion to her marriage relations, so long as that seemed possible.
When Lewes and Marian Evans met, on her going to live in London, and after his wife had deserted him, there sprang up a strong attachment between them, As they could not be legally married, she agreed to live with him without that formality.
It is to be said of this affair that George Eliot was very far from looking at such a problem as Goethe or, George Sand would have looked at it, from the position of personal inclination. Yet we are told by Miss Blind that she early entertained liberal views in regard to divorce, believing that greater freedom in this respect is desirable. There could have been no passionate individualistic defiance of law in her case, however. No one has insisted more strongly than she on the importance and the sanctity of the social regulations in regard to the union of the sexes. That her marriage was a true one in all but the legal form, that she was faithful to its every social obligation, has been abundantly shown. She was a most faithful wife to Lewes, and the devoted mother of his three children by the previous marriage, while she found in him that strong, self-reliant helpmate she needed.
Her marriage under these circumstances required no little individualism of purpose, and some defiance of social obligations. Her intimate friends were unable to comprehend her conduct, and she was alienated from most of them. Especially her friends in Coventry were annoyed at such a marriage, and were not reconciled with her for a long time, and not until they saw that she had acted with a conscientious purpose. She was excluded from society by this act, and her marriage was interpreted as a gross violation of social morality. To a sensitive nature, as hers assuredly was, and to one who so much valued the confidence of her friends as she did, such exclusion must have been a serious cross. She freely elected her own course in life, however, and she never seems to have complained at the results it brought her. That it saddened her mind seems probable, but there is no outward evidence that she accepted her lot in a bitter or complaining spirit. No one could have written of love and marriage in so high and pure a spirit as everywhere appears in her books with whom passion was in any degree a controlling influence. In Adam Bede her own conception of wedded love is expressed out of the innermost convictions and impulses of her own heart, when she exclaims,—