This is a letter from the novelist George Eliot to her friend Emilia Francis Pattison. The letter offers a glimpse into the creative and intellectual partnership that Eliot enjoyed with her ‘husband’ George Henry Lewes (the two never actually married). Eliot writes that she has ‘been reading Mr. Lewes’s Manuscript … it is a holiday to sit with one’s feet at the fire reading one’s husband’s writing – at least when, like mine, he allows me to differ from him’. She concludes the letter by remarking, ‘I hope we are not the happiest people in the world, but we must be among the happiest.’

At the time that Eliot wrote the letter, the final part of her novel Middlemarch had just been published.

Lewes’s influence on Eliot

George Henry Lewes was a philosopher, scientist and critic. In 1872, he was working on what would become The Problems of Life and Mind, and it is likely that this is the manuscript to which Eliot refers. The Problems of Life and Mind was a multi-volume work in which Lewes attempted to explain the relationship between psychology and physiology. Eliot prepared the last two volumes for publication after Lewes’s death.        

Lewes and Eliot were deeply involved in one another’s writing and research, and Lewes’s scientific work had a tremendous effect on Eliot’s writing and thought. Science informs the language and imagery of Middlemarch, and is the passion of two of its characters, the surgeon Lydgate and the amateur naturalist Farebrother.

Emilia Francis Pattison

Emilia Francis Pattison (1840-1904; known as Francis and later, Lady Dilke), was a writer, critic and advocate of women’s rights. At the time of this letter, she was married to Mark Pattison, a priest and Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. Francis was some 20 years younger than George Eliot, but the two had a close relationship and wrote to one another regularly. 

Francis was also much younger than her scholar husband, and very religious. Their marriage was not a happy one, and when Middlemarch was first published, there was speculation that she was the model for Dorothea Brooke.