Letter from Isaac Evans to George Eliot, congratulating her on her marriage


Isaac Evans wrote this letter to his sister, the novelist George Eliot, to congratulate her on her recent marriage to John Cross. At the time of writing, Eliot was 60 and Isaac three years older. 

The letter ended the silence between Isaac and Eliot that had lasted over two decades. Isaac had cut off communication with Eliot in 1857, when he heard that she was living with George Henry Lewes outside marriage (Eliot and Lewes could not marry because Lewes was already married to another woman, whom he could not divorce). The couple lived together until Lewes’s death in 1878. Eliot’s subsequent marriage to John Cross, on 6 May 1880, made her respectable in Isaac’s eyes. However, the marriage only lasted seven months: Eliot died in December 1880.

Making amends

The tone of Isaac’s letter is both formal and conciliatory. He mentions the ‘long silence’ between him and his sister but puts greater emphasis on the ‘pleasure’ he takes in breaking it. His congratulations are ‘sincere’, he wishes her ‘happiness and comfort’ in the ‘happy event’ of her marriage, and sends ‘kind love and every good wish’ from himself and his family. In her reply, dated 26 May 1880, Eliot echoes his use of the phrase ‘long silence’ to refer to the breakdown in their relations. She too writes in conciliatory mode, saying that she has always retained ‘the affection for you which began when we were little ones’.

Autobiography and The Mill on the Floss

Eliot used her own childhood as inspiration for the early part of The Mill on the Floss and the relationship between its two protagonists. Like Tom and Maggie Tulliver, Isaac and Mary Anne Evans (Eliot’s birth name) had a close but troubled relationship as children. As adults, their differences were accentuated by their different lifestyles: Isaac took over his father’s role as agent of the estate in Warwickshire where he and Eliot grew up, while Eliot pursued a literary career in London. Isaac’s disapproval of his sister living with a man outside marriage, and his uncompromising response, are echoed in Tom Tulliver’s reaction to Maggie’s unconventional choices.

In her reply to Isaac’s letter, Eliot expresses the hope that ‘your health is quite good now & that you are able to enjoy the active life which I know you are fond of'. Her reference to Isaac enjoying ‘the active life’ recalls Tom Tulliver’s preference for outdoor pursuits and practical activity over scholarship.

Full title:
Letter from Isaac Evans to George Eliot
17 May 1880
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Isaac Evans
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add MS 58436

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Realism and research in Adam Bede

Article by:
Rohan Maitzen
The novel 1832–1880

In Adam Bede, George Eliot sets out her commitment to realism as a literary genre – a commitment she would continue to develop over the course of her career. Dr Rohan Maitzen explains how detailed research and Eliot’s own experience fed into the realist project, enabling her to express her beliefs about religion, sympathy and understanding.

George Eliot's women

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes
The novel 1832–1880

Why do so few of George Eliot’s female characters fulfil their potential? Professor Kathryn Hughes considers Eliot’s attitudes towards women’s rights, education and place in society, and how she expresses these in her novels.

The Mill on the Floss as bildungsroman

Article by:
Rohan Maitzen
The novel 1832–1880

Dr Rohan Maitzen explores how George Eliot uses education, literature and her own experience in The Mill on the Floss to subvert the traditional bildungsroman, or novel of development.

Related collection items

Related works

Mill on the Floss

Created by: George Eliot

A sibling relationship is at the heart of George Eliot’s (1819-1880) semi-autobiographical novel, published in ...