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Reviews95 Rosemary Ashton. G.H.Lewes. A Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.£25.00 US (cloth). It is surprising to realize that Rosemary Ashton's is the first major biography of George Henry Lewes (1817 - 1878), who was in his own right a man of considerable accomplishment as an author, as well as George EUot's Ufecompanion and Uterary advisor. Previously, he has been seen as the person responsible for encouraging and nurturing EUot's talent at the expense of attention to his own. The late Gordon S. Haight, world-renowned expert on EUot, author of the definitive biography, and editor of the 9-volume George Eliot Letters, always maintained that Lewes was an interesting enough character to warrant an independent biography. Haight would be well pleased with the portrait Ashton has painted, one that is at once scholarly, original, and deeply understanding. At the outset Ashton faced enormous chaUenges: first, of disentangling her interpretation of Lewes from aU the work on George EUot that had gone before; second, the inevitable comparisons with Haight's earUer distinguished and definitive biography of EUot; and, third, of uncovering missing material on Lewes's education and background, which had never been thoroughly researched, and of accounting for his unusual fluency in French and other European languages. Because she has been so successful on the third count, this has aUowed her to succeed on the other two. The biography is divided into three sections. In the first she uses much new archival material to estabUsh two things: first, the fuU extent of Lewes's early bohemianism; and second, the considerable achievements of his early Uterary career. Ashton establishes for the first time that Lewes was the iUegitimate son of John Lee Lewes, a one-time military man and later a customs official at Bermuda, who sired four children by his wife and three by his mistress, Elizabeth Ashweek, Lewes's mother. The biography established that the family spent much time in France, chiefly at Bolougne to economize; consequently, Lewes acquired a grasp of the French language and culture which never left him and allowed him later to pioneer as a journalist writing on French authors. Ashton's research also aUows her to give a much more detailed account of Lewes's formative years after leaving school at about age sixteen. Gravitating toward London, he first attempted medical school; later he began efforts at fiction and at estabUshing himself as a journalist. He moved in the social circle surrounding the ageing Leigh Hunt which offered him miscellaneous contacts with London Uterary Ufe and introduced him to other poor but aspiring young men, including his son, Thornton Hunt. Lewes wanted to do a biography of Shelley and cultivated Hunt for his personal 96Victorian Review reminiscences of the poet. It may very weU be that it was Hunt who introduced him to Agnes Jervis, the woman who became his wife in 1841. ' Lewes was known to have Uberal views on the sanctity of the marriage vow and he and Agnes had an "open" arrangement whereby each was free to look elsewhere. There were rumors that Lewes had seduced a secretary and had a child by her, and that he had seduced a maid on his wedding night, in addition to performing his duty with Agnes. By 1850 it was open knowledge that the Leweses had close ties to a communal group, known as the HuntGUdden group, which shared a house in Bayswater; it was also known that Lewes and Thornton Hunt "shared" the favors of Agnes. In fact, Agnes was kept busy having children for nearly two decades: four by Lewes between 1841 and 1848, and four by Hunt, 1850 - 1857. The early years of his marriage were also very productive, professionaUy, for young Lewes. Although virtuaUy without money, family influence, or university connections, he nonetheless began to buUd a career for himself in journaUsm based largely on his familiarity with European Uterature. He wrote for the Foreign Quarterly Review, the British and Foreign Review, the Monthly Magazine (particularly on Balzac and George Sand, of whom he was a devotee), and the Westminster and Edinburgh reviews. Ashton remarks: "Showing remarkable energy and versatility, Lewes pubUshed articles during...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 95-98
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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