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  • Published: 2 July 2024
  • ISBN: 9780141992945
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $26.99

The Marriage Question

George Eliot's Double Life

An exceptional new biography that shows how George Eliot wrestled with the question of marriage, in art and life

When she was in her mid-thirties, Marian Evans transformed herself into George Eliot - an author celebrated for her genius as soon as she published her debut novel. During those years she also found her life partner, George Lewes - writer, philosopher and married father of three. After 'eloping' to Berlin in 1854 they lived together for twenty-four years: Eliot asked people to call her 'Mrs Lewes' and dedicated each novel to her 'Husband'. Though they could not legally marry, she felt herself initiated into the 'great experience' of marriage - 'this double life, which helps me to feel and think with double strength'. The relationship scandalized her contemporaries yet she grew immeasurably within it. Living at once inside and outside marriage, Eliot could experience this form of life - so familiar yet also so perplexing - from both sides.

  • Published: 2 July 2024
  • ISBN: 9780141992945
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $26.99

Also by Clare Carlisle

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Praise for The Marriage Question

The Marriage Question already has the stamp of a classic and is bound to enter the canon of great biographies. I was amazed by the clarity of Clare Carlisle's language; she deals with the most complex ideas with miraculous ease. It was a delight to read while at the same time being deeply thought-provoking. I'm already looking forward to reading this magnificent book again.

Celia Paul

Clare Carlisle brings the work of perhaps our finest English novelist into a brilliant new light. This book manages to be both engrossing and rigorous, inhabiting an intimate and expansive vision of creativity and the lived life. Following the pulsing and ever-vital questions of love, desire, compromise and companionship, The Marriage Question is both a thrilling work on Eliot and a probing, illuminating reflection on modern love.

Seán Hewitt

perceptive and suggestive ... Carlisle ... vividly ... emphasises the astonishing range of Eliot's erudition and traces, in particular, her alignment with a trajectory that leads from Goethe to Hegel, Comte and Darwin ... a richly considered study that brings one close to the heart and mind of a great writer and a wise soul.

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph

scholarly and thoughtful

Susie Goldsbrough, The Times

In this thrilling book, the academic philosopher Clare Carlisle explores the novelist's interrogation of "the double life", meaning not only Eliot's own 25 years of unsanctioned coupledom with Lewes, but also the difficult love relationships she unleashed on her heroines ... Carlisle offers no single and reductive answer because, of course, there isn't one. Instead, she points to the way that Eliot's response to the challenges of living and loving was always plural and protean, always on the point of taking on shimmering new shapes and dimensions. ... Carlisle speaks of wanting to employ biography as philosophical inquiry and here she succeeds magnificently. With great skill and delicacy she has filleted details from Eliot's own life, read closely into her wonderful novels and, most importantly, considered the wider philosophical background in which she was operating.

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

richly layered and absorbing ... Carlisle explores several kinds of "doubleness" that her subject kept in play throughout her life ... Carlisle conveys the fruits of her studies and reflection with a light, sometimes even lyrical touch ... As Clare Carlisle has shown, balancing breadth of knowledge with an emphatic close reading of her subject's life and work, Eliot's greatness - her continuing relevance - needs no special pleading

Jacqueline Banerjee, Times Literary Supplement

Finally, Eliot has got the biographer she deserves, namely an ardent and eloquent feminist philosopher who shows us how and why Eliot's books, rightly read, are as philosophically profound as any treatise written by a man.

Stuart Jeffries, Observer

Clare Carlisle's The Marriage Question is the best book I've read on George Eliot.

John Carey, Sunday Times

gripping and insightful ... A brilliant aspect of this book is that Carlisle takes us deep into the world of each of Eliot's novels, reminding us what masterpieces they are.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Daily Mail

a new biography by Clare Carlisle, in which for the first time Eliot is placed properly in her full intellectual context, elucidating the ideas of her time in beautifully accessible prose. ... Carlisle's magisterial book has many facets to it: biographical, philosophical, literary. But as its title suggests, it's also about the theme of marriage, and Carlisle takes the reader into fascinating territory with the doubleness of Eliot's life. ... The Marriage Question is a splendid addition to the Eliot biographical canon ... a book that triumphantly enlarges our understanding of its subject, and of her time.

Kathy O’Shaughnessy, Financial Times

Clare Carlisle's principal achievement in The Marriage Question-a richly textured and absorbing biographical study-is to reveal how, over the course of her novels, essays and poetry, George Eliot systematically built a secular philosophy that concerned itself with morality. ... Carlisle moves from novel to novel, subjecting them to the exacting lens of philosophy. Her chapter on Middlemarch-the masterpiece of Eliot's middle life-is a dazzler ... Carlisle's intense, empathetic study reflects Eliot back to us, echoes her and rises up to meet her in order to give Eliot her philosophical due.

Marina Benjamin, Prospect

Eloquent and original . . . [Carlisle] combines a biographer’s eye for stories with a philosopher’s nose for questions . . . Masterly and enriching . . . The ideal historian will need great tact and an impious curiosity. Carlisle has both.

James Wood, The New Yorker

Carlisle conveys [Eliot's] shades of emotion and temperament while expertly charting both the intellectual and artistic development of her subject and the dramas that beset Eliot’s personal life. With formidable erudition and insight, this sympathetic author paints her own memorable portrait of the soft-spoken woman who quietly revolutionized the English novel—and who scandalized society by never marrying her husband . . . [Carlisle] shrewdly illuminates Eliot’s consciousness and, in turn, her fiction.

Anna Mundow, The Wall Street Journal

Careful but impassioned . . . [Carlisle's biography] is different in its close focus on an idea: that the titular institution shaped Eliot’s identity and work . . . One need not have read all [Eliot's] works to appreciate The Marriage Question, but, in the most meta sense, it is an ideal companion volume.

Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times

A richly textured and absorbing biographical study Carlisle’s intense, empathetic study reflects Eliot back to us, echoes her and rises up to meet her in order to give Eliot her philosophical due.

Marina Benjamin, Prospect

a fascinating new biography ... Carlisle is an empathetic and ambitious interpreter. She delves beneath the surface of marriage in Eliot's novels, finding a world that hums with big questions - about "desire, freedom, selfhood, change, morality, happiness, belief, the mystery of other minds."

Ann Hulbert, The Atlantic

Carlisle’s portrait draws on a vast field of material ... an absorbing and surprising portrait of the emotional life of an author I thought I knew well ... Carlisle’s perspective is original and fruitful, and The Marriage Question shines both as a biography and as an inquiry into the "moral stakes of marriage." Its pleasures are anything but superficial.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly, O'Reilley Review

A luminously warm and intelligent reading of the courageous life, writing and philosophy of the 19th century’s wisest novelist.

Telegraph, Books of the Year

A study of the novelist through her intellectual and moral preoccupations that carves out a space between biography and literary criticism in a most satisfying way. Carlisle is a philosopher and reads Eliot like an expert witness, recreating her dynamic, ambitious reading and lifelong commitment to intellectual growth and showing its impact in and out of the novels. It finds another layer of Eliot to contemplate and admire, and is thoroughly absorbing.

Claire Harman, Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year

A luminously warm and intelligent reading ... As subtle and silent as a Dutch still life ... Beautifully balancing literary interpretation with biographical and philosophical reflection, Carlisle explores the gamble of yoking your happiness to 'the open-endedness of another human being'.

Telegraph Books of the Year