George Eliot’s Bastards

  • Gordon S. Haight


Sweeping the field for information, a biographer inevitably turns up occasional bits of scandal. Lady Colefax, who was a famous collector of gossip, once told me some fascinating anecdotes about George Eliot, which had been going the rounds at the turn of the century. Among them was one I could easily refute: that George Eliot had had a son by John Chapman, who was educated at Edinburgh. This boy, born years before she ever saw Chapman, was Lewes’s son Thornton, who spent two years at the High School there. But bastards figure in all but one of George Eliot’s books. In ‘Amos Barton’ Miss Fodge is the mother of the sniffling seven-year-old in the Shepperton workhouse. In Adam Bede there is Hetty’s child — whether a girl or a boy we never learn. Lawyer Wakem in The Mill on the Floss ‘had other sons besides Philip, but towards them he held only a chiaroscuro parentage, and provided for them in a grade of life duly beneath his own’. His favourite, who takes over Dorlcote Mill, is well named Jetsome. Harold Transome in Felix Holt is the son of Matthew Jermyn, another lawyer, whose own parentage is dubious, untraced before charity school and workhouse. In Middlemarch Featherstone’s bastard, the frog-faced Joshua Rigg, makes an ill-matched pair with his florid step-father Raffles.


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  1. This essay first appeared in George Eliot: A Centenary Tribute, ed. G. S. Haight and Rosemary T. VanArsdel (London: Macmillan, 1981) pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Charles Gibbon, The Life of George Combe, 2 vols (London, 1878); The Dictionary of National Biography. Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Charles Bray, Phases of Opinion and Experience during a Long Life: An Autobiography (London, [1885]) p. 9.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The George Eliot Letters, ed. G. S. Haight, 9 vols (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1954–78) vol. i, pp. 172–218.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Eric Sams and Julian Moore, ‘Cryptanalysis and Historical Research’, The Times Literary Supplement, 4 March 1977, p. 253.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mary N. Haight 1992

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  • Gordon S. Haight

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