From a letter to Cara Bray. Born Mary Ann Evans, the author of Middlemarch moved in with the married writer George Henry Lewes in 1854. The decision to live openly as man and wife shocked their acquaintances, and she found herself no longer accepted in mixed society. “Because they were not respectable, they were spared the burdens of respectability,” wrote the author Phyllis Rose. “Her work and her intimacy with Lewes were most important; both were served by being cut off from the world.” Encouraged by Lewes, she first took up writing fiction in 1856, electing to use a pen name in part because of her dubious social standing.
If there is any one action or relation of my life which is, and always has been, profoundly serious, it is my relation to Mr. Lewes.
It is, however, natural enough that you should mistake me in many ways, for not only are you unacquainted with Mr. Lewes’ real character and the course of his actions but also it is several years now since you and I were much together, and it is possible that the modifications my mind has undergone may be quite in the opposite direction of what you imagine. No one can be better aware than yourself that it is possible for two people to hold different opinions on momentous subjects with equal sincerity, and an equally earnest conviction that their respective opinions are alone the truly moral ones. If we differ on the subject of the marriage laws, I at least can believe of you that you cleave to what you believe to be good; and I don’t know of anything in the nature of your views that should prevent you from believing the same of me. How far we differ I think we neither of us know, for I am ignorant of your precise views; and apparently you attribute to me both feelings and opinions which are not mine. We cannot set each other quite right in this matter in letters, but one thing I can tell you in few words.
Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done. That any unworldly, unsuperstitious person who is sufficiently acquainted with the realities of life can pronounce my relation to Mr. Lewes immoral I can only understand by remembering how subtle and complex are the influences that mold opinion. But I do remember this: and I indulge in no arrogant or uncharitable thoughts about those who condemn us, even though we might have expected a somewhat different verdict.
From the majority of persons, of course, we never looked for anything but condemnation. We are leading no life of self-indulgence, except, indeed, that being happy in each other, we find everything easy. We are working hard to provide for others better than we provide for ourselves, and to fulfill every responsibility that lies upon us. Levity and pride would not be a sufficient basis for that. Pardon me if in vindicating myself from some unjust conclusions, I seem too cold and self-asserting. I should not care to vindicate myself if I did not love you and desire to relieve you of the pain which you say these conclusions have given you. Whatever I may have misinterpreted before, I do not misinterpret your letter this morning but read in it nothing else than love and kindness toward me, to which my heart fully answers yes. I should like never to write about myself again; it is not healthy to dwell on one’s own feelings and conduct but only to try and live more faithfully and lovingly every fresh day. I think not one of the endless words and deeds of kindness and forbearance you have ever shown me has vanished from my memory. I recall them often and feel, as about everything else in the past, how deficient I have been in almost every relation of my life. But that deficiency is irrevocable, and I can find no strength or comfort except in “pressing forward toward the things that are before,” and trying to make the present better than the past. But if we should never be very near each other again, do bear this faith in your mind, that I was not insensible or ungrateful to all your goodness, and that I am one among the many for whom you have not lived in vain. I am very busy just now and have been obliged to write hastily. Bear this in mind, and believe that no meaning is mine which contradicts my assurance that I am your affectionate and earnest friend.