Abstract

Investigating the short period between 1840 and 1842, I explore the immediate causes and specific expressions of Mary Ann Evans’s apostasy within the context of her family and larger religious culture in England. Seemingly overnight, Mary Ann moved decisively from the intense evangelical affiliation of more than a decade as well as the familial Anglican identity of her entire life to critical freethinking. The intellectual tussle of the times was not inevitably weighted toward the loss of faith; many thinkers found habitable places that supported rational, scientific, and tolerant perspectives among a broad array of Christian communities. Mary Ann Evans’s decision cannot simply be read as an account of “progress.” I suggest that the transformation was the first of a set of life-changing decisions that she tended to describe in terms of sacrifice, but also in terms less native to her: those of freedom and relief for a mind gifted by abundant understanding.

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