She is magnificently ugly — deliciously hideous... in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, in falling in love with her.
Henry James, letter to Henry James Sr. (10 May 1869)
What is remarkable, extraordinary — and the process remains inscrutable and mysterious — is that this quiet, anxious, sedentary, serious, invalidical English lady, without animal spirits, without adventures, without extravagance, assumption, or bravado, should have made us believe that nothing in the world was alien to her; should have produced such rich, deep, masterly pictures of the multifold life of man.
Henry James, Atlantic Monthly (May 1885)
Have you read anything beautiful lately? Do make sure somehow to get hold of and read the books by Eliot, you won’t be sorry, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Felix Holt, Romola (Savonarola’s story), Scenes of clerical life. You know we gave the 3 underlined ones to Pa on his birthday last year. When I get the time for reading, I’ll read them again.
Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh (3 March 1878) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh
What I’m getting at, among other things, is that Eliot is masterly in execution, but above and beyond that is that extra something of singular genius of which I would say: perhaps one improves by reading these books — or, these books have the power to invigorate. I recently re-read Eliot’s Felix Holt, The radical. This book has been very well translated into Dutch. I hope you know it — if you don’t know it, see if you can’t get hold of it somewhere. There are certain ideas about life in it that I find outstanding — profound things said in a plain way — it’s a book written with great spirit, and various scenes are described exactly as Frank Holl or someone like him would draw them. It’s a similar conception and outlook. There aren’t many writers who are as thoroughly sincere and good as Eliot.
Vincent van Gogh, letter to Anthon van Rappard (21 March 1883) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh.
Perhaps you thought that George Eliot was the author of Middlemarch. No: according to Professor Eagleton, the phrase “George Eliot” signifies nothing more than the insertion of certain specific ideological determinations -- Evangelical Christianity, rural organicism, incipient feminism, petty-bourgeois moralism -- into a hegemonic ideological formation which is partly supported, partly embarrassed by their presence. [...]
The idea is to downgrade the notion of individual genius, as if George Eliot’s personal contribution to the writing of Middlemarch were somehow accidental, the more important thing being the “specific ideological determinations” she embodied. The main point of all this is that nothing is what it seems; or, as Professor Eagleton puts it in Criticism and Ideology, “there is no ‘immanent’ value”: everything in the realm of culture is determined by something outside culture–namely (catch that whiff of vulgarity?) the oppressive economic relations of capitalism.
Roger Kimball, summarizing and objecting to Terry Eagleton's assessments, in "Was Jesus Christ a Palestinian insurgent?" (2007)
You see, it was really George Eliot who started it all… It was she who started putting all the action inside.
D. H. Lawrence, quoted in D. H. Lawrence: a personal record Jessie Chambers Wood (1935)
Folks will want things intellectually done, so they take refuge in George Eliot. I am very fond of her, but I wish she'd take her specs off, and come down off the public platform.
D. H. Lawrence, letter to Blanch Jennings (22 December 1908)
Once, when she [Eliot] was asked which real-life person had been the inspiration for Casaubon — a man whose "soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic; it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its own winds and never flying" — she tapped her own breast.
Rebecca Mead, “Middlemarch and Me,” The New Yorker (14 February 2011)