George Eliot had always nourished a ‘vague dream’ that she might one day write a novel, although for years her plan never progressed beyond an introductory chapter, ‘describing a Staffordshire village and the life of the neighbouring farm houses’ (II, 406). When she did finally take up her pen to begin ‘The Sad Fortunes of Amos Barton’, the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, her life was transformed. She left behind the arduous and largely anonymous life of periodical writing, and embarked on a path which would bring both fame and fortune with remarkable rapidity.1 And even as she took that first step as a novelist, she recognised the moment as epochal: ‘September 1856 made a new era in my life, for it was then I began to write Fiction’ (II, 406).
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