As the author of The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch, George Eliot was one of the most admired novelists of the Victorian period, and she remains a central figure in the literary canon today. She was the first woman to take on the kind of political and philosophical fiction that had previously been a male preserve, combining rigorous intellectual ideas with a sensitive understanding of human relationships and making her one of the most important writers of the nineteenth century. This innovative introduction provides students with the religious, political, scientific and cultural contexts they need to understand and appreciate her novels, stories, poetry and critical essays. Nancy Henry also traces the reception of her work to the present, surveying a range of critical and theoretical responses. Each novel is discussed in a separate section, making this the most comprehensive short introduction available to this important author.