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George Eliot reread all six of her novels aloud with her lover George Henry Lewes before setting sail on “Middlemarch.” Mark Twain and Charlotte Brontë hated her; Rudyard Kipling adored her; Henry James learned more from her than he was ever willing to admit. Virginia Woolf installed her at the head of the canon of English women novelists (“the most perfect artist among women, the writer whose books are immortal”).

A story celebrates its 200th birthday. I was once asked what counts as literature, as distinct from mere writing. A story that survives the test of time, perhaps.

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