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24 September 2014
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Women Writers on BBC ONE

This Autumn, two of the world's greatest female writers come to BBC ONE as two new documentaries offer fascinating insights into the lives of George Eliot and Jane Austen.

George Eliot: A Scandalous Life
To be broadcast in November

Born Mary Ann Evans in 1819, the novelist George Eliot was a woman ahead of her time: a proud and determined individual who continually broke the sexual, religious and social rules of Victorian society.

She was one of the greatest minds of her age, yet she debased herself for love.

To accompany a new BBC adaptation of Daniel Deronda, George Eliot: A Scandalous Life explores how the scandals and rumours that plagued her life, never defeated her will or her literary genius; and how, against all odds, she went on to write some of the world's greatest novels including Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner.

Presented by George Eliot enthusiast Maureen Lipman, and with Harriet Walter as the writer, George Eliot, A Scandalous Life recreates the events of this extraordinary life.

From her rejection of Christianity aged just 22, to the string of disastrous and shocking affairs that characterised her love life, Eliot's actions often provoked contempt and disgust.

After eloping to Germany with the distinguished but married writer George Henry Lewes, played by John Sessions, Eliot was shunned by society.

George Eliot's story is also one of initial frustration and hampered ambition because of her gender.

As unofficial editor of the internationally acclaimed Westminster Review, her success was never publicly acknowledged; Lewes encouraged Eliot's literary ambitions and in 1858 she began to write fiction but published under the pseudonym that became known all over the Victorian world - George Eliot.

In 1859 the publication of Adam Bede attracted wide critical acclaim, but with it came the inevitable speculation about the author's identity. Who was this George Eliot that nobody had ever met?

Enter Joseph Liggins, a down-and-out from Nuneaton who laid claim to the novel, placing Eliot in a dilemma - remain silent and provoke critical speculation, or admit to the truth and risk professional alienation.

Following a spate of articles and vicious personal attacks, Eliot met with her publishers and the decision was made to go public…

After the death of her beloved Lewes, the 60-year-old Eliot married a man 20 years her junior, but during their honeymoon in Venice he leapt from their bedroom window into the canal below.

Mystery still surrounds this and many other key events of her life. Pages were torn from her diaries and letters were destroyed.

But with access to remaining letters, diaries and newspaper articles, A Scandalous Life creates an intimate portrait of an exceptional woman, who overcame social isolation and rejection to become one of our greatest writers.

Producer/director: Mary Downes.

The Real Jane Austen
To be broadcast in December

Jane Austen remains one of the greatest writers of all time. Almost 200 years since her death, her novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park continue to entrance readers the world over, and be a source of inspiration for TV and film.

Coinciding with the television premiere of Mansfield Park, The Real Jane Austen explores the woman behind these acclaimed works.

Presented by Anna Chancellor, a great niece of Austen, with Gillian Kearney as Jane, Jack Davenport as Jane's Brother, and also starring John Standing, Phyllis Logan, Beth Winslet and Wendy Craig, the programme shatters the myth that Jane lived the elegant Regency life of one of her heroines.

Through readings and dramatic reconstructions, The Real Jane Austen pieces together the reality of Austen's existence - her modest upbringing in Hampshire as one of seven children of a clergyman; her disappointment in love; and the family's poverty following the death of her father.

Through her writing Jane found financial independence without having to marry. Tragically only four years later in July 1817 whilst writing Persuasion Jane Austen died.

Filmed in locations associated with Austen, including Jane's birth place of Steventon and her later home in Chawton; and illustrated with extracts from film and television adaptations of Austen's work, The Real Jane Austen paints a vivid portrait of one of the greatest talents in English literature.

Producer: Nicky Pattison.



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