Paula Marantz Cohen attempts to understand the George Eliot’s desire for Christian morality without a Christian deity:
Eliot … was an enormously pious young girl. In Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, the young heroine, Maggie Tulliver (an autobiographical portrait of its author at that age) is obsessed with God. Maggie reads Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, a book that greatly influenced the young Eliot. But in 1853, her knowledge of German led her to another book, Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, which she went on to translate. Feuerbach argued that God is not external to us but a projection of our best qualities as human beings. The Devil is the projection of our worst. This way of thinking came to inform Eliot’s view of God, and influenced her understanding of art and the task of the artist.
Last year, in an essay exploring Eliot’s attitude toward religion, Rohan Maitzen drew a parallel between Eliot and Marilynne Robinson:
“It seems to me,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson has said, “that anything that is written compassionately and perceptively probably satisfies every definition of religious whether a writer intends it to be religious or not.”