Audible RomolaAuthor George Eliot –

One Of George Eliot S Most Ambitious And Imaginative Novels, Romola Is Set In Renaissance Florence During The Turbulent Years Following The Expulsion Of The Powerful Medici Family During Which The Zealous Religious Reformer Savonarola Rose To Control The City At Its Heart Is Romola, The Devoted Daughter Of A Blind Scholar, Married To The Clever But Ultimately Treacherous Tito Whose Duplicity In Both Love And Politics Threatens To Destroy Everything She Values, And She Must Break Away To Find Her Own Path In Life Described By Eliot As Written With My Best Blood , The Story Of Romola S Intellectual And Spiritual Awakening Is A Compelling Portrayal Of A Utopian Heroine, Played Out Against A Turbulent Historical Backdrop

10 thoughts on “Romola

  1. says:

    While I was reading this book, I spent a lot of time looking at a satellite map of Florence in an effort to follow in the footsteps of George Eliot as she led her characters through the labyrinthine streets of the city, and in and out of its famous buildings While poring over the map, I noticed that the satellite image must have been taken early on a very sunny morning because the shadow cast by the Palazzo Vecchio, situated on the eastern corner of the piazza della Signoria, stretches westwards across the piazza and reveals the height of the turret of the building clearly even though its dimensions are almost invisible in an aerial view When I looked closely, I noticed that the shadow of the famous Duomo was equally clear, giving the viewer an idea of the beauty and monumentality of the construction that is impossible to guess at simply from the aerial view The shadow of the dome of the San Lorenzo church also stands out as does the bell tower of the Badia church which stretches over several roof tops and even right across the via Dante Alighieri and down a side street I was chuffed by the importance which the early morning sun gave to so many of the monuments I was inspired to search for, all of which are important to the plot of this book.Romola is a long novel and I spent a long time reading it When I reached the end, I didn t feel ready to write a review so I set it aside Today, I opened it up again and reread the preface, which I d all but forgotten In that preface, George Eliot conjures up an anonymous fifteenth century citizen of Florence whom she calls a Shade or, alternatively, a Spirit , and whom she makes revisit the city in her own time, the 1860s Let us suppose that such a Shade has been permitted to revisit the glimpses of the golden morning, and is standing once on the famous hill of San Miniato, which overlooks Florence from the south.I d noticed that sentence when I d first read the preface but only because I remembered that the San Miniato Church is part of the view from EM Forster s famous Room with a View, though he describes it in the evening the facade of San Miniato shone brilliantly in the declining sun. The connection I d made with Forster distracted me from what Eliot was doing in the rest of the Preface On the reread, I understood why she makes her Shade cast his eye over the city from his vantage point on the hill of San Miniato, and why she makes him pick out certain monuments such as the San Lorenzo church, the Duomo and the high turret of the Palazzo Vecchio, where he served as a member of the Signoria or city council The first time I read the preface, I didn t realise how important the city council would be in the novel, nor the significance of the impressions Eliot gives her Shade regarding a certain Prior of the time That very Quaresima or Lent of 1492 in which our Shade died, still in his erect old age, he had listened in San Lorenzo, not without a mixture of satisfaction, to the preaching of a Dominican Friar, named Girolamo Savonarola, who denounced with a rare boldness the worldliness and vicious habits of the clergy, and insisted on the duty of Christian men not to live for their own ease when wrong was triumphing in high places, and not to spend their wealth in outward pomp He was a noteworthy man, that Prior of San Marco, thinks our Spirit somewhat arrogant and extreme, perhaps, especially in his denunciations of speedy vengeanceBut a Frate Predicatore who wanted to move the people how could he be moderate He might have been a little less defiant and curt, though, to Lorenzo de Medici, whose family had been the very makers of San Marco was that quarrel ever made up And our Lorenzo himself, with the dim outward eyes and the subtle inward vision, did he get over that illness at CareggiNow, having read the book, I can only admire the perfect backdrop Eliot painted in that preface She imagines that her Shade might have died in 1492, and when we begin the novel, we realise that it is set in the year 1492, and not only has the Shade died but also the ailing Lorenzo de Medici, ending the long reign of the Medicis, while in Rome, the death of Pope Innocent the Eight has allowed the reign of the Borgias to begin And the reformer Prior of San Marco, Girolamo Savonarola, the bane of the papacy, is at the height of his popularity 1492 is the beginning of a very turbulent period in Florentine history It was really no surprise to me that George Eliot was good at painting backdrops I d noticed it in all of the novels I d read already the geography and the history, the religious movements and the politics, the homes and their furnishings, the background characters and their costumes, all is very vivid, very accurate She gives us real places, real times and people we can believe in I admit that I was tempted to think that when she moved her stage from the English countryside of her own century to an Italian city four centuries before her time, the challenge might prove too great Not at all The Florentine streets she leads us through feel just as real as the English Midlands of The Mill on the Floss or of Adam Bede, and the rendering of the political upheavals in Florence during the last decade of the 1400s ring very true indeed George Eliot did her research very well.I enjoyed thinking about her reading up on all that history From my twenty first century vantage point in front of a satellite map, I conjured her up in my imagination I placed her in the Laurentian library and watched as she pored over the writings of the famous Florentines of the period such as Dante, Poliziano, Macchiavelli, Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola.I imagined her walking through the streets of Florence, visiting churches and palazzos I saw her in the Uffizi Gallery, standing in front of a painting by Piero di Cosimo, perhaps his Bacchus and Ariadne, thinking how she might use the beautiful pair as models for the human interest story she knew she had to somehow graft onto her political and religious themes I saw her crossing the piazza della Signoria towards the Palazzo Vecchio and pausing by the ancient stone lion to reflect on all the momentous happenings that had taken place inside that building and on the piazza itself I watched as she went down to the Ponte Vecchio and crossed the Arno to Oltrarno where she turned left along by the river until she reached the Via de Bardi There, she stopped in front of a large sombre stone building pierced by small windows, and surmounted by a loggia or roof terrace This is it, she thought, this is where I ll place my Ariadne And I ll call her Romola Romola de Bardi.

  2. says:

    The GRAND NOVEL goes on The GRAND TOUR In a deep curve of the mountains lay a breadth of green land, curtained by gentle tree shadowed slopes leaning towards the rocky heights Up these slopes might be seen here and there, gleaming between the tree tops, a pathway leading to a little irregular mass of building that seemed to have clambered in a hasty way up the mountain side, and take a difficult stand there for the sake of showing the tall belfry as a sight of beauty to the scattered and clustered houses of the village below. The Grand Tour or tourism with style This mode is gone now But this agreeable and leisurely read has felt like a reward since it is no longer possible to travel in such a style With this novel I have travelled to the Florence of the end of the 15C holding the hand of Mary Ann Evans Having visited the place recently also with an imaginary Renaissance as my objective with her Romola, I was eliminating one and a half centuries in the time gap, and able to enjoy a different perspective to my own.No Florence card, no museum lines, no ubiquitous photographing, no queuing at Il Due Fratellini to grab a cheap panini to eat sitting down on the stairs of the Loggia dei Lanzi Instead, I could enjoy a serene dilation, a grandeur in observation, ample panoramas, expanded time, careful inspection of details, profound insight, and thorough knowledge And this even though Evans occasionally makes the reader aware that, no matter how closely to the Florentine Renaissance she strives to take us, the text is dealing with a foregone age As victim of the hurried cadence of my age, my first impression was that the novel would be thin, in spite of its length Its first pages felt like watercolours, with diffuse forms and too much gentleness It took me a while to tune into its amiable, distended, dilated pace But when I finally did I could then treasure Evans erudition, imagination, and sharpness of mind.Evans took on a challenging task by choosing a very complicated period in the history of Florence The aftermath at the death of Lorenzo il Magnifico saw the messy attempt at a new Republic the invasion by the French king Charles VIII the return to a fundamentalist and apocalyptic practice of religion the political machinations of the Pope Alexander VI, etc This is a period that often historians just brush through the complexities are so controversial But it was after all the fertile ground for Machiaveli to develop his political thought Bravely setting her story in such a scenario Evans does not skirt the issues She travelled three times to Tuscany to supplement her already astoundingly strong education in the classics we would now qualify her as a scholar She was still very young when she first visited, in 1840, but she returned twice in the very early 1860s, spending several weeks in preparation for her novel This is her only work that is set outside of England and in a somewhat remote age It was first published in 1862 in serialized form in a magazine.Her confidence in treating this complex and rich period shows throughout the book She distinguishes comfortably between the differing modes of government of the various republics, as well as between the different religious orders, major and minor She gives us a fascinating good account of the functioning and origins of the circle of Neo platonic humanists gathering around the Orci Rucellai She gets close to the conspiracy against the Republic that brought the execution of five illustrious men who were close to the Medici She keeps a steady pace when tackling the precise state of the complex classical revival, aware, for example, that Homer was a new discovery There is no need to wait for a feminist revival to learn about the existence of the extraordinary Cassandra Fedele I was also very intrigued by her choice of the idiosyncratic painter, Piero di Cosimo 1462 1521 , out of the overwhelming array of superb painters from that time In realizing her sound command of her material, we cannot forget that Evans was writing before Walter Paters The Renaissance Studies in Art and Poetry 1873 , the critic who first singled out Botticelli and now part of the kitschy repertoire , before Jacob Burckhardt s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was translated into English, and at the time when Jules Michelet, the man who coined the word Renaissance , was still working on his massive Histoire.Writing this fictional approach to the period, at the time she did, Evans demonstrates what an extraordinary woman she was.For she certainly had her own ideas And these she could develop because she gave herself time to observe, time to think, time to ponder Hers was Grand Time For example, she is critical of Machiavelli, for he is too much bitten with notions, and has not your power of fascination.He has lost a great chance in life She also gives a fascinating portrayal of the controversial Girolamo Savonarola, now enveloped in his black legend and easily derided, but who emerges through her pen as an unquestionably remarkable man To expanded time she could weld her most outstanding gift, her acute perception She had complemented her studies and reading with a power of observation, of objects, settings, customs, clothing, that had impressed Anthony Trollope But the full expansion in her observation is devoted to the human soul With her writing it becomes a landscape of wide and profound vistas Consequently, her main characters, the fictional ones, engage her reader for their complexity.It is true that her Romola has been criticized because she remains well footed in the age in which she was really born She is a Victorian sweet young lady and we suspect that she is made out of Evans own nature And yet, Romola, in spite of her sweetness and initial gullibility, draws the interest of a 21st century reader because her personality develops along the copious pages She undergoes a gradual ducation sentimentale With the dilation of the grand manner we follow her as she questions many given values and social structures, matrimony being one of them, and she keeps our interest because she does not fall prey to black white doubts There is always subtlety in her reactions and her thinking.For me the most interesting character, though, was Tito, the non villain villain, because he is, despairingly, so highly believable His moral deterioration is not entirely blameworthy Clad in overpowering charm, amorality can be so irresistible, that it will gain the upper hand.As a Grand Novel, Romola, has the unquestionable Grand Narrator, the omniscient voice that moves seamlessly in and out of the minds of the characters And concomitant with it, the charged morals pepper the text for they were the alibi that sustained and defended fiction as a worthy literary genre The moralistic maxims feel like the classical ruins dispersed the landscapes of the Grand Tour Signs of permanence With the sinking of high human trust, the dignity of life sinks too we cease to believe in our own better self, since that is also is part of the common nature which is degraded in our thought and all the finer impulses of the soul are dulled. Laws that govern human behaviour As a strong body struggles against fumes with the violence when they begin to be stifling, a strong soul struggles against fantasies with all the alarmed energy when they threaten to govern in the place of thought..But in Florence, in spite of Savonarola, in spite of Evans morality, and like everywhere else, Vanities have not left the Piazza della Signoria If Savonarola tried to destroy them with his Bonfires of Vanities, and Evans attempted to dissolve them with her edifying novel, the fa ades around the square are now lined up with the Vanities on display and on offer at the Gucci, Vuitton et al shops, around the plaque on the floor indicating where he he was burnt, in his own bonfire Some aspects of humanity, in spite of differences in the geographical and historical contexts, do not seem to change.

  3. says:

    I m not sure what moved Henry James to pronounce this George Eliot s best work It isn t It s like saying The Beautiful and the Damned was Scott Fitzgerald s best work or Between the Acts was Virginia Woolf s Sometimes literary criticism can acquire the forensic objectivity of science There s no question Eliot had a lot of fun writing this I was reminded at times of Woolf s Orlando Except Virginia makes such a warm breezy current of her feeling for and knowledge of Elizabethan England whereas Eliot s loving evocation of 16th century Florence is much stodgier It s as if she couldn t resist using every single detail of her research which might at times have been impressive but it also dragged at the narrative with lead weights The first hundred pages where there s little indication of a plot often bored me Once the story gets going it does improve hugely Throughout the novel my feeling was her knowledge of Florence was largely acquired through books and paintings I rarely had a sense of her having touched the doors and walls she was describing Forster s Florence, for example, is much vibrantly alive Another thing, Eliot is always so good at evoking her characters through their speech idiosyncrasies and rhythms Here, because, she s dealing with a foreign language this is far from the case The dialogue is often laboured and over elaborate and homogenous No one has a distinctive voice It s no doubt an indication of Eliot s own puritanical leanings that she created such an affectionate portrait of Savonarola Personally I have little sympathy for anyone who high handedly destroys works of art or gets up on pulpits telling the populace how they should live, which, essentially, is his legacy 3.5 stars now and again there s some fabulous writing.

  4. says:

    It is the 9th April, 1492 Today Lorenzo de Medici has died, and a stranger has come to town The town is Florence, and there is great upheaval in the market at the news of Lorenzo s death, and people talk of strange portents.But who is this very handsome young man newly arrived Why, his name is Tito and he has been shipwrecked An amiable and erudite young man, fluent in Greek, he will soon make his mark on Florence Slowly Tito s character is unfurled as the novel progresses and his true nature is revealed He is magnificent to look at he is handsome, he is erudite Soon his skills are in demand Tito is pleasant, amiable He is personable He is well liked He doesn t like confrontation But Tito has a guilty secret, and he will go to great lengths to preserve this secret It is not so much malice aforethought on his part as not thinking, not doing, not being truthful, not taking responsibility, not facing the consequences which cause harm to those around him He doesn t like having his boat rocked He wants comfort, fame and he wants to be loved Tito is self absorbed and manipulative He expects to be forgiven by those he has harmed.Tito falls in love with beautiful golden haired Romola Romola s blind father has one great wish, and that is for his impressive library to remain intact for the common good of the Florentine public Tito and Romola assist him Romola is good and loyal Romola cares about others She is as selfless as Tito is selfish.Tessa is a young, pretty, na ve and rather dim witted contadina peasant woman She is totally infatuated with Tito What role does she play in this story Piero di Cosimo is a successful artist He is observant and he sees Tito and sketches him without his knowledge as others don t Someone else is observing Tito Baldassarre Calvo is an old man who arrives on the scene in chains as a prisoner of the French He regains his freedom, but who is he Is he mad What does he want Why does he hover around Tito There is betrayal upon betrayal, heartache and disappointments Who has not been betrayed Will there be revenge Fra Girolamo preaches and preaches Florentines flock to hear his sermons He has an impact even on Romola.The convoluted Florentine politics offer opportunities to our suave, erudite Tito More betrayals folowIt is the 23rd May, 1498 Today Fra Girolamo Savonarola died at the stake.

  5. says:

    Renaissance, Florence Ending of the 15th Century beginning of the 16th A space where people like Girolamo Savonarola, Niccolo Machiavelli and the Medicis are the everyday pawns of an ongoing and complicated reality Politics handled with ability and shrewdness, religion used for political ends and social movements are displayed with great talent in the background, while in the first plan we witness together with the omniscient author the path of an individual to fame brought by corruption and treachery In this context of great actuality, the main character, Romola, with a majestic stature and the countenance of a Goddess, experiences love and disappointment and copes with all the good and bad coming her way with the strength of a superior character The great river courses which have shaped the lives of men have hardly changed and those other streams, the life currents that ebb and flow in human hearts, pulsate to the same great needs, the same great loves and terrors.andAs our thought follows close in the slow wake of a dawn, we are impressed with the broad sameness of the human lot, which never alters in the main headings of its history hunger and labour, seed time and harvest, love and death This is my first book by George Eliot and her display of erudition left me breathless I am not a feminist per se, but when I see that a woman from the past, in spite of all the limitations that society imposed to women, managed to have a strong voice and express with ability and talent things that only men were encouraged to, and that she expressed them with such a spiritual force that you can only applaud the result, I feel admiration It is true that she wrote under a pseudonim, but she didn t have the access to education that only men in that time did It is admiration that I feel to George Eliot s effort to write a book about a 15th century heroine whose strength of character transcends time, political realities and societal boundaries and stands as a symbol of strength and integrity.Tito, a young Greek whose handsomeness is striking, has to face the consequences of a choice that is morally wrong and instead of trying to get redemption, he convinces himself that what he chose was the right thing, the thing that anyone in his right mind would have done His secret pushes him to lie further and further and get deeply immersed in a world of corruption, lies and treachery The contaminating effect of deeds often lies less in the commission than in the consequent adjustment of our desires the enlistment of our self interest on the side of falsity as on the other hand, the purifying influence of public confession springs from the fact, that by it the hope in lies is forever swept away, and the soul recovers the noble attitude of simplicity Romola, the wife he chose because he thought he loved her at the beginning when his morality was still intact, has an integrity and moral strength that is a constant reminder to him of what he has done wrong And, because he would rather appear flawless in the eyes of the community and attempt to get higher and higher in social status, he prefers to never confess to his wife the truth of his shallow choice from the past and creates a wall between them, adding a stone to it with every new deed He is a Dorian of Florence, but the flawless attractive version looking in the mirror, and his only real reflection is in Romola s consciousness while discovering that he is not what he pretends to be.He avoids the past with fierceness, he runs from it, but he cannot get rid of it as the past follows him like his own shadow The person whom he has wronged most and keeps on morally hurting, becomes his biggest enemy He pulls the political strings in his favor continually and although he is really skilled at that he ends up his efforts in an unexpected way His other wife, a young cherubic and innocent blue eyed Contadina with his two children are saved by Romola whose superiority of character is once again proved this way The ending, the story she tells to Tito s little son, Lillo, is the advice no one has ever given to Tito and it makes us wonder if his son will be the same as Tito was pursuing the pleasure or if he will listen to Romola s advice.I really enjoyed the display of secondary characters Nello, the barber and his philosophy of life Bardo Pierro, the painter Baldasare Tessa etc and the way they are inserted in the story to add flavor to it I won t add any other quotes although I think I highlighted than 40% of the book as I don t want to spoil the pleasure of any person who reads my review and then decides to read the book George Eliot is now another author in whose craftsmanship I want to delve further by reading other books I m thinking Middlemarch sometimes soon.

  6. says:

    George Eliot is arguably England s best 19th Century novelist, and Romola, one of her less read and vastly underrated works, supports the argument Set in Florence at the very end of the 15th Century, capturing the mood and ambiance of that time and location brilliantly, the novel traces the lives of a host of fascinating characters, the best known being Girolamo Savonarola, that charismatic historical figure, a monk who attempted to transform Florence into a theocracy and whose life ended in flames, the novel integrating actual historical events with fiction in a seamless fashion, conjuring not only the politics of the city but also developing and exploring, in rich and luxuriant language and syntax, themes such as the tension between religious fundamentalism and secularity, ideals and expediency, the gradual slide of moral deterioration and the ascent of personal meaning and redemption Eliot evokes moods and emotions of great psychological subtlety, creating a brooding awareness and anticipation of the vicissitudes of fortune, showing how a society can evolve into a repressive state reminiscent of Afghanistan under the Taliban, even when led by those with the best intentions I began the book determined to find Savonarola abhorrent, but Eliot sympathetically portrays him as an idealist, however flawed, and the heroine, Romola, herself evolves from an educated if sheltered and na ve girl into a mature, compassionate, and selfless adult largely as a result of her changing responses to him, Romola s husband Tito, on the other hand, descending from being an attractive figure to one of progressive moral compromise and degeneracy The novel highlights so many parallels to our society today as to seem uncanny, in terms both of our political machinations and of our moral rootlessness, and I recommend it enthusiastically.

  7. says:

    I wrote my Master s thesis on this book, so I am aware of the long history of bad reviews for this quite revolutionary novel for George Eliot The language is definitely difficult contemporary reviewers complained of not being able to read it without a dictionary , but the rewards are definitely worth it George Eliot believed that this was her best work, not because it was the best written or had the best story, but because it displayed her philosophy and her knowledge better than any other novel If you find it difficult, you might want to check out editions that contain the original illustrations It makes the reading easier, and entertaining Tito is possibly the best villain of Eliot s oeuvre, and apart from Count Fosco from Wilkie Collins The Woman in White, probably the best Victorian villain, if only for the way he gets to villany, which is a long and fascinating descent from self indulgence to treason Romola s idealization is difficult to swallow for a realist novelist, and yet it s the only novel where she could invent an idealized character She represents the ideal life that Eliot herself wanted humans to lead, so pay attention to her development.

  8. says:

    Some day I ll start a list of History s Most Underrated Great Books, or History s Greatest Underrated Books, and start it off with this Reading for book club and just finished it last night After a brutal slog of a first 50 pages GE wrote literature s worst overtures, except for Daniel Deronda, which contains one of the best , it suddenly kicks in and becomes a page turner Edgar Allan Poe meets Verdi opera plot Lots of welcome parallels here for all 19c fans The most engaging character, certainly, is Tito, and the book lets us track him, inhabiting his mind, thriller style, as he slinks through the Renaissance Florentine city streets becoming progressively nefarious, ensnared in his own duplicities and triplicities The Casaubon Dorothea relationship prefigures in the father daughter relationship between Bardo and Romola The urban architecture, and the freakish psychological parallels, will please a Portrait of a Lady enthusiast And there are enough water problems to delight any Mill on the Floss devotee Buy it, stick with it through the inauspicious start, and I promise you won t be sorry.

  9. says:

    If you re looking to read your first George Eliot, don t start with Romola In 1866, Henry James called it Eliot s greatest novel to date and that means greater than The Mill on the Floss, which opinion is goofy It is decidedly the most important, he wrote of the novel, not the most entertaining nor the most readable, but the one in which the largest things are attempted and grasped James persevered in this opinion, calling it a rare masterpiece in 1873 and in 1876 ranking it above Daniel Deronda, which he called the weakest of her books He did admit, however, that Deronda was not so lacking current as Romola Things had gone so much downhill for Romola by 1985 that Harold Bloom, writing in The New York Review of Books September 26 , said that Romola is rightly forgotten Critics today pretty universally deplore it as a failure I can t disagree But if you re wending your way through Eliot s complete works, Romola is a safe fourth or fifth stop on the journey It has enough of what s good in Eliot to keep your interest, and since you already know the brilliance she s capable of from your reading of Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, and The Mill on the Floss, Romola s weaknesses won t deter you from finishing your trip.I came to Romola because I was trying to fill in a picture of late quattrocento Florence I d just finished reading Ronald Lightbown s Botticelli Life and Work, which had sent me back to Christopher Hibbert s The House of Medici Its Rise and Fall to read up on Savonarola I wanted , and who better than Eliot, I thought, to bring to life the period between the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent 1492 and the death of Savonarola 1498 As it turns out, Eliot didn t bring Botticelli into the book at all the revival of his reputation would have to wait a few decades But she does make a vivid character of Piero di Cosimo, who plays a small but crucial role in the story In his case, Eliot was able to transform Vasari s snippets of gossip about Piero into some of the most concrete, lively pages of the novel, and the scene of Tito Melema s commissioning from Piero the decoration of a small case with the triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne captures the delight that Renaissance scholars and artists must have felt in telling again the myths of ancient Greece and Rome.But that successful transformation is an exception in the novel Much of the time Eliot has not prevented the dead hand of history from stopping her story cold Her description of the Bonfire of the Vanities, for example, fails to catch fire And she sometimes spreads her research in too thick a layer of local color, as she does with the Tuscan saws and sayings that suffocate the dialogue of Bratti the ragpicker and Nello the barber a strange case of tin ear in an author who is famous for getting the cadences of farmers and workmen exactly right Her Proem to the novel makes much of the fact that we still resemble the men of the past than we differ from them I wish she had acted on that belief and made her Florentines speak the way the folks speak in her English Midlands Frequently the lumbering machinery of plot and coincidence built to bring her characters into contact with one another creaks too loudly to be ignored That is easily forgiven when turns in the plot result in brilliant scenes of the sort Eliot can achieve But there s nothing in Romola to match, say, the dying Peter Featherstone offering Mary Garth his fortune in Middlemarch, or in the same novel, Rosamond obstinately refusing to hear Lydgate s plea that she economize There are in fact too few scenes in which characters are allowed to develop and reveal themselves, and it s on that level of fictional lives imagined and acted out that Romola s failure is most conspicuous and most disappointing On the level, however, where, to return to James s estimate, the largest things are attempted and grasped, the novel can generate real interest Eliot s psychological and moral analyses of her characters are often acute and profound, especially her analyses of Savonarola and Romola s husband, Tito Melema Tito is the most successful creation of the book Handsome, talented, ambitious, and totally self centered, he is a young man on the make who thinks the world owes him a living He is a tool with a smooth handle Chapter 45 who knows how to insinuate himself among the powerful and become their indispensable adjunct And he is, most fatefully, a man who prefers to take the easy way to reach his goal of a life lived for pleasure and profit If Eliot s imagination had followed Tito s career closely, so that we saw him wheeling and dealing among the Florentine factions, the Piagnoni, Mediceans, and Compagnacci, we would have had a picture of quattrocento politics and history much incisive than what Romola actually gives us a different novel entirely, in fact, with Machiavelli as its muse yes, he s here, but he has only a few lines good ones, however, and in a convincingly Machiavellian voice But Eliot was attempting things even larger than political history it s the conflict between the clashing deities Chapter 17 of Christianity and paganism that really captures Eliot s imagination and underlies the conflicts within her main character Romola s dilemma in its broadest outline is the dilemma of Renaissance culture Paganism and the Revival of Learning, as embodied by Tito and Romola s father a rigid, unproductive scholar who, tellingly, is blind , is not just the hoarding of antique busts and gems or the indulgence in antique fantasies such as fascinate Piero di Cosimo At its best, it seems to be a program of rational choice and enlightened materialism that Eliot invokes with imagery of light and joy and buoyant animal spirits, as here when Romola pictures her life with her handsome young husband Purple vines festooned between the elms, the strong corn perfecting itself under the vibrating heat, bright winged creatures hurrying and resting among the flowers, round limbs beating the earth in gladness with cymbals held aloft, light melodies chanted to the thrilling rhythm of strings all objects and all sounds that tell of Nature revelling in her force Chapter 17 But Romola, with a need as strenuous as her creator s to define a purpose for life beyond mere selfish satisfaction, is unable to rest long in hedonism and the effect of Tito s moral failures, which are seen to arise from a weakness and egoism that his classical education and pagan outlook are helpless to correct, is to send his wife in search of a cause that will give her a difficult duty to fulfill Enter Savonarola Christianity in Romola of course takes the form of the only religion on offer in 15th century Italy Roman Catholicism This must have given Eliot the good Englishwoman no end of problems, and in Romola s struggle to accept Savonarola s moral authority I think I see Eliot s own struggle to save the friar s genuine reformist zeal from infection by the other aspect of his crusade, the nonsense she clearly sees as irredeemably papist and retrograde the visions, the prophecy, the promise of miracles The pages in which Eliot offers her analysis of Savonarola, the holy man in possession of great power, if the least novelistic, are nevertheless some of the most persuasive in their psychology and most moving in their rhetoric, especially Chapter 64, The Prophet in his Cell, and Chapter 71, The Confession, which she ends by exonerating him Power rose against him not because of his sins, but because of his greatness not because he sought to deceive the world, but because he sought to make it noble Chapter 71 Unsatisfactory as she is as a representation of a woman, Romola is an almost allegorical portrait of a consciousness toiling in the vale of soul making Eliot occasionally achieves grandeur in depicting Romola s interior struggles and the courage she summons to act in conformance with her stringent ideals But she out Dorotheas Dorothea Brooke She is hardly real, and the closely the book focuses on her, the unsatisfactory as a novel the book becomes Even the other people in the novel have trouble seeing Romola as real statuesque and blonde, she often startles them like an apparition of the B.V.M Her education by her father in rational paganism saves her from succumbing to the worst excesses of Catholic superstition, so she s uniquely suited to see what s right and just in Savonarola s mission and utterance And since by temperament she s a kind of one woman NGO, she s primed to accept his call to renounce vanities and serve the lowest and poorest of her fellow citizens Piling ideal upon ideal, Eliot makes of Romola not only a Madonna, but an Antigone as well Early in the book Piero paints Romola as that heroine in a double portrait with her blind father as Oedipus a very unlikely subject, I believe, in 15th century Italian art Much later, in Chapter 56, this foreshadowing is fulfilled in a climactic scene where we seem to watch the Protestant individual conscience dawning in Romola The law was sacred Yes, but rebellion might be sacred too It flashed upon her mind that the problem before her was essentially the same as that which had lain before Savonarola the problem where the sacredness of obedience ended, and where the sacredness of rebellion began To her, as to him, there had come one of those moments in life when the soul must dare to act on its own warrant, not only without external law to appeal to, but in the face of a law which is not unarmed with Divine lightnings.There is another moment when Romola acts on her own warrant, when I thought the novel was going to take off in an unexpected, exhilarating direction Romola decides to leave Florence, alone, and set out on a journey to consult the most learned woman in the world, Cassandra Fedele, at Venice, and ask her how an instructed woman could support herself Chapter 36 What s this I thought George Eliot is going to give us a female picaresque On the road with Romola Alas, it works out otherwise Rather than pattern the resolution of this moment on a classical source, the Crossing of the Rubicon, when the individual seizes his destiny and goes on to conquer the world, Eliot chooses instead to pattern the moment on one that s exemplary of Christian humility and submission the Road to Damascus Nearly a decade later, in 1871, we find Eliot still under the spell of this image, imagining again this road, and though Christian still, it leads not to submission, but to an epic life of illimitable satisfaction the famous picture in the Prelude to Middlemarch of St Theresa as a little girl setting out on crusade That road, too, is never taken James s quotations are from his reviews gathered in A Century of George Eliot Criticism, Gordon Haight, editor, 1965 Houghton Mifflin pp 52, 80, 101, 98.

  10. says:

    I ve heard that George Eliot considered this book to be her best I can see where she gets that I know that Romola is not considered to be a good book, but I think that Romola shows growth, particularly in explicit theme This book is filled with transformations, but most are so sudden that they are likely to be problematic for the modern reader I think that most Victorian people s experience with transformations might be from religious quarters and are likely to be sudden and complete In our society, I think we get most of our ideas of transformations from rehab or therapy, which stress the process of transforming, which is likely to be gradual and incomplete Because of this, I don t think that the book s rehabilitation is going to happen any time soon Romola goes through several major changes in philosophy in this book One of which I m sure would be hotly debated by many women today She puts duty above personal happiness under Savronola s guidance in staying with a husband who is both unfaithful and villainous Her personal growth during this time is undeniable, but I think that some of the tenets she comes to embrace are so different from our ideas of what growth are that they are likely to go unrecognized Tito s transformation is less jarring It was interesting how Eliot introduced him We knew practically nothing about him for the first 100 pages, but are gradually given a sympathetic view of him It s only after a while that the emphasis on his upright appearances start to seem suspicious His slide into villainy is gradual and built on lies and hesitations This was just so well done His descent reminds me of the dishonor that the captain in Adam Bede brought on himself through his weaknesses towards Hetty His reasons for not seeking out his father that he was comfortable and his burgeoning love for Romola led to his alienation of both ideals that he sought His decision to stay eventually estranged him from his true desires, but was something that he could not turn from One aspect of the book that I thought was interesting was the time and action were shown in short bursts We would follow the character for sometimes under a day, then the next chapter would start some 18 months later I think that Adam Bede had something of this feature as well But I think the structure did odd things for the reaction to the story In some ways, it kept you off balance and uncertain of the progression of the story It s also stylized than the realism that Eliot is generally known for which is a focus on the mundane It was like a play with acts and scenes than a book For some reason, this book stayed with me long after I read it I find its themes to be fresh and thought provoking One of her best, I would say, and criminally under rated.