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Romola: ( illustrated ) Original Classic Novel, Unabridged Classic Edition

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Romola: ( illustrated ) Original Classic Novel, Unabridged Classic Edition

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    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 westward 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 more 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 all the monuments of Florence that are so significant 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 more 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 vengeance...But 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 Careggi... Now, 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 found myself wondering about how she did all the research. 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. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    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 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 éducation 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 more violence when they begin to be stifling, a strong soul struggles against fantasies with all the more 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 façades 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. 5 out of 5

    Violet wells

    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 where 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 more 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. 4 out of 5

    MihaElla

    ‘Romola’ is a (very) lengthy, mind-squeezing, heart-moving, complex and even contradictory novel. But it is under George Eliot’s handwriting and that is a solid proof, well more than enough for me, to be felt as a most rewarding book. I have started it couple of months before I reached to its closing line, and I have felt at some point I could leave it on-hold. Well, it was that much for me, in a sense it felt as a burden. So I have skipped it for a while and moved to other new names of writers- ‘Romola’ is a (very) lengthy, mind-squeezing, heart-moving, complex and even contradictory novel. But it is under George Eliot’s handwriting and that is a solid proof, well more than enough for me, to be felt as a most rewarding book. I have started it couple of months before I reached to its closing line, and I have felt at some point I could leave it on-hold. Well, it was that much for me, in a sense it felt as a burden. So I have skipped it for a while and moved to other new names of writers- which was quite fortunate actually because I have so encountered John Dos Passos and Saul Bellow, the latter currently presenting as my newest love affair in terms of works to devour. I’ve found some titles in my near home bookshop (Romanian translations) and even I placed order for another couple (that were luckily available in English). Anyway, couple of weeks ago I have realized I cannot leave it wait for me too long, and I have resumed my reading, which again I can only congratulate myself for. It gripped me strongly enough to keep me steadfast reading until I finished it. I have enjoyed it greatly even when I thought that I have had enough of those long descriptive paragraphs. But that is a good material for a beginner into a fabulous world so long past, like those dark gloomy times at the end of the 15th century in Florence..Moreover, Eliot’s vocabulary and writing is so exquisite that you cannot help smiling while reading her words, expressions, especially from the point of view of a foreigner as I myself stand alone. I haven’t stayed too focused on the historical personages. I have wanted to enjoy more the historical fiction of the story that has engulfed Romola, since her marrying the love of her life (1492) and until 1509 when she is surrounded by other people that became dear(est) to her, rather than her original family, while her husband is dead, too. The heavy body of the novel was too deeply immersed in the political struggles, in the alliances, in the plots, even assassinations, etc which to tell the truth I didn’t find so overwhelming pleasant. Moreover, I think that for the smoothness in reading some chapters or long paragraphs, it was really worthwhile that I have read before – well, long ago, some other books that were linked with those times and recalled some of the key figures, characters that appeared in Romola. ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ by Irving Stone – although concentrating heavily on the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti - is a great book to leave one with strong impressions about Florence and its social, political turmoil back then. Also, I read the Letters of Michelangelo Buonarroti, and this again was an enriching material to fix in my mind some of the influencers of Florence – in terms of clergy, statesman, noblemen, etc. Well, there were so many changes and new entries of names, that one could really give up at some point of trying to keep them in mind. But, despite this cascade of historical personages, I haven’t forgotten Girolamo Savonarola. He was impossible to forget. Anyway, I believe I had a good background to be able to understand Romola from the point of view of political instability in Florence, a continually fighting for the power between the Italian states, with Rome, Milan, Pisa, and also the French kind involvement, not to help but to conquer more territories… The funny thing is that now while focusing my attention on Saul Bellow – aiming with two books in parallel (well, why not for a challenge 😊) I have read one of his essays about his trip to Tuscany during the winter of 1992, of course visiting Florence, too. I was thinking how is that I have missed going there too in one of my vacations? It is so close geographically and yet it was so far away in my mind. Now I will keep it closer and make it firmer in my plans. I have already heard too many interesting things about this spot – mostly depicted as a place for rest, peaceful nature, and lots of beauty shared all around.. Well, a George Eliot novel can have a truly happy ending, but nonetheless, I like the ending of this one. In a way, well symbolically I would say, I would like to think I am a Romola, too – the girl, lady, woman. A wonderful character in all the senses. For her only this book is worth reading. ***Epilogue - on the evening of the 22nd of May 1509 (…roughly, or better accurately, this just makes some of us only 511 years ahead in time…) “[…] The other two figures were seated farther off, at the wide doorway that opened on to the loggia. Lillo sat on the ground with his back against the angle of the door-post, and his long legs stretched out, while he held a large book open on his knee, and occasionally made a dash with his hand at an inquisitive fly, with an air of interest stronger than that excited by the finely-printed copy of Petrarch which he kept open at one place, as if he were learning something by heart. Romola sat nearly opposite Lillo, but she was not observing him. Her hands were crossed on her lap and her eyes were fixed absently on the distant mountains: she was evidently unconscious of anything around her. An eager life had left its marks upon her: the finely-moulded cheek had sunk a little, the golden crown was less massive; but there was a placidity in Romola’s face which had never belonged to it in youth. It is but once that we can know our worst sorrows, and Romola had known them while life was new. Absorbed in this way, she was not at first aware that Lillo had ceased to look at his book, and was watching her with a slightly impatient air, which meant that he wanted to talk to her, but was not quite sure whether she would like that entertainment just now. But persevering looks make themselves felt at last. Romola did presently turn away her eyes from the distance and met Lillo’s impatient dark gaze with a brighter and brighter smile. He shuffled along the floor, still keeping the book on his lap, till he got close to her and lodged his chin on her knee. “What is it, Lillo?” said Romola, pulling his hair back from his brow. Lillo was a handsome lad, but his features were turning out to be more massive and less regular than his father’s. The blood of the Tuscan peasant was in his veins. “Mamma. Romola, what am I to be?” he said, well contented that there was a prospect of talking till it would be too late to con “Spirto gentil” any longer. “What should you like to be, Lillo? You might be a scholar. My father was a scholar, you know, and taught me a great deal. That is the reason why I can teach you.” “Yes,” said Lillo, rather hesitatingly. “But he is old and blind in the picture. Did he get a great deal of glory?” “Not much, Lillo. The world was not always very kind to him, and he saw meaner men than himself put into higher places, because they could flatter and say what was false. And then his dear son thought it right to leave him and become a monk; and after that, my father, being blind and lonely, felt unable to do the things that would have made his learning of greater use to men, so that he might still have lived in his works after he was in his grave.” “I should not like that sort of life,” said Lillo. “I should like to be something that would make me a great man, and very happy besides—something that would not hinder me from having a good deal of pleasure. “That is not easy, my Lillo. It is only a poor sort of happiness that could ever come by caring very much about our own narrow pleasures. We can only have the highest happiness, such as goes along with being a great man, by having wide thoughts, and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as ourselves; and this sort of happiness often brings so much pain with it, that we can only tell it from pain by its being what we would choose before everything else, because our souls see it is good. There are so many things wrong and difficult in the world, that no man can be great—he can hardly keep himself from wickedness—unless he gives up thinking much about pleasure or rewards, and gets strength to endure what is hard and painful. My father had the greatness that belongs to integrity; he chose poverty and obscurity rather than falsehood. And there was Fra Girolamo—you know why I keep to-morrow sacred: he had the greatness which belongs to a life spent in struggling against powerful wrong, and in trying to raise men to the highest deeds they are capable of. And so, my Lillo, if you mean to act nobly and seek to know the best things God has put within reach of men, you must learn to fix your mind on that end, and not on what will happen to you because of it. And remember, if you were to choose something lower, and make it the rule of your life to seek your own pleasure and escape from what is disagreeable, calamity might come just the same; and it would be calamity falling on a base mind, which, is the one form of sorrow that has no balm in it, and that may well make a man say,—‘It would have been better for me if I had never been born,’ I will tell you something, Lillo.” Romola paused for a moment. She had taken Lillo’s cheeks between her hands, and his young eyes were meeting hers. “There was a man to whom I was very near, so that I could see a great deal of his life, who made almost every one fond of him, for he was young, and clever, and beautiful, and his manners to all were gentle and kind, I believe, when I first knew him, he never thought of anything cruel or base. But because he tried to slip away from everything that was unpleasant, and cared for nothing else so much as his own safety, he came at last to commit some of the basest deeds—such as make men infamous. He denied his father, and left him to misery; he betrayed every trust that was reposed in him, that he might keep himself safe and get rich and prosperous. Yet calamity overtook him.” Again, Romola paused. Her voice was unsteady, and Lillo was looking up at her with awed wonder. “Another time, my Lillo—I will tell you another time. See, there are our old Piero di Cosimo and Nello coming up the Borgo Pinti, bringing us their flowers. Let us go and wave our hands to them, that they may know we see them. “How queer old Piero is!” said Lillo as they stood at the corner of the loggia, watching the advancing figures. “He abuses you for dressing the altar, and thinking so much of Fra Girolamo, and yet he brings you the flowers.” “Never mind,” said Romola. “There are many good people who did not love Fra Girolamo. Perhaps I should never have learned to love him if he had not helped me when I was in great need.”

  5. 4 out of 5

    Deea

    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 an 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. and As 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 more 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. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Before I critique this book, I have to critique this cover. Eliot could not make it clearer that Romola is a blonde. Her golden hair is referenced over and over again. Who is the dufus who chose this cover photo? Sorry, but all Italians must be raven-haired? I’m not thinking Eliot would have been impressed. I have decided to DNF Romola after 238 pages of forced reading. I cannot believe I am ditching a George Eliot novel, but this is nothing like any of her other novels, set in Italy and it would Before I critique this book, I have to critique this cover. Eliot could not make it clearer that Romola is a blonde. Her golden hair is referenced over and over again. Who is the dufus who chose this cover photo? Sorry, but all Italians must be raven-haired? I’m not thinking Eliot would have been impressed. I have decided to DNF Romola after 238 pages of forced reading. I cannot believe I am ditching a George Eliot novel, but this is nothing like any of her other novels, set in Italy and it would appear Eliot wanted to impress upon people that she had seen it, but I never got the feeling she knew it, contains chapter after chapter of description and political exposition that doesn't move the plot forward even an inch, has yet to present a single character for which I give a fig. I was more than willing to give Eliot leaway in making a slow start, she generally does and then presents one with gold, making all those details count. I think Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss would number among the greatest books ever written. Perhaps if I had the patience and endurance to finish I would see some major revelation in this novel, but I am reminded of how much I had to push to get through some parts of Daniel Deronda, and I could see what she was trying to achieve there. The world will not stop spinning if I fail to like an Eliot novel--I know it will not--it really will not. Okay, permission to quit granted.

  7. 5 out of 5

    TBV (on semi-hiatus)

    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 natu 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, naïve 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 folow... It is the 23rd May, 1498. Today Fra Girolamo Savonarola died at the stake.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anabelle Bernard Fournier

    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 no 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 more 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

    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 D 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 more, 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 more 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 more 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 more 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 more 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 more closely the book focuses on her, the more 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. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    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, 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 more 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

    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 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 more stylized than the realism that Eliot is generally known for (which is a focus on the mundane). It was more 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Tito had an unconquerable aversion to anything unpleasant, even when an object very much loved and desired was on the other side of it. Eliot's research into Renaissance Florence is marvellous and anchors this book within a verifiable historical authenticity. Not just the politics of the city-state where a young Machiavelli is coming to prominence and where the Medicis are exiled while a Borgia sits on the papal seat in Rome; not just the religious backdrop of the rise and fall of Savonarola Tito had an unconquerable aversion to anything unpleasant, even when an object very much loved and desired was on the other side of it. Eliot's research into Renaissance Florence is marvellous and anchors this book within a verifiable historical authenticity. Not just the politics of the city-state where a young Machiavelli is coming to prominence and where the Medicis are exiled while a Borgia sits on the papal seat in Rome; not just the religious backdrop of the rise and fall of Savonarola (who is portrayed with surprising sympathy), but the activities of humanists searching for, emending, glossing and writing commentaries on classical texts give the city and age a kind of tangible materiality. Eliot doesn't cheapen her book by throwing in walk-on parts by every famous Florentine of the age as so many contemporary historical novelists do, and her Florence is all the more alive for her restraint. Set against this glorious, tumultuous backdrop of the late C15th is the story of Romola and her coming of age via her troubled marriage to Tito, a young and handsome Greek, shipwrecked, in romantic fashion, and thrown up almost destitute in Florence. Romola, it has to be said, doesn't have the depths of Eliot's other female characters: she's too angelically perfect to be interesting though her struggle for independence via submission to father, husband and priest has an interest of its own. The more fascinating character is Tito, a man who intends to do good and be happy - only his essential weakness of a lazy avoidance of making difficult decisions and following through on them lead him more deeply into lies, fear and deception. The personal story of Romola and Tito in the foreground would be quite slight if it weren't for the fact that it's set against the Florentine politics of state and church - and the moral concerns of Eliot's Victorian world are given expression via an evocation of the past. Not Eliot's most accessible or popular novel but one redolent of the sights and thought-world of Renaissance Florence made vivid through the combination of lightly-worn scholarly research and the voices of the Florentine 'chorus'.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    AHH!!! I feel so guilty! I started reading Romola by George Eliot a few days ago and I hate it. I really, really hate it. And I don't think anyone else on earth hates it but me. From the little introduction I found in the book I read: "Romola (1862–63) is a historical novel by George Eliot set in the fifteenth century, and is "a deep study of life in the city of Florence from an intellectual, artistic, religious, and social point of view". It first appeared in fourteen parts published in Cornhill AHH!!! I feel so guilty! I started reading Romola by George Eliot a few days ago and I hate it. I really, really hate it. And I don't think anyone else on earth hates it but me. From the little introduction I found in the book I read: "Romola (1862–63) is a historical novel by George Eliot set in the fifteenth century, and is "a deep study of life in the city of Florence from an intellectual, artistic, religious, and social point of view". It first appeared in fourteen parts published in Cornhill Magazine from July 1862 to August 1863. The story takes place amidst actual historical events during the Italian Renaissance, and includes in its plot several notable figures from Florentine history." I guess there is something about me that has no interest in a deep study of the city of Florence from just about any point of view there is because, as I have already mentioned, I hate this book. Just to start the book there were long, long paragraphs that I could not concentrate on at all: "He loved to strengthen his family by a good alliance, and went home with a triumphant light in his eyes after concluding a satisfactory marriage for his son or daughter under his favourite loggia in the evening cool; he loved his game at chess under that same loggia, and his biting jest, and even his coarse joke, as not beneath the dignity of a man eligible for the highest magistracy. He had gained an insight into all sorts of affairs at home and abroad: he had been of the "Ten" who managed the war department, of the "Eight" who attended to home discipline, of the Priori or Signori who were the heads of the executive government; he had even risen to the supreme office of Gonfaloniere; he had made one in embassies to the Pope and to the Venetians; and he had been commissary to the hired army of the Republic, directing the inglorious bloodless battles in which no man died of brave breast wounds--virtuosi colpi--but only of casual falls and tramplings. And in this way he had learned to distrust men without bitterness; looking on life mainly as a game of skill, but not dead to traditions of heroism and clean-handed honour. For the human soul is hospitable, and will entertain conflicting sentiments and contradictory opinions with much impartiality." "For the Unseen Powers were mighty. Who knew--who was sure--that there was _any_ name given to them behind which there was no angry force to be appeased, no intercessory pity to be won? Were not gems medicinal, though they only pressed the finger? Were not all things charged with occult virtues? Lucretius might be right--he was an ancient, and a great poet; Luigi Pulci, too, who was suspected of not believing anything from the roof upward (dal tetto in su), had very much the air of being right over the supper-table, when the wine and jests were circulating fast, though he was only a poet in the vulgar tongue. There were even learned personages who maintained that Aristotle, wisest of men (unless, indeed, Plato were wiser?) was a thoroughly irreligious philosopher; and a liberal scholar must entertain all speculations. But the negatives might, after all, prove false; nay, seemed manifestly false, as the circling hours swept past him, and turned round with graver faces." "But 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 Careggi? It was but a sad, uneasy-looking face that he would carry out of the world which had given him so much, and there were strong suspicions that his handsome son would play the part of Rehoboam. How has it all turned out? Which party is likely to be banished and have its houses sacked just now? Is there any successor of the incomparable Lorenzo, to whom the great Turk is so gracious as to send over presents of rare animals, rare relics, rare manuscripts, or fugitive enemies, suited to the tastes of a Christian Magnifico who is at once lettered and devout--and also slightly vindictive? And what famous scholar is dictating the Latin letters of the Republic--what fiery philosopher is lecturing on Dante in the Duomo, and going home to write bitter invectives against the father and mother of the bad critic who may have found fault with his classical spelling? Are our wiser heads leaning towards alliance with the Pope and the Regno [The name given to Naples by way of distinction among the Italian States], or are they rather inclining their ears to the orators of France and of Milan?" Then when I finally get to the story with real people talking real things to each other I get sentences like this: "Nay, my good Nello," said Bardo, with an air of friendly severity, "you are not altogether illiterate, and might doubtless have made a more respectable progress in learning if you had abstained somewhat from the cicalata and gossip of the street-corner, to which our Florentines are excessively addicted; but still more if you had not clogged your memory with those frivolous productions of which Luigi Pulci has furnished the most peccant exemplar--a compendium of extravagances and incongruities the farthest removed from the models of a pure age, and resembling rather the grylli or conceits of a period when mystic meaning was held a warrant for monstrosity of form; with this difference, that while the monstrosity is retained, the mystic meaning is absent; in contemptible contrast with the great poem of Virgil, who, as I long held with Filelfo, before Landino had taken upon him to expound the same opinion, embodied the deepest lessons of philosophy in a graceful and well-knit fable." I wonder if people really say sentences that long to each other and use words like compendium, grylli and cicalata when saying them. Then there is the problem of this being an old book. It is one of those books I've been given by an older member of our church who come here each week to sing the old hymns, or by someone we've visited in a nursing home. So since it is an old book there are none of those notes we are given in the back of the book or sometimes at the bottom of the page to explain things that we - at least I - am clueless of what they mean. So when I get to sentences like the ones coming up, I have no idea what anyone is saying: "I speak after the fashion of a barber, but, as Luigi Pulci says-- "`Perdonimi s'io fallo: chi m'ascolta Intenda il mio volgar col suo latino.'" "But Romola no sooner saw the movement than she looked at him with significant gravity, and placed her finger on her lips-- "Con viso che tacendo dicea, Taci." "Pooh! the passage is a compliment," said the Greek, who had recovered himself, and seemed wise enough to take the matter gaily-- "`Ingenium velox, audacia perdita, sermo Promptus, et Isaeo torrentior.' "I have returned from the converse of the streets as from a forgotten dream, and have sat down among my books, saying with Petrarca, the modern who is least unworthy to be named after the ancients, `Libri medullitus delectant, colloquuntur, consulunt, et viva quadam nobis atque arguta familiaritate junguntur.'" The story isn't a bad story, two girls in love with the same man type of story, and a whole bunch of other people thrown in, real fathers, church fathers, step fathers, all kinds of people, but it doesn't make up for sentences like: "Ineffable moment! when the man you secretly hate sends you a Latin epigram with a false gender--hendecasyllables with a questionable elision, at least a toe too much--attempts at poetic figures which are manifest solecisms." Anyway, I hate to do it, I never do it, almost, but I'm giving up. The final straw was when I got to page 300 or so, turned the page and found a rather large bug squashed between the pages. I have to put the book aside, at least for now. Maybe I'll make a new shelf - "some other time" or "try again later", for now I'm just quitting and moving on. And hoping there are no bugs in the next book. Happy reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    G.G.

    It's true, as other reviewers have noted, that at times Romola is a slog. (Is there a nineteenth-century novel that isn't?) Nonetheless, what really astounded me about this novel is Eliot's ambition for it. Not for her the advice Jane Austen gave her would-be novelist niece Cassandra: "3 or 4 families in a country village is the very thing to work on." No, Eliot set her work in late fifteenth-century Florence and depicted the struggle of the Florentine Republic to survive not only entrenched ari It's true, as other reviewers have noted, that at times Romola is a slog. (Is there a nineteenth-century novel that isn't?) Nonetheless, what really astounded me about this novel is Eliot's ambition for it. Not for her the advice Jane Austen gave her would-be novelist niece Cassandra: "3 or 4 families in a country village is the very thing to work on." No, Eliot set her work in late fifteenth-century Florence and depicted the struggle of the Florentine Republic to survive not only entrenched aristocratic interests and the designs of Charles VIII of France and Pope Alexander VI, but also a world in which cross and double-cross are the order of the day. Among her cast of characters are historical figures such as the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Eliot's (invented) heroine Romola is perhaps a little too good to be true; her husband Tito is, as the editor of this edition, Andrew Sanders, points out, "the most vivid character" in the novel, his gradual corruption convincingly described. The novel also abounds in startling observations, such as this one: "Love does not aim simply at the conscious good of the beloved object: it is not satisfied without perfect loyalty of heart; it aims at its own completeness" (p. 320).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This is the only book from my beloved George that I had left to read, and it was definitely the most challenging. She accurately portrays Florence in the age of the Medici's, to the point that even people in her day had no idea what the hell she was talking about half the time, hence her copious, fastidious footnote section. This is part novel, part history lesson. It took me ForEVER to get through, but I enjoyed it. Don't think of it as a book--think of it as a hobby. This is the only book from my beloved George that I had left to read, and it was definitely the most challenging. She accurately portrays Florence in the age of the Medici's, to the point that even people in her day had no idea what the hell she was talking about half the time, hence her copious, fastidious footnote section. This is part novel, part history lesson. It took me ForEVER to get through, but I enjoyed it. Don't think of it as a book--think of it as a hobby.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Care

    Let me first say that there is much to love here. Truly! The first fifty or so pages felt interminable, but once past that point the book becomes a veritable page turner. Eliot crafts a fascinating, first-rate historical fiction plot based in Florence, Italy, from the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici (in 1492), through the time of Savonarola’s influence, and culminating in an epilogue placed in 1509. In the midst of this tumultuous social situation is placed our heroine, Romola. The daughter of a scho Let me first say that there is much to love here. Truly! The first fifty or so pages felt interminable, but once past that point the book becomes a veritable page turner. Eliot crafts a fascinating, first-rate historical fiction plot based in Florence, Italy, from the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici (in 1492), through the time of Savonarola’s influence, and culminating in an epilogue placed in 1509. In the midst of this tumultuous social situation is placed our heroine, Romola. The daughter of a scholar, Romola herself is very well educated for a woman of her time. This novel follows Romola through six complex post-de’Medici years of Florentine politics, further inflamed by the preachings of Savonarola, a Dominican friar. As the plot swells in complexity, the gentle woman transitions from being her father’s daughter, to her husband’s wife, to a woman meeting life head on with a dignity of her own merit. Possessed of a fast moving, labyrinthine plot, this novel, despite its length of just over 600 pages, keeps up a taut pace until the very end. As might be expected in a novel named after a character, this one, despite the enticing plot, is very rooted in its performers. Romola is a central figure, but by no means the only one. Eliot pulls some of her players direct from the history books and some from her imagination, but each and every one of them feels so genuine that it is difficult to know which really lived and breathed and which only ever lived within her pages. This is the type of book that has you googling purely imaginative personages-because they are portrayed with such authenticity. Florence of the late fifteenth century is very well depicted: the pageantry of her holidays (including a fantastic description of Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities); the dress, habits, and occupations of her various classes; and the architectural details of her stone edifices. As you wander the streets with the novel’s inhabitants you are drawn into her neighborhoods, with their chaos, aromas, and idiosyncrasies. So why a relatively low three star rating? Because the prose is so dense that it left me wallowing somewhere between philosophy text and nineteenth century history tome. For some reason, I had to work exceptionally hard to remain focused on reading the words themselves and concentrate with that little bit of extra grey matter to wrap my mind around what exactly was being expressed. Was it worth it? Well, yes, as my clear admiration for the book’s merits shows; however, I can not say that I “really liked” (four stars) or “loved” (five stars) a book which required so much effort. So, three stars, a simple “liked” verdict, it is for this work. This is definitely not a book for someone unused to literature of the Victorian era, as, in my opinion, this novel is some of the least accessible writing from that time frame.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jane Greensmith

    Much as I would love to give this book 5 stars, the beginning is just too hard to read and Romola is just too saintly. Plus, the coincidences! This type of thing is what gives Victorian lit such a bad rap. Really, George Eliot, really? You couldn't make the characters work a little bit before stumbling on each other? It was an ambitious book, historical fiction about a complex time, and worth reading, especially if you want to know what made Maryann Evans tick! Much as I would love to give this book 5 stars, the beginning is just too hard to read and Romola is just too saintly. Plus, the coincidences! This type of thing is what gives Victorian lit such a bad rap. Really, George Eliot, really? You couldn't make the characters work a little bit before stumbling on each other? It was an ambitious book, historical fiction about a complex time, and worth reading, especially if you want to know what made Maryann Evans tick!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    A new favorite! Took me a way to another time and place and just took my breath away at the end. So good.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    "Romola" is probably not the most advisable introduction to the work of Marian Evans (to use her real name), but I confess that the historical novel is my literary weakness. Although I know that the historical novel is most frequently the mirror of the writer's world in period dress, like those old photographs in which the subjects stood behind cutouts that attempted to evoke a different time and place. And so Evans' Victorians descend upon the Florence of Fra Savonarola on his way from setting "Romola" is probably not the most advisable introduction to the work of Marian Evans (to use her real name), but I confess that the historical novel is my literary weakness. Although I know that the historical novel is most frequently the mirror of the writer's world in period dress, like those old photographs in which the subjects stood behind cutouts that attempted to evoke a different time and place. And so Evans' Victorians descend upon the Florence of Fra Savonarola on his way from setting fire to the vanities to being set on fire himself. It used to be thought that Savonarola was an aberration, a brutal but temporary Medici-free interruption of the march toward civilization from Dante and Boccaccio to Michelangelo and Cellini, but Donald Weinstein's research has shown how rooted the friar's mystic vitriol was in the culture of Florence. You can certainly see that in the Commedia, or the wilder stories of the Decameron, and Michelangelo's work is full of fire, if not strictly of the Savonarolan kind. I suppose that is what I missed about "Romola"--the characters scheme, seduce, defraud, betray, murder and execute each other, they howl, brawl and curse, but I never felt as though I were leaving the Florence of the Brownings and Hawthorne behind and being transported to the people and language of its 15th century ancestor. Perhaps the fault is not in the works but in ourselves; no doubt I expect to much (and the standard of verisimilitude for the historical novel has changed, witness Hilary Mantel's evocation of Tudor England). But I never felt that Romola, the character or the novel, was ever so much at home as in the domestic scene that ends it, in a nurturing society of women blessedly free of its feckless men. Not that I disagree with the novel's ending--in fact I found it moving--but it did not seem especially Florentine.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    This is my least favorite Eliot so far and I think there are only a few I haven't read. It didn't seem to go anywhere and the characters's action were frustrating. I've never grown bored with Eliot's philosophizing but it was heavy handed in Romola. This is my least favorite Eliot so far and I think there are only a few I haven't read. It didn't seem to go anywhere and the characters's action were frustrating. I've never grown bored with Eliot's philosophizing but it was heavy handed in Romola.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    ...Tito could not arrange life at all to his mind without a considerable sum of money. And that problem of arranging life to his mind had been the source of all his misdoing. This is my least favorite of the works of Mary Ann Evans that I've encountered thus far, but as it's Evans we're speaking of, 'Romola' is still miles better than most of what was written then and what is being written now. My greatest criticism is how much she indulged in Shakespearean-level tropes once outside the realm ...Tito could not arrange life at all to his mind without a considerable sum of money. And that problem of arranging life to his mind had been the source of all his misdoing. This is my least favorite of the works of Mary Ann Evans that I've encountered thus far, but as it's Evans we're speaking of, 'Romola' is still miles better than most of what was written then and what is being written now. My greatest criticism is how much she indulged in Shakespearean-level tropes once outside the realm of the mental state of the novel's (pro/an)tagonist (those who have also read, you tell me what role he fulfills), especially with regards to Tessa, who forever remains an aggravating blank and foil, and not a very pleasing one, for both characters and plot. My greatest praise is for Evans' customary levels of effort when it comes to diagnostics of scenes both outer and inner, and the amount of removal from her native, customary narrative landscapes both in terms of time and space, while compromising her abilities in part, often triumphed in ways that would not have been possible outside the era of Borgia popes, Cassandra Fedele, Machiavelli, and martyrs burned at the stake. Now that I'm finished, I can say that I was wise to wait until I had three of her other works under my belt; it's easier to appreciate the methods of her attempt in terms of the larger schematic of her bibliography than without. But our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our own will. Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never: they have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness[.] I've had this book for so long and read so much of Evans' other works that I had some fairly wild conjectures about how her style of writing would cooperate and/or clash with such topics as 15th/16th century Italy and Savonarola. The actual work is less sensational than I supposed, of course, but for all the titular character's promise, her story is far more effect than cause, which is why there is still some confusion in my mind, despite how the story's events fall out, over the true focus of the narrative. I can see why Evans more often chose in future cases place names rather than people, as both 'Romola' and Daniel Deronda don't quite fulfill the promise of their titles until the work's culmination. However, DD has its almost epic humanity, while in 'Romola' I learned a borderline horrendous amount about a period I've been trained to cultivate an amateur interest in with its first ancient translations into Italian and the language's own vaunted artists of word and paint and stone. Lengthy at times ( what Evans isn't), but my insistence on always reading notes both fore and aft of the text continues to serve me well, and if I had to choose an author to introduce me to such Florencian matters, Evans is far more suited than most to such a task. Ultimately, I can appreciate the monumental amount of effort she put into writing this, but it is definitely a middle of the canon work, and her greatest triumphs are yet to come. Tito was experiencing that inexorable law of human souls, that we prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by the reiterated choice of good or evil which gradually determines character. 'You talk of substantial good, Tito! Are faithfulness, and love, and sweet grateful memories, no good? Is it no good that we should keep our silent promises on which others build because they believe in our love and truth? Is it no good that a just life should be justly honoured? Or, is it good that we should harden our hearts against all the wants and hopes of those who have depended on us? What good can belong to men who have such souls? To talk cleverly, perhaps, and find soft couches for themselves, and live and die with their base selves as their best companions.' I'm likely to read another Evans before the year is out, and Silas Marner being even earlier in the chronology will give me an even clearer picture of her progression as a novelist. Less of the characters may be fleshed out, more near unbelievable, borderline mystical character behavior will be witnessed, and Evans' grandiose philosophizing may get away from her during a far shorter length of narrative than I am accustomed to experiencing her through. However, as must be reiterated, this is Evans, so a certain amount of slack may be cut. In terms of her other work, I can't say I'm veritably interested in any at the moment, but I have a lot of reading years left to me, and considering what happened with Woolf, I may find myself tracking down short stories and letter compilations for little reason other than a familiar name in an oft beloved form. That's for post 2019, though. For now, I have other authors to peruse. The law was sacred. Yes, but the rebellion may be sacred too. '...Men do not want books to make them think lightly of vice, as if life were a vulgar joke. And I cannot blame Fra Girolamo for teaching that we owe our time to something better.' 'Yes, yes, it's very well to say so now you've read them.'

  22. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    First of all, I love George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), but not this book. I guess even Eliot had her limitations. Like Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, they both would have been better off staying in their own hoods. If you are a scholar of late 15th century Florence, Italy, you will love Romola. Of course, if you are a scholar of late 15th century Italy, you have probably already read it. I would say that it is possible for erudition to go too far, especially in fiction, and unfortunately, Eliot went t First of all, I love George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), but not this book. I guess even Eliot had her limitations. Like Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, they both would have been better off staying in their own hoods. If you are a scholar of late 15th century Florence, Italy, you will love Romola. Of course, if you are a scholar of late 15th century Italy, you have probably already read it. I would say that it is possible for erudition to go too far, especially in fiction, and unfortunately, Eliot went too far. Too much research - not enough passion. In overreaching and over ambition, she lost much of her usually graceful prose and even much of the insight into her characters which is the touchstone of her work. Where usually it is quite easy to understand the meaning of her beautifully written sentences, it is often difficult to extract her exact meaning in Romola. Perhaps she was under the spell of Savonarola when she was writing this:-) I still gave it 3 stars because it is George Eliot after all and even her worst is better than the best of most authors. There were still her gems of wisdom sprinkled here and there and the story at times was compelling. I also gained more historical knowledge than I really wanted, but that is not such a bad thing. If you are a die-hard Eliot fan, as I am, I would say read it. Otherwise, you would be better off with another one of Eliot’s books.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lizzie

    My second date with my new best friend George Eliot. I didn't love it like I loved The Mill on the Floss , which is fine. I'm not sure that I want to love all things that way. I'm rounding up the rating here because though it was a much more difficult read, I have near as much awe for what she is capable of. The thing that I find in George Eliot, and in almost nothing else, is a telling of the truth that sounds like a magic, definitive lesson. Her statements are just and perfect. And in both My second date with my new best friend George Eliot. I didn't love it like I loved The Mill on the Floss , which is fine. I'm not sure that I want to love all things that way. I'm rounding up the rating here because though it was a much more difficult read, I have near as much awe for what she is capable of. The thing that I find in George Eliot, and in almost nothing else, is a telling of the truth that sounds like a magic, definitive lesson. Her statements are just and perfect. And in both books, the conflicts have somehow made me feel the story touches my life deeply. As an adult, I find very few stories strong enough to reach there. Here, she brings across important thinking about duty and debt and trust, belonging and home, self-interest on a macro level. The truth of some conclusions on those subjects were painful to read. I will need to revisit these thoughts. And parentage seems to be important here -- I noticed there are four father figures in the book: Romola's, her husband's, her godfather, and her converter and "father" Savonarola. The comparison between them is not explicitly drawn, but I paid it attention anyway. In the end, Romola herself seems to belong on that list symbolically as well. It's a good ending. But. Very long stretches of this book are very hard to read. I felt exasperated by the entire first half. 50% of a pretty long book is a lot of distaste, so some more balanced presentation of character insight would have been good for me. I felt like I waited forever to see what Romola was like, and why the book is named after her. And something about the style in which Eliot delivers the bulk of the setting -- the history lessons, the political goings-on, the inhabitants and aspect of Florence at the turn of the 16th century -- just did not go, for me. I did not befriend it. It was far, far too dry and exact to enjoy. Which is ok, actually; that is just my reading. But it was strange feeling the parts of the book I really valued were often being eclipsed by her accuracy. And yet, it is perfectly right for her to have worked so hard to achieve it, and that's the way it should be. Thanks to Shannon for the birthday present.

  24. 5 out of 5

    adam

    Romola marks a significant shift in George Eliot's career. At first glance, this shift appears radical. Whereas her first four works (Scenes of Clerical Life followed by the three early novels, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner) all document life in rural England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Romola takes place in late 15c. Italy. That is to say, while her early works can all be read in line with the project of realism she outlines in her early essay, "T Romola marks a significant shift in George Eliot's career. At first glance, this shift appears radical. Whereas her first four works (Scenes of Clerical Life followed by the three early novels, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner) all document life in rural England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Romola takes place in late 15c. Italy. That is to say, while her early works can all be read in line with the project of realism she outlines in her early essay, "The Natural History of German Life," Romola certainly marks a shift to new and different concerns. At the same time, however, there is still much continuity with her earlier (and later) work in its exploration of human relationships, moral action, and religious sentiment. The shift is not one of tone or theme but rather of scope, as Romola has the same expansiveness of Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. What makes this novel so difficult and rewarding (and perhaps why it is not widely read) is its dense historical embedment. Why Romola's life is fictional, the period of Florentine history that the novel presents is not. The complex social world that the novel presents is a rich portrait, though perhaps one that borders on overwhelming the reader rather than moving him or her. Personally, I love Eliot's work, and this novel has all the lovely passages that characterize her greatest work. It is certainly a great and difficult work, and if it had been written by someone else, might actually be more widely read. It has everything the 19c. novel shouldh have and more: Niccolo Machiavelli as a character, a monkey riding a horse, Dominicans (almost!) walking through fire, and plenty of deceit and intrigue. However, considering that Eliot would later write two of the greatest novels in the English language, it is easy to see why this novel is relegated to obscurity.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leif

    Nope: didn't like it one bit, but sat and read through almost 600 pages of historical setting while Eliot spun a flimsy, barely coherent plot over top of her beloved research. Stock characters became parodies - see Baldassarre or Romola - and decently fleshed out characters disappeared into the haze of Eliot's sympathy project - see Tito. Add to this the horrifically patronizing, and sublimely insulting portrayal of the beautiful woman Tessa, another one of Eliot's ongoing projects of demonifica Nope: didn't like it one bit, but sat and read through almost 600 pages of historical setting while Eliot spun a flimsy, barely coherent plot over top of her beloved research. Stock characters became parodies - see Baldassarre or Romola - and decently fleshed out characters disappeared into the haze of Eliot's sympathy project - see Tito. Add to this the horrifically patronizing, and sublimely insulting portrayal of the beautiful woman Tessa, another one of Eliot's ongoing projects of demonification, and you have the major characters of Romola. Savonarola? The guy who got a few inner monologues? See "an apologist's revisionism of Italian history 1490's" ... well, almost. Eliot's too good a novelist to be a so transparent. But still, I found very little to like in this, her justly least read novel.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie Browning

    I can't believe I have never head of Romola, after all of my British Lit studies, but I knew that if George Eliot wrote it, I would be all in. What a powerful book! I want to write a 20 page paper dissecting all of the different elements, but a short review will have to suffice with the time I have. I thought the setting of the Italian Renaissance was fascinating. Eliot did her work and weaved in the elements of Savonarola and the connecting religious themes, social classes, and humanism along w I can't believe I have never head of Romola, after all of my British Lit studies, but I knew that if George Eliot wrote it, I would be all in. What a powerful book! I want to write a 20 page paper dissecting all of the different elements, but a short review will have to suffice with the time I have. I thought the setting of the Italian Renaissance was fascinating. Eliot did her work and weaved in the elements of Savonarola and the connecting religious themes, social classes, and humanism along with the universal elements of the meaning of academics, the foils of love, revenge, and human suffering, and the purpose of life. I wish I had the time to really savor this book by reading it slower, but I was in a bit of a rush to get to my book club book, so I skimmed a lot of the historical sections but got the gist. It would have been fascinating to absorb all of that to the extent Eliot was emphasizing. I love Romola--her epiphany at the end about the meaning of life really stuck with me. Tito's evolution was fascinating. I actually really enjoyed Tessa. Eliot produced a literary masterpiece once again. The first 50 pages are awful, but if you make it past there, you're set. And although this is a book I wouldn't read for pure enjoyment, it's one that will thematically stick with me for years to come.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This was an amazingly well written book. She did such a good job creating complex characters that were true to life. I realized after I read the book that many of her characters were actually real people so it proved to be quite the history lesson as well. The main characters were fictional by necessity, though. I was really impressed with a theme that she brought forth very thoroughly: that "the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell". Beca This was an amazingly well written book. She did such a good job creating complex characters that were true to life. I realized after I read the book that many of her characters were actually real people so it proved to be quite the history lesson as well. The main characters were fictional by necessity, though. I was really impressed with a theme that she brought forth very thoroughly: that "the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell". Because the characters were so realistic, I totally ached to read about the choices that led down this path for some.

  28. 4 out of 5

    jt

    First Eliot I have ever read. Astonishing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    A remarkable achievement. An incredibly authentic realisation of renaissance Florence. The work of a huge intellect. But not that great a story. Glad I read it though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dr.J.G.

    Quoted from blurb:- "This historical novel is set in the fifteenth century, and is “a deep study of life in the city of Florence from an intellectual, artistic, religious, and social point of view”. It first appeared in fourteen parts published in Cornhill Magazine from July 1862 to August. The story takes place amidst actual historical events during the Italian Renaissance, and includes in its plot several notable figures from Florentine history. The content of this novel is distinctly different Quoted from blurb:- "This historical novel is set in the fifteenth century, and is “a deep study of life in the city of Florence from an intellectual, artistic, religious, and social point of view”. It first appeared in fourteen parts published in Cornhill Magazine from July 1862 to August. The story takes place amidst actual historical events during the Italian Renaissance, and includes in its plot several notable figures from Florentine history. The content of this novel is distinctly different from the rest of Eliot’s oeuvre." ............ The book opens, deliberately dated explicitly at 1492, in Florence, with locals guiding a Greek youth to a home of a local scholar of renown who might use his assistance. There is much conversation along the way, and much exposition in prologue before, that makes one wonder if the author was deeply immersed in a scholastic study, or acquired it via travel, or both; but she does drop names of the era, now little kniwn, a great deal. That, however, isn't all - she already discusses the views of Romans, Italians in general and Florentine in particular, regarding scholastic quality of Greece versus their own - and vice versa, the disdain of Greece for Romans and Italians, unaffected by the reversal of fortunes, supported by the Greek familiarity with antiquity as opposed to what they almost call idolatry of Italians, in that Greece thinks Italian thought is unable to grasp anything prior to their religion. To a reader not deeply into scholastic study of that era or of antiquity, of Greece and Italy, and particularly with regard to thinkers of the two lands over millennia, it's a tad unclear if the author us mentioning names strictly historical, and presenting their views accurately - or mixing it up a little with imaginary ones, since it's a novel, after all. At that, a short way into the story, a small similarity with Silas Marner becomes apparent, that about an attractive youth who isn't a bad sort but isn't firm in his virtues, divided between a woman far above that he aspires to and another not quite that class whom he might love contentedly but for his aiming for the one higher. But the chief similarity is the moral dilemma, which here isn't a choice between the two; it's rather a choice between the duty towards an adoptive father who needs to be rescued from slavery, which might involve a journey and search that might prove fruitless after all, but in any case be a certain loss of his years of youth, and most likely of the woman aspired to, apart from the life and status of a scholar established in society of Florence. Another slight similarity is, of course, that of the two scholars - here a blind old father of the beautiful Romola, and the old Mr Casaubon of Middlemarch whom the beautiful Dorothea chose to marry; come to think, Romola is not very dissimilar to Dorothea, except she's a daughter, her scholarly father isn't described as working fruitlessly, and her destiny is more likely akin to Nancy of Silas Marner. But the book is quite slow until about somewhere between a quarter and one third of the way, where it pickets up pace; until then it's heavy reading for those not well acquainted and enamoured about Florence circa 1492. And it's a bit further before one begins to realise that Eliot really intended to write of Savonarola. At the end, after one has read it through puzzled, suddenly the whole structure emerges, and one sees the various characters that the author has painted, each a distinct type. Each has their own greatness and faults that go with it, not dissonant but making them human. And Savonarola merely fits in, as a historic persona seen rather dim in background, despite being portrayed not always in background. ............ "More than three centuries and a half ago, in the mid spring-time of 1492, we are sure that the angel of the dawn, as he travelled with broad slow wing from the Levant to the Pillars of Hercules, and from the summits of the Caucasus across all the snowy Alpine ridges to the dark nakedness of the Western isles, saw nearly the same outline of firm land and unstable sea — saw the same great mountain shadows on the same valleys as he has seen to-day — saw olive mounts, and pine forests, and the broad plains green with young corn or rain-freshened grass — saw the domes and spires of cities rising by the river-sides or mingled with the sedge-like masts on the many-curved sea-coast, in the same spots where they rise to-day. ... " " ... And doubtless, if the spirit of a Florentine citizen, whose eyes were closed for the last time while Columbus was still waiting and arguing for the three poor vessels with which he was to set sail from the port of Palos, could return from the shades and pause where our thought is pausing, he would believe that there must still be fellowship and understanding for him among the inheritors of his birthplace. "Let us suppose that such a Shade has been permitted to revisit the glimpses of the golden morning, and is standing once more on the famous hill of San Miniato, which overlooks Florence from the south." " ...For it is not only the mountains and the westward-bending river that he recognises; not only the dark sides of Mount Morello opposite to him, and the long valley of the Arno that seems to stretch its grey low-tufted luxuriance to the far-off ridges of Carrara; and the steep height of Fiesole, with its crown of monastic walls and cypresses; and all the green and grey slopes sprinkled with villas which he can name as he looks at them. He sees other familiar objects much closer to his daily walks. For though he misses the seventy or more towers that once surmounted the walls, and encircled the city as with a regal diadem, his eyes will not dwell on that blank; they are drawn irresistibly to the unique tower springing, like a tall flower-stem drawn towards the sun, from the square turreted mass of the Old Palace in the very heart of the city--the tower that looks none the worse for the four centuries that have passed since he used to walk under it. The great dome, too, greatest in the world, which, in his early boyhood, had been only a daring thought in the mind of a small, quick-eyed man--there it raises its large curves still, eclipsing the hills. ... " " ... Why have five out of the eleven convenient gates been closed? And why, above all, should the towers have been levelled that were once a glory and defence? ... " ............ "To the ear of Dante, the same streets rang with the shout and clash of fierce battle between rival families; but in the fifteenth century, they were only noisy with the unhistorical quarrels and broad jests of woolcarders in the cloth-producing quarters of San Martino and Garbo. "Under this loggia, in the early morning of the 9th of April 1492, two men had their eyes fixed on each other: one was stooping slightly, and looking downward with the scrutiny of curiosity; the other, lying on the pavement, was looking upward with the startled gaze of a suddenly-awakened dreamer." "“Ah! young man,” said Bratti, with a sideway glance of some admiration, “you were not born of a Sunday—the salt-shops were open when you came into the world. You’re not a Hebrew, eh?—come from Spain or Naples, eh? Let me tell you the Frati Minori are trying to make Florence as hot as Spain for those dogs of hell that want to get all the profit of usury to themselves and leave none for Christians; and when you walk the Calimara with a piece of yellow cloth in your cap, it will spoil your beauty more than a sword-cut across that smooth olive cheek of yours.—Abbaratta, baratta—chi abbaratta?—I tell you, young man, grey cloth is against yellow cloth; and there’s as much grey cloth in Florence as would make a gown and cowl for the Duomo, and there’s not so much yellow cloth as would make hose for Saint Christopher—blessed be his name, and send me a sight of him this day!—Abbaratta, baratta, b’ratta—chi abbaratta?”" "“I tell you I saw it myself,” said a fat man, with a bunch of newly-purchased leeks in his hand. “I was in Santa Maria Novella, and saw it myself. The woman started up and threw out her arms, and cried out and said she saw a big bull with fiery horns coming down on the church to crush it. I saw it myself.”" "“Ebbene, Nello,” said Bratti, skirting the group till he was within hearing of the barber. “It appears the Magnifico is dead—rest his soul!—and the price of wax will rise?” "“Even as you say,” answered Nello; and then added, with an air of extra gravity, but with marvellous rapidity, “and his waxen image in the Nunziata fell at the same moment, they say; or at some other time, whenever it pleases the Frati Serviti, who know best. And several cows and women have had still-born calves this Quaresima; and for the bad eggs that have been broken since the Carnival, nobody has counted them. Ah! a great man—a great politician—a greater poet than Dante. And yet the cupola didn’t fall, only the lantern. Che miracolo!”" "“ ... But God pardon me,” added Nello, changing his tone, and crossing himself, “this light talk ill beseems a morning when Lorenzo lies dead, and the Muses are tearing their hair—always a painful thought to a barber; and you yourself, Messere, are probably under a cloud, for when a man of your speech and presence takes up with so sorry a night’s lodging, it argues some misfortune to have befallen him.” "“What Lorenzo is that whose death you speak of?” said the stranger, appearing to have dwelt with too anxious an interest on this point to have noticed the indirect inquiry that followed it. "“What Lorenzo? There is but one Lorenzo, I imagine, whose death could throw the Mercato into an uproar, set the lantern of the Duomo leaping in desperation, and cause the lions of the Republic to feel under an immediate necessity to devour one another. I mean Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Pericles of our Athens—if I may make such a comparison in the ear of a Greek.”" "“ ... Certain of our scholars hold that your Greek learning is but a wayside degenerate plant until it has been transplanted into Italian brains, and that now there is such a plentiful crop of the superior quality, your native teachers are mere propagators of degeneracy. ... ”" "“Pian piano—not so fast,” said Nello, sticking his thumbs into his belt and nodding to Sandro to restore order. “I will not conceal from you that there is a prejudice against Greeks among us; and though, as a barber unsnared by authorship, I share no prejudices, I must admit that the Greeks are not always such pretty youngsters as yourself: their erudition is often of an uncombed, unmannerly aspect, and encrusted with a barbarous utterance of Italian, that makes their converse hardly more euphonious than that of a Tedesco in a state of vinous loquacity. And then, again, excuse me—we Florentines have liberal ideas about speech, and consider that an instrument which can flatter and promise so cleverly as the tongue, must have been partly made for those purposes; and that truth is a riddle for eyes and wit to discover, which it were a mere spoiling of sport for the tongue to betray. Still we have our limits beyond which we call dissimulation treachery. But it is said of the Greeks that their honesty begins at what is the hanging point with us, and that since the old Furies went to sleep, your Christian Greek is of so easy a conscience that he would make a stepping-stone of his father’s corpse.”" ............ " ... The Bardi, who had made themselves fast in their street between the two bridges, kept these narrow inlets, like panthers at bay, against the oncoming gonfalons of the people, and were only made to give way by an assault from the hill behind them. Their houses by the river, to the number of twenty-two (palagi e case grandi), were sacked and burnt, and many among the chief of those who bore the Bardi name were driven from the city. But an old Florentine family was many-rooted, and we find the Bardi maintaining importance and rising again and again to the surface of Florentine affairs in a more or less creditable manner, implying an untold family history that would have included even more vicissitudes and contrasts of dignity and disgrace, of wealth and poverty, than are usually seen on the background of wide kinship. (Note 1.) But the Bardi never resumed their proprietorship in the old street on the banks of the river, which in 1492 had long been associated with other names of mark, and especially with the Neri, who possessed a considerable range of houses on the side towards the hill." ............ "Seating herself on a low stool, close to her father’s knee, Romola took the book on her lap and read the four verses containing the exclamation of Actreon. "“It is true, Romola,” said Bardo, when she had finished; “it is a true conception of the poet; for what is that grosser, narrower light by which men behold merely the petty scene around them, compared with that far-stretching, lasting light which spreads over centuries of thought, and over the life of nations, and makes clear to us the minds of the immortals who have reaped the great harvest and left us to glean in their furrows?" "“Yes,” he went on, “with my son to aid me, I might have had my due share in the triumphs of this century: the names of the Bardi, father and son, might have been held reverently on the lips of scholars in the ages to come; not on account of frivolous verses or philosophical treatises, which are superfluous and presumptuous attempts to imitate the inimitable, such as allure vain men like Panhormita, and from which even the admirable Poggio did not keep himself sufficiently free; but because we should have given a lamp whereby men might have studied the supreme productions of the past. For why is a young man like Poliziano (who was not yet born when I was already held worthy to maintain a discussion with Thomas of Sarzana) to have a glorious memory as a commentator on the Pandects—why is Ficino, whose Latin is an offence to me, and who wanders purblind among the superstitious fancies that marked the decline at once of art, literature, and philosophy, to descend to posterity as the very high priest of Platonism, while I, who am more than their equal, have not effected anything but scattered work, which will be appropriated by other men? Why? but because my son, whom I had brought up to replenish my ripe learning with young enterprise, left me and all liberal pursuits that he might lash himself and howl at midnight with besotted friars—that he might go wandering on pilgrimages befitting men who know of no past older than the missal and the crucifix?—left me when the night was already beginning to fall on me.”" " ... And thou hast a man’s nobility of soul: thou hast never fretted me with thy petty desires as thy mother did. It is true, I have been careful to keep thee aloof from the debasing influence of thy own sex, with their sparrow-like frivolity and ....

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