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Book Title: Romola (Everyman's Library (Paper))|
The author of the book: George Eliot
Edition: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Date of issue: April 15th 1999
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 815 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.8
ISBN 13: 9780460875639
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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 so many of the monuments I was inspired to search for, all of which are important to the plot of this book.
Romola is a long novel and I spent a long time reading it. When I reached the end, I didn't feel ready to write a review so I set it aside. Today, I opened it up again and reread the preface, which I'd all but forgotten. In that preface, George Eliot conjures up an anonymous fifteenth century citizen of Florence (whom she calls a Shade or, alternatively, a Spirit), and whom she makes revisit the city in her own time, the 1860s. Let us suppose that such a Shade has been permitted to revisit the glimpses of the golden morning, and is standing once 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 enjoyed thinking about her reading up on all that history. From my twenty-first century vantage point in front of a satellite map, I conjured her up in my imagination. I placed her in the Laurentian library and watched as she pored over the writings of the famous Florentines of the period such as Dante, Poliziano, Macchiavelli, Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola.
I imagined her walking through the streets of Florence, visiting churches and palazzos. I saw her in the Uffizi Gallery, standing in front of a painting by Piero di Cosimo, perhaps his Bacchus and Ariadne, thinking how she might use the beautiful pair as models for the human interest story she knew she had to somehow graft onto her political and religious themes.
I saw her crossing the piazza della Signoria towards the Palazzo Vecchio and pausing by the ancient stone lion to reflect on all the momentous happenings that had taken place inside that building and on the piazza itself.
I watched as she went down to the Ponte Vecchio and crossed the Arno to Oltrarno where she turned left along by the river until she reached the Via de' Bardi. There, she stopped in front of a large sombre stone building pierced by small windows, and surmounted by a loggia or roof terrace.
"This is it," she thought, "this is where I'll place my Ariadne. And I'll call her Romola. Romola de' Bardi."
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Read information about the authorMary Ann Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She was born in 1819 at a farmstead in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, where her father was estate manager. Mary Ann, the youngest child and a favorite of her father's, received a good education for a young woman of her day. Influenced by a favorite governess, she became a religious evangelical as an adolescent.
Her first published work was a religious poem. Through a family friend, she was exposed to Charles Hennell's "An Inquiry into the Origins of Christianity". Unable to believe, she conscientiously gave up religion and stopped attending church. Her father shunned her, sending the broken-hearted young dependent to live with a sister until she promised to reexamine her feelings. Her intellectual views did not, however, change. She translated "Das Leben Jesu", a monumental task, without signing her name to the 1846 work.
After her father's death in 1849, Mary Ann traveled, then accepted an unpaid position with The Westminster Review. Despite a heavy workload, she translated "The Essence of Christianity", the only book ever published under her real name. That year, the shy, respectable writer scandalized British society by sending notices to friends announcing she had entered a free "union" with George Henry Lewes, editor of The Leader, who was unable to divorce his first wife. They lived harmoniously together for the next 24 years, but suffered social ostracism and financial hardship. She became salaried and began writing essays and reviews for The Westminster Review.
Renaming herself "Marian" in private life and adopting the penname "George Eliot," she began her impressive fiction career, including: "Adam Bede" (1859), "The Mill on the Floss" (1860), "Silas Marner" (1861), "Romola" (1863), and "Middlemarch" (1871). Themes included her humanist vision and strong heroines. Her poem, "O May I Join the Choir Invisible" expressed her views about non supernatural immortality: "O may I join the choir invisible/ Of those immortal dead who live again/ In minds made better by their presence. . ." D. 1880.
Her 1872 work Middlemarch has been described by Martin Amis and Julian Barnes as the greatest novel in the English language.
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