Romola (Penguin Classics)
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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 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.
determined to put it on at once, so that, if she needed sleep before the morning, she might wake up in perfect readiness to be gone. She put off her black garment, and as she thrust her soft white arms into the harsh sleeves of the serge mantle and felt the hard girdle of rope hurt her fingers as she tied it, she courted those rude sensations: they were in keeping with her new scorn of that thing called pleasure which made men base – that dexterous contrivance for selfish ease, that shrinking
himself?’ Nello shrugged his shoulders. ‘For two good reasons – want of sight to look at the gems, and want of money to pay for them. Our old Bardo de’ Bardi is so blind that he can see no more of his daughter than, as he says, a glimmering of something bright when she comes very near him: doubtless her golden hair, which, as Messer Luigi Pulci says of his Meridiana’s, “raggia come stella per sereno.”12 Ah! here come some clients of mine, and I shouldn’t wonder if one of them could serve your
the credit’, p. 237, serves both purposes). The same elegant trick is repeated later when, in Chapter 43, Tito brings the news that history attributes to Meo di Sasso (p. 382). Like other historical novels before and after it – for example, Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurean (1885)– Romola creates an entire network of correspondences between the time of its setting and that in which it is written. An early example of this is to be found in the Proem, when the Spirit expresses an interest in
anticipation. ‘Welcome, Tito mio,’ said the old man’s voice, before Tito had spoken. There was a new vigour in the voice, a new cheerfulness in the blind face, since that first interview more than two months ago. ‘You have brought fresh manuscript, doubtless; but since we were talking last night I have had new ideas: we must take a wider scope – we must go back upon our footsteps.’ Tito, paying his homage to Romola as he advanced, went, as his custom was, straight to Bardo’s chair, and put his
gifts that purify the soul.’ He was looking at her with mild fixedness while he spoke, and again she felt that subtle mysterious influence of a personality by which it has been given to some rare men to move their fellows. Slowly Romola fell on her knees, and in the very act a tremor came over her; in the renunciation of her proud erectness, her mental attitude seemed changed, and she found herself in a new state of passiveness. Her brother began to speak again – ‘Romola, in the deep night, as