Classics Club Book #13: Romola by George Eliot
Under every guilty secret there is hidden a brood of guilty wishes, whose unwholesome infecting life is cherished by the darkness.
I chose to read Romola for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge as my “Classic set in a place you’d like to visit.” The story takes place in Florence, Italy, which is one of my bucket-list destinations. Written by George Eliot in 1863, Romola transports the reader to Florence in 1492, where the main characters rub elbows with Niccolo Machiavelli, Girolamo Savonarola, members of the Medici family, and other historical figures of the time.
Tito Melema, a handsome young Greek scholar, finds himself in Florence after being shipwrecked. As he tries to work his way up the social and political ladder he meets Romola, the beautiful daughter of one of Florence’s most distinguished scholars, Bardo de Bardi. But Tito is haunted by the knowledge that his adoptive father may have survived the shipwreck, and he is torn between the desire to succeed and his filial duty to search for his father. Romola knows knows nothing of Tito’s past or of his plans to undercut her father’s dying wish. Their story plays out against the backdrop of Renaissance Italy and its religious and political upheaval.
Romola is well worth a read, especially for those who enjoy Victorian literature and/or historical fiction. I particularly enjoyed the Florentine setting and Romola’s efforts to deal with Tito’s bad decisions. The characters are complex and interesting, and their dilemmas and conflicts are universal.
I didn’t know much about the time period before I started the book, and I think that hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the novel. While I did enjoy Romola, I would have appreciated it a lot more if the notes in my Modern Library Kindle edition would have been linked to the text. There were dozens of historical notes that I didn’t read simply because navigating to them without an internal hyperlink was too cumbersome and time consuming. So while I recommend Romola the book, I do not recommend the Modern Library Kindle edition. If you read it, get yourself a copy in print or an ebook with links to the notes.
Romola by George Eliot
First edition London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1863
Kindle edition Modern Library, 2007
Print length: 656 pages