Of her novels, George Eliot once said, Romola stood out as “having been written with my best blood.” This is a revealing statement coming from the author of Middlemarch (1871-1872) and The Mill on the Floss (1860), novels considered by most critics to be superior works. Why did Eliot shower Romola with such high praise? Romola is Eliot’s most ambitious historical novel. Readers find themselves transported back to fifteenth century Florence, where politics and religion intermingle; this is illustrated by the expulsion of the Medicis from power, an act in part inspired by the fervent preaching of Fra Girolamo Savonarola. Eliot spent many months studying Florentine history, both at home and during a trip to Italy in 1861. Her research resulted in a solid and reliable account of the period the novel portrays. Unfortunately, her meticulous attention to detail sometimes makes for cumbersome and difficult prose.
In addition to the painstaking re-creation of Italian history, Eliot presents her readers with a cast of both fictional and historical characters. One of her most intriguing creations is Tito Melema, the young man who quickly curries favor with the Florentine elite. No other Eliot character manifests the selfishness and deceit of Tito, a man with great personal charm. His unmatched skills in manipulating people, language, and politics drive the plot forward and provide the reader with a fascinating study...
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