Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Florence. Italian center of art, philosophy, scholarship, and religious and political intrigue that made the city famous as the cradle of the Renaissance. Eliot’s novel is filled with allusions to Florence’s history, from 200 b.c.e. through the late fifteenth century; the stages of its growth parallel the psychological and moral growth of her fifteenth century heroine, Romola de’ Bardi. Eliot’s concern is for both the individual and the larger human community. Many of her Victorian readers who were interested in the contemporary Italian unification movement—the Risorgimento—would have noted contemporary parallels with the historical issues Eliot re-created as a milieu for Romola’s development.

Bardo’s library

Bardo’s library. Library of Romola’s father, Bardo de’ Bardi, a famous scholar. Filled with manuscripts and antiquaries, this colorless, rather cold room represents Bardo’s classical Stoic values: a noble integrity that demands justice and truth. Significantly, the competence in classical languages shown by Romola’s future husband, the young Greek adventurer Tito Melema, gets Tito admitted to Bardo’s presence in the library, where Romola first meets him. Both Bardo and Tito deride the evangelical Christian movement of Florentine religious leader Savonarola as fanatical. Tito’s later betrayal of Bardo and Romola by selling the library causes their first major marital rift....

(The entire section is 493 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Barrett, Dorothea. Vocation and Desire: George Eliot’s Heroines. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1989. Chapter on Romola discusses the influence of Auguste Comte’s positivist philosophy on Romola. Superb feminist reading of Eliot’s novels.

Bonaparte, Felicia. The Triptych and the Cross: The Central Myths of George Eliot’s Poetic Imagination. New York: New York University Press, 1979. The only book-length study of Romola, containing a thorough analysis of the historical, mythic, and classical influences in the novel. Includes discussion of Romola in the context of Eliot’s other novels.

Bullen, J. B. “George Eliot’s Romola as a Positivist Allegory.” Review of English Studies 26 (1975): 425-435. This influential article was the first to examine the question of George Eliot’s use of Comte’s positivist philosophy in the novel. Contains a lucid and helpful explanation of positivism and a valuable account of its role in the novel.

Eliot, George. The George Eliot Letters. 9 vols. Edited by Gordon Haight. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954-1956, 1978. Offers commentary on the dynamics of her writing process. There are also a number of letters from readers that reveal how the novel was received by the public. Most of the letters concerning Romola can be found in volumes 4 and 8.

Robinson, Carole. “Romola: A Reading of the Novel.” Victorian Studies 6 (1962): 29-42. A brief and clear exposition of the major themes and ideas in the novel. Suggests that the issue of “philosophical uncertainty” is the key to understanding the text.