Date of this Version
Published in American Book Review, Volume 39, Number 1, November/December 2017, pp. 15-30 (Review)
Dinitia Smith’s The Honeymoon is the first complete biofiction of the woman enduringly known by her masculine pen name, George Eliot. It tells the story of a precocious provincial English girl who challenges the conventions of her middleclass upbringing as she pursues a writing career in Victorian London, moves in with an alreadymarried man, becomes one of the greatest living British novelists, and then marries John Cross, a man twenty years her junior whom she’d long called “nephew.” Whether or not Eliot’s brief marriage to Cross constituted a “happy ending” depends on how you interpret the harrowing incident that took place during their honeymoon in Venice. This is the mystery of the novel, which I will not spoil here.
Parts of Eliot’s life have been represented in fiction in several other works, but no novelist before Smith has attempted to recreate Eliot’s whole life. The Honeymoon is thus an important contribution both to the biographical record of George Eliot and to the still-emerging genre of biofiction, in which a novelist draws from traditional biographical sources to create a new version of the life of a historical figure, usually paying particular attention to the subject’s interiority. In a brief prefatory “Note to the Reader,” Smith clearly states that she has written “a novel, a product of my imagination inspired by the life and writings of George Eliot” in order to depict Eliot’s “inner world as she lived out her life.”