Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 44 (2013)
I would like to begin this paper with a comment by Professor Felicia Bonaparte about George Eliot's novels. In an introductory reflection, she once observed that
We have found nothing yet that Eliot did not deliberately put in her novels; [ ... ]. Indeed, the fact is we have not yet read in these novels all that Eliot wrote. We have not yet, for example, looked carefully at what Eliot had to say about women in society. Eliot was a great feminist, and her novels, although they never stoop to mere propaganda, urge a relentless war against the conditions by which women's lives have been restrained and wasted. We do not have an adequate understanding of the poetic element in Eliot's imagination, nor of the rich symbolic structure which informs her works. We have not yet probed the mythic imagery that echoes throughout her novels. There can be no doubts that we will have to revise many of our conclusions and judgments, especially of her achievement in Romola, when we have further examined these aspects of her works. Similarly, we have [ ... ] not yet explored the most thoroughly contemporary aspect of Eliot's novels, namely the existential, absurd universe Eliot perceived, a tragic universe in which man is born and dies for no purpose.'
She wrote this in 1975, but it is striking that much of it is still true. Of all these unexplored aspects of George Eliot's works, it seems to me that only the topic of women in society has since been systematically explored and has promoted deeper understanding of her novels. It is rather paradoxical that, although we have acclaimed Eliot as one of the greatest nineteenth century novelists, we have also overlooked many aspects of this greatness. Romola is definite evidence of this: described by Eliot herself as the book she wrote with her best blood, it remains to this very day the least popular of her novels.
This paper has two main goals. First I present a set of numbers regarding George Eliot studies in and out of Brazil and my interpretation of these numbers. Then I proceed to comment on the particular case of Romola. In the end, I hope to be able to relate the two topics and to interest the reader in my perspective on George Eliot and on Romola. We are now celebrating Romola's 150th anniversary. This is a significant amount of time: not as much as would make it too distant from our own world; not as little as would make it too close to us and too blurred to see well. I believe we are now at a moment in which we are ready to look back at Eliot's and Romola's history so as to understand it and to develop on it.