Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 45 (2014)
It could properly be argued that Romola is George Eliot's most overtly political novel. Unlike Felix Holt or Middlemarch it doesn't directly refer to near contemporary political events, or to those of George Eliot's childhood and youth. Unlike Adam Bede it does not deal with the ramifications of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars which cast their long shadow over the Victorian years. Nevertheless, Romola demands that readers respond to a whole range of complex political issues: historical, sexual, feminist, religious and, of course, to a whole range of historical concerns which can be seen as fore-shadowings of the vital events of the modem Italian Risorgimento.
Romola is of course primarily an historical novel set in the closing years of the fifteenth century. The opening paragraphs remind us that it opens 'more than three centuries and half ago, in the mid spring time of 1492'1 and that Columbus is negotiating his way to setting off on his great voyage towards what were to Europeans the still unknown Americas. Romola opens as dawn breaks over the European continent and we are bidden to see this dawn as akin to the opening of a new historical age which will prove to have an immediate, if indirect and still ill-defined, impact on the world of 1863. The Florentine world, at least, is on a cusp of uncertain developments
For the Unseen Powers were mighty. Who knew - who was sure - that there was any name given to them behind which there was no angry force to be appeased, no intercessory pity to be won? (Proem, 7)