Places: Romola

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1862-1863

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical realism

Time of work: 1492-1498

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Florence

*Florence. RomolaItalian 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.


Salotto (sah-LAT-toh). Tito’s reception room. Frescoed with nymphs, vines, figures of Eros, flowers, birds, and images of the Roman god Bacchus, this room has been designed by Tito to represent his role as the Care-Dispeller who plans that his marriage to Romola will alleviate the anxious concern and somberness of her life with her father.


*Duomo (DWOH-moh). Florence’s cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, in which Romola hears Savonarola preach. Later, Tito denies his adoptive father, Baldassarre Calvo, on the Duomo’s outer steps. The Duomo was completed around 1434. A year or two before writing Romola, Eliot heard a powerful preacher speak in the Duomo who may have been the inspiration behind her description of Savonarola’s preaching there.

*Piazza della Signoria

*Piazza della Signoria. Florence’s Square of the Council, a large outdoor meeting place that is the center of Florentine political life and the place where Savonarola staged his infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities,” in which Florentines burned objectionable books and art objects. After the political tide turned against him, Savonarola himself was burned at the stake on the Piazza. Eliot captures the struggle for power, especially for restoration of popular government and of the medieval tradition of Florentine liberty, after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent ended several decades of Medicean dominance.

*Monastery of San Marco

*Monastery of San Marco. Monastery home of both Savonarola and Romola’s brother, Dino, who renounces his home and father to live as a monk. When Romola visits the monastery during a deathbed scene with her brother, Savonarola first identifies her, and Dino reports to her his frightening vision for her future.

BibliographyBarrett, 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.
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