George Eliot as “Worthy Scholar”: Note Taking and the Composition of Romola

  • Andrew Thompson


George Eliot found Romola challenging to write. She filled several notebooks with historical detail on Florentine life, including Italian writings from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as those by later French, German and English authors. Extracting passages that interested her, she abridged, sometimes transcribing in Italian interspersed with English, and storing her notes under headings in her notebooks or “quarries” and she compiled lists, chronologies and indices as aides-memoires. These notebooks provide insights into Eliot’s compositional processes and show her addressing the challenge of incorporating a large amount of historical information into the text in imaginative and subtle ways. The Romola notebooks may support criticisms of the novel for an excess of erudition and scholarship, but they reveal little of the story of Eliot’s imaginative labor of composition.


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Works Listed by George Eliot in “Books on Florentine Subjects (+ at home)” (Florentine Notes f.3 segg)

    Fourteenth-Century Works

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    Fifteenth-Century Works

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    12. Sixteenth-Century Works

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    Seventeenth-Century Works

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    Eighteenth-Century Works

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    Nineteenth-Century Works

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    6. Marchese, Vincenzo Fortunato. Storia di San Marco (1854).Google Scholar
    7. Meier, Frederich Karl. Girolamo Savonarola aus grossen Theils Handschriftlichen Quellen (1836).Google Scholar
    8. Panizzi, Sir Anthony. Introductory essay to an edition (1830) of Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato and Ariosto’s Orlando furioso.Google Scholar
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  1. Full lists of the works consulted by George Eliot while researching Romolacan be found in Romola edited by Andrew Brown, Appendix B 676–79, and in my editions of the Romola Notebook 99–103, the Quarry, 80–81, and the Florentine Notes 62–64.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of RoehamptonLondonUK

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