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Romola: the Emerging Female Self in Renaissance Florence

Sandra Zodiaco    Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italia    



In Romola (1862) George Eliot investigates the complex interplay between the female self and the surrounding cultural stifling milieu to explore the limitations and possibilities of femininity in Renaissance Florence. The author vests the eponymous heroine with an urgent desire to overthrow the socio-political structures founded on male patriarchal values, dominant in Florence and unfitting to accommodate women’s talents, thus echoing the debate about women’s place in mid-Victorian androcentric society. Romola’s aspiration to moral freedom, a vocation alternative to marriage and childbearing, and to an intellectual autonomy unmolested by a long-established patriarchal system, is crushed by the burden of family traditions, past obligations and social responsibilities. The purpose of this paper is twofold: to examine the evolution of the heroine’s character through her spiritual journey (which echoes Eliot’s own religious struggle) and to show her triumph over the egotism inherited from patriarchal figures by emerging into the self-denial which lies at the heart of Eliot’s agnostic ethical humanism. Entangled in the universal conflict between individual desire and moral responsibility, Romola stands as an intellectual woman capable to find a balance between dutiful obedience and resistance to the rigid morality outlined by the male social code, thus attaining her autonomous female identity as a fully-individualized human being, and not as a merely ‘Other’ in relation to men.

Sept. 30, 2016
June 10, 2016
April 17, 2016

Keywords: HumanismResponsibilityDesireGeorge Eliot

Copyright: © 2016 Sandra Zodiaco. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.