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The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing$
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J. B. Bullen

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780198128885

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128885.001.0001

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The Renaissance and Regeneration George Eliot

The Renaissance and Regeneration George Eliot

10 The Renaissance and Regeneration George Eliot
The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing


Oxford University Press

George Eliot’s Romola occupies a unique place in the nineteenth-century historiography of the Renaissance. Written in the early 1860s, the novel comes approximately midway between the negative account of Renaissance culture in John Ruskin and the quite different version offered by Walter Pater in the early 1870s. Whereas both Ruskin and Pater identify the Renaissance as a coherent period and can be considered Organicist historians, Eliot, at the narrative level, more closely resembles the so-called Formist historian. The metahistory of Romola is not one which subscribes to the theory of a coherent period called the Renaissance. On the contrary, the image of the fifteenth century, as it appears in this novel, is divergent; it is one of difference, and contradiction. The stresses between conflicting moral ideas, the collision of political positions, the clash of antithetical human temperaments, and the struggle between religious belief and humanism are precisely the forces which bring about the fictional ‘awakening’ of Romola. In Romola, Eliot offers a picture of fifteenth-century Italy which is substantially divergent.

Keywords:   George Eliot, Romola, Renaissance, historiography, humanism, religious belief, John Ruskin, Formist historian, Italy, metahistory

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