Historical progress in George Eliot's "Romola": the moral and artistic development of Romola and Tito in words and images




Bernard Fournier, Anabelle

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This thesis presents a text-image analysis of George Eliot‘s fourth novel, Romola (1862-63) based on the argument that the text and the illustrations by Sir Frederic Leighton introduce a discourse about the development of art from a Vasarian perspective. Both the text and the illustrations begin by portraying Romola with references to ancient Greek art and culminate in displaying her as a version of Raphael‘s Sistine Madonna. This implies not only the belief, current in Victorian artistic circles, that Raphael‘s work was the highest achievement in the history of art, but also that this historical development from ancient Greek sculpture to High Renaissance painting reflects the moral development of European civilization. As an idealized allegory for European civilization itself, Romola fulfills both moral and artistic roles as her moral progress from paganism to Eliot‘s religion of humanity closely follows her visual progress from a Greek statue to a Raphaelesque Madonna. The thesis is informed by the historiographical and fictional contexts of the Victorian historical novel and their influence on Eliot‘s work, as well as the tradition of historical painting and its importance for Frederic Leighton‘s paintings and illustrations. The concept of progress—historical, moral, and visual—is emphasized throughout.



George Eliot, Romola, Frederic Leighton, Text-image studies