Week of 1/14: The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith

 

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

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Dinitia Smith’s spellbinding novel recounts George Eliot’s honeymoon in Venice in June 1880 following her marriage to a handsome young man twenty years her junior. When she agreed to marry John Walter Cross, Eliot was recovering from the death of George Henry Lewes, her beloved companion of twenty-six years. Eliot was bereft: left at the age of sixty to contemplate profound questions about her physical decline, her fading appeal, and the prospect of loneliness.

In her youth, Mary Ann Evans—who would later be known as George Eliot—was a country girl, considered too plain to marry, so she educated herself in order to secure a livelihood. In an era when female novelists were objects of wonder, she became the most famous writer of her day—with a male nom de plume. 

The Honeymoon explores different kinds of love, and of the possibilities of redemption and happiness even in an imperfect union. Smith integrates historical truth with her own rich rendition of Eliot’s inner voice, crafting a page-turner that is as intelligent as it is gripping.

My Review: 

Before The Honeymoon, I knew nothing about George Eliot besides 1) she was a woman who wrote under a male pseudonym and 2) she’s credited for a quote I often find on the labels of my Honest Tea bottles. Now, I’m captivated by one of the most prominent writers of the Victorian era.

Based on the life of Marian Evans (George Eliot’s real name), the novel recounts her Venice honeymoon with her second husband, Johnnie Cross. The story artfully weaves in Eliot’s life story, flashing back to her childhood in rural England before recounting her tumultuous attempts at finding love – the only thing she ever wanted.

Eliot was incredibly smart – she was self-taught in three different languages and was ahead of her time intellectually- but had no self-confidence, landing her in a barrage of toxic relationships with unavailable men. It wasn’t until she met the married philosopher, George Lewes, that she experienced true love, albeit in a nontraditional union. Lewes eventually became Eliot’s muse and encouraged her to write – ultimately, it was he who convinced her to publish her work under the famous pseudonym. Despite his legal wife, the two lived together in a symbolic marriage until Lewes’ death in 1878, leaving Eliot absolutely devastated and unsure if she could ever move on.

What I loved most about this book was how much I learned about George Eliot, not as a writer, but as a woman in love. Unfortunately, many women lean on the male gaze to dictate their confidence, and Eliot was no different – her self-worth was rooted entirely in the love of a man. Deemed too plain to marry from a young age, her sensitivity towards her looks killed her confidence in all aspects of her life. So much so, that she continued to write under her pseudonym in fear of criticism from the press.

The Honeymoon explores the unorthodox faces of love, and ironically enough, it’s the most unconventional marriage that leads Eliot to find her self-worth. A love story in every sense, The Honeymoon takes you through Eliot’s roller-coaster of a journey to finding herself as a woman, as a wife, and as a writer.

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My Rating: 4/5 stars