Introduction: The Romola Project
(May 2019)

Editors and Contributors: Antje Anderson, Robert Bolin, Andrew Del Mastro

This website is an annotated digital edition of the first five chapters of the 1863 novel Romola by the British author George Eliot. These first five chapters, which provide an exposition and introduce the geographical and historical setting (1490s Florence), made up the first monthly installment of the novel when it was serialized in the Cornhill Magazine, beginning in July of 1862.

You can find it here:

Romola Chapter 1-5

In the text, you will find we have color-coded the following:

For many of these, you'll have access to explanatory notes. The symbol marks a link to a note that "hovers" over the text. If you move your cursor to this and hover over it, you'll see additional information about the phrase or word in question. George Eliot's own notes are also accessible through those notes.

The serialized version was illustrated by Frederic Leighton, a well-known British painter, and his first three illustrations are included in our edition.

In addition, at the top of each "page" of our edition, you can also click on a thumbnail image of that page and see the original page of the novel's first edition that we used for digitizing, courtesy of Special Collections at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Lastly, you can access an interactive map on which historical locations are marked and annotated, so that you can can look for the sites mentioned in the text and see how they are related to one another. You can find it here:

Map of Florence

For our editorial statement, please go here:

Editorial Statement

A Bit More Background on Romola and its Setting

Romola is a historical novel set in Renaissance Italy, specifically in Florence in the 1490s, when the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola played a major role as a religious and political leader in Florence's attempt to become a republic after many years of political domination by the Medici family. Eliot, born Marie Anne Evans (1819-1880), wrote this novel between 1860 and 1863, at the height of her career, after her first extended tour of Italy in the spring of 1860. She and her companion, George Henry Lewes, were entranced with the Renaissance art and architecture of Florence and attentive to the dramatic political situation in Italy. Italy would become an independent, unified nation by 1864. Eliot decided to write this historical novel, about Savonarola's time, with her eponymous heroine shuttling back and forth between the learned, Medici-friendly humanist circles she had grown up in and the fervent religious and political world of Savonarola and his supporters.

Eliot strove to be historically accurate about each building and street, every Italian expression and Latin quotation, and every painter, writer, architect, or humanist scholar who is mentioned as the novel opens. Based on her meticulous research, conducted during a two-week stay in Florence 1860 and another in 1861 (when she spent a month conducting research in Florence's libraries) Eliot created a dense web of people and locations connected to the world of Quattrocento (15th-century) Florence. This makes for an admirably careful and tightly connected historical exposition, especially for readers who are interested in the art, literature, and culture of the Renaissance and how the Victorians saw those things. It also means, however, that the first five chapters of the novel are notoriously hard to read and understand without annotations and visualizations. Our annotations and map were created to guide you through these five chapters.