Wednesday 12 August 2020

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Honeymoon, Dinitia Smith (2016)

 It’s been a crazy week since the release of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which is based on the true story of Lydia Robinson, the older woman who allegedly corrupted Branwell Bronte. But that doesn’t mean I’m taking a break from my regularly scheduled programming here on the Secret Victorianist!

In this latest instalment of my Neo-Victorian Voices series (reviewing books set in the nineteenth century, but written in the twenty-first), I’m talking about The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith, another biographical novel inspired by the life of a Victorian writer and focused on the relationship between an older woman and a younger man.

Here, the woman in question is George Eliot (born Marian Evans), who, after living with George Lewes for 24 years, despite his marriage to another woman, shocked London society by wedding a man twenty years her junior following Lewes’s death.

In her novel, Smith imagines the relationship that might have existed between Marian and John Cross, the younger man she married, using their honeymoon as a framing device from which to jump back in time and tell the story of the writer’s life and the genesis of her novels, including Middlemarch (1871-2).

This surprised me as I was expecting more of an emphasis on the honeymoon itself, Venice, where the newlyweds travelled, and Cross (including the psychotic break he apparently suffered during the trip). However, I soon settled into an enjoyable and readable overview of Eliot’s life.

The focus here is very much on Marian’s relationships—with her parents and brother, and with the various men with whom she enjoyed untraditional romantic and sexual unions during a century we often characterise as sexless and repressed. And this is where the novel is most successful. George Eliot the intellectual doesn’t jump off the page, but Marian Evans, the thinking and feeling woman does. Readers may be disappointed at the lack of older woman/younger man frisson (Cross’s feelings towards Marian seem more akin to heroine worship), but Smith paints a believable picture of a literary great who yearned above all for companionship and feared being alone.

As a writer myself, I found it hard to relate to the occasional epiphanies Marian had about the plotting of her novels (why do films and books usually characterise these moments as happening when the novelist is doing anything but writing??), but anyone who’s enjoyed reading George Eliot’s novels and is looking for a readable overview of her life will be well pleased with Smith’s fictional biography.

Do you have any suggestions of books I should read next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Haven’t ordered your copy of Bronte’s Mistress yet? Find out where you can buy the novel in hardcover, e-book or audiobook here. And to be in with a chance of winning one of three signed copies I’m giving away this August, sign up for my monthly email newsletter below. Already subscribed? You’ve already been entered!

Get updates on my novel - Bronte's Mistress

* indicates required

No comments:

Post a Comment