Reviewer John J. Hohn:
John is a frequent contributor to web sites dedicated to writing and
publishing. Raised in Yankton, SD, he graduated with a degree in
English from St. John’s University (MN) in 1961. He is the father
of four sons and a daughter and a stepfather to a son. He and his
wife divide their time each year between Southport and West
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Author: Dinitia Smith
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN-10: 1590517784 : ISBN-13: 978-1590517789
Marian Evans, a wealthy widow of 60, was never acclaimed for her beauty. She gained fame as a novelist under her chosen nom de plume, George Eliot, during a time when women writers could not expect to be well received. Johnnie Cross, an elegantly handsome bachelor of 39, moved gracefully among the better circles in London society. Never much of a ladies man, whisperings drifted about whether he might be a “Nancy man” in the terms of day. Johnnie kept a secret certainly, one few knew. He withheld it from Evans even after they married.
Author Dinitia Smith sets up her biographical novel of George Eliot with the two unlikely newlyweds starting their honeymoon in Venice. Readers sense immediately that something is not as it should be. The stench of the canals rises up to greet them the couple as their gondola toward their hotel. The bride is repulsed by the sweaty, sneering gondolier. Brown knots of feces bob in the water. The canal is an open sewer – hardly a romantic setting.
When they arrive at the hotel, to her dismay, the manager recognizes Evans as George Eliot, the famous novelist, and the anonymity she hoped would keep their time together private is shattered. Cross becomes angry. He begins pointing out the sites of the city to his bride. He is so taken up with the task that his wife cannot coax a smile to his lips. The next morning, she awakens to find Johnnie still in his evening dress (they slept in different rooms) which he insists on wearing to the beach regardless of how inappropriate his apparel may be. When he wades into the water fully clothed, Evans pleads with him to return to shore. This is no honeymoon. It has, instead, the makings of a nightmare. With the irony of her title established, author Smith adroitly leaves the newlyweds and backtracks to explain how this mysterious state of affairs came about. The author begins with the story of George Eliot’s life.
Marian Evans was born on the estate that her father manages for the wealthy owners. She and her father were very close. Very bright, Evans’ her intelligence leads her into the company of some of the greatest liberal minds of the time. Her androgynous physical appearance leaves her yearning for love, especially after her father dies. Free love is in fashion among the literati of England. Evans yields to several men, but as they have other alliances, she is abandoned, heart broken and lonely. Seemingly resigned to her fate as a single woman, she begins to write, first for periodicals and eventually publishes a novel which becomes popular and favored by critics. She meets George Lewes, who is married, and the two leave for the continent where they set up household and pass as husband and wife – a la Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley a generation earlier. Lewes becomes the love of Evans’ life. Smith presents their relationship with poetic sensitivity and fulfilling in many ways for both of them.
When Lewes dies, Evans is devastated. She returns to London to find whatever comfort is available to her among her friends who include the greatest minds of the time. Her novels have been praised by Turgenev, Ruskin, Dickens and Spencer, to name a few. One who attends her during her grief is Johnnie Cross. He pledges his love to her and vows he was to devote himself to taking care of her. Evans has misgivings because of their age difference, the awkwardness likely in any physical intimacy and sends Cross away. He persists, however, and she eventually agrees to wed and the stage is set for the honeymoon.
The Honeymoon is compelling, compassionate biographical novel, a story best told by a woman of Dinitia Smith’s abundant talent and insight. The author describes her protagonist’s experience in finding the joy of her own writing voice as “. . . arriving at the point where the words became a melody, took on life, filled the page, became, finally, a symphony.” The phrase could only come from another serious writer, one who knows the joys of gaining entry to the flow a piece, and the same phrase applies to The Honeymoon as Smith demonstrates her mastery of the language. Her phrases flow with rhapsodic rhythm and pace that becomes entrancing. She glides into her heroine’s thoughts so unobtrusively readers will not recognize the change in perspective. Evan’s thoughts and feelings pour out onto the page with stunning authenticity. Smith treats her readers to the sights, sounds, scents and textures of her scenes in a way that is transporting. The story of Marian Evans’ life is well worth the read. The author’s style in presenting The Honeymoon is a masterpiece of contemporary writing – a study in itself.