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The Honeymoon

A Novel of George Eliot

Dinitia Smith


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (11/14/2017)


Based on the life of George Eliot, famed author of Middlemarch, this captivating account of Eliot’s passions and tribulations explores the nature of love in its many guises
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.

Praise For The Honeymoon: A Novel of George Eliot

“[This] appealing fictionalized biography of the revered British novelist George Eliot imagines the inner impulses and passions hidden under a cloak of 19th-century propriety… Smith's portrait of the author is nicely detailed, effectively locating her in time, place, and society.”
Kirkus Reviews 

“Smith’s portrait of Eliot’s honeymoon with Cross ... plausibly brings to life a puzzling period of her life. With the historical record lacking or shrouded, it is the perfect example of when fictional storytelling about an eminent person is warranted.” —The Washington Post 

“Smith’s enchanting account humanizes a figure renowned as much for her refutation of conventional female stereotypes and social limitations as for her genius for story and language. Eliot’s personal life is reflected here as a series of deep insecurities regarding her appeal to men and the contributions her partners made to her work — “Felix Holt,” “Middlemarch,” “Daniel Deronda” — novels that endure as some of the most formative texts in English literature.” —The New York Times Book Review 

"Smith’s vivid exploration of the mind of author George Eliot, given name Marian Evans, and her late-in-life marriage to John Walter Cross raises the bar for historical fiction…Eliot fans will certainly inhale every page, but any historical-fiction readers will thoroughly relish Smith’s tale of a remarkable woman and an unlikely Victorian love." —Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)

“A mesmerizing reimagination of George Eliot’s accursed marriage.”Vanity Fair 

“A deep dive into love’s turbulent waters, and into the mysterious heart of a person we thought we knew best.”  Vogue
“…Smith…does well with invented incidents, such as a gondolier’s aggressive sexual interest in Cross, and encounters with Dickens, Darwin, and the pioneering women’s-rights activist Barbara Bodichon, with whom Eliot had a loyal friendship.” —The New Yorker

“Smith has admirably fleshed out her subject, and her take should be welcomed by anyone interested in the life of this great writer--and in historical fiction generally.” – Library Journal

“The intelligent and gripping tale weaves historical truths with the author’s imagining of Eliot’s inner voice in this enchanting look at her honeymoon in 1880 Venice.” – The National Examiner

“One of the greatest challenges of fiction is to dare to step inside a great figure of the past, to relive their experiences, but also to fill in the gaps, to recreate their inner voice. Dinitia Smith sets out to do just this, and succeeds brilliantly, in her latest novel, The Honeymoon” —Historical Novels Review 

“Regardless, Smith’s novel resolves Virginia Woolf’s observation that “to read George Eliot attentively is to become aware how little one knows about her.” The Honeymoon is nothing less than a séance: through the alchemy of biographical precision and fictional speculations, Smith conjures for readers a vivid, sensual, and endearing account of George Eliot’s life.” —Necessary Fiction

“If you never read George Eliot because you were slightly intimidated, The Honeymoon will reassure you. And if you’re already a fan of MiddlemarchAdam BedeThe Mill on the Floss, and Daniel Deronda, then this book will fill your imagination like a new friend you can’t believe you’ve lived so many years without. Smith’s George Eliot is brilliant and bold—as you know she is—but Smith is equally daring and no less incisive. She is as worthy a successor to so formidable a writer as is Colm Tóibín to Henry James.” —André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt: A Memoir

“In this affecting novel, Dinitia Smith brings a biographer’s diligence and a novelist’s imagination to bear upon the life of George Eliot. Smith hews closely to the factual contours of Eliot’s last months—in particular, her marriage to a man twenty years her junior—while making provocative, speculative leaps into the mind and heart of the Victorian author. In so doing, Smith finds a way to consider some of the same questions that preoccupied Eliot in her own masterful fictions: What is the meaning and purpose of marriage? What are the challenges of imagining our way into the experience of those around us? And how might we—even with the best intentions in the world—fail in our comprehension of those closest to us?” —Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch 

“The brilliant George Eliot was one of the most fascinating women in history. Dinitia Smith sets the scene for her dramatic last act with depth and style.” —Brooke Allen, critic and author

"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.” —The Book Table

“The Honeymoon is one of those novels that seems to unfold without words, perfectly imagined, like a dream. It’s an eloquent story about George Eliot’s late marriage to a much younger man; but this only touches the surface. Dinitia Smith digs into the interior life of genius here — exploring the greatest English novelist of the Victorian period. She brings that fine mind, and this astonishing age, to pulsing life. I love the pace of the narrative, the deep feeling that dwells here, deepening at every turn. This is wonderful fiction, taking us into the interior of human consciousness itself, into the heart of creation.” —Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

Other Press, 9781590517789, 432pp.

Publication Date: May 3, 2016

About the Author

Dinitia Smith is the author of four novels, including The Illusionist, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications and she has won a number of awards for her writing, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. For eleven years, Smith was a cultural correspondent for the New York Times specializing in literature and the arts. She is also an Emmy-Award winning film maker, and has taught literature at Columbia University, New York University, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City with her husband, the historian, David Nasaw, and she has two sons.

Conversation Starters from

When Marian and Johnnie arrive in Venice for their honeymoon, Marian finds that she is “unable to give herself over to the surge of excitement she’d experienced sixteen years earlier” (p 5) when she’d visited Venice with George Lewes. How does her romance with George compare to what she has with Johnnie? Do you think it overshadows her marriage to Johnnie?

Describe Marian’s relationship with her brother, Isaac. What causes the rift between them, and how does this rift affect Marian’s life and writing?

Describe Marian’s relationship with the men of her time. Is there a sense of friction between her physical appearance and her intelligence?

Marian is incredibly aware of how others perceive her. On page 12 she is conscious that others may be “twittering over their morning coffee about the besotted old woman marrying the handsome man young enough to be her son.” How does Marian perceive herself? How do the people closest to her perceive her?

On page 367 Willie describes Johnnie as being “ashamed” of his illness. What is Marian ashamed of? How does Marian handle her shame?

What do you make of Marian’s reaction to Johnnie’s “illness” (p 363) considering she herself had faced the prospect of suicide?

Describe Marian’s relationship to other women. What do you make of her estimation of “frivolous women” (p 221) and her belief that women should take “care of children and their families” (p 147)? What does she mean when she realizes that in marrying Johnnie she will finally be “like other women” (p 329)?

Why do you think Marian marries Johnnie, even though she is still very much in love with George? How would you describe her relationship with Johnnie? How do you think Marian herself would describe her relationship with Johnnie?

Marian had “always wanted to write about a honeymoon” (p 344), and she calls her time spent with George in Dover their “honeymoon” (p 340). What are the differences between the two honeymoons in Marian’s life?

Have you read any of George Eliot’s work? How has The Honeymoon changed your knowledge or understanding of the famous author and her work?