Victorian novelist George Eliot presents a paradox: her writings seem highly religious and even specifically Christian, but she was an atheist who firmly rejected her Christian upbringing. In this paper, I examine Eliot’s attitude toward religion in the light of her novel Romola. Romola’s conflicted relationship with her mentor, Savonarola, presents a mirror image of Eliot’s own relationship with Christianity. In both cases, a profound message of duty, altruism, and self-sacrifice is presented by a messenger who is flawed by false and contradictory teachings and failure to live up to his own ideals. Romola and Eliot must learn to distinguish between valuable truth and superstitious or pernicious falsehood, and even more importantly, they must learn to accept and love their teachers as they are—a mere mortal man, a mere human institution, not to be reverenced as divine and utterly rejected when shown to be less than perfect, but to be respected for their genuine good and forgiven for their flaws. The virtue of sympathy, so characteristic of Eliot and central to her thought, thus has its place not only in relations with individuals, but also explains her attitude toward Christianity as a whole.
"Flawed and Beloved: The Spiritual Teachers of Romola and George Eliot,"
Global Tides: Vol. 6
, Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/globaltides/vol6/iss1/6