Genre: General Fiction/Historical Fiction
Author: Deborah Weisgall
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
Source: Kindle purchase $1.31 (paperback:$5.44)
Sexy Rating: 5, not explicit
Description from the author’s website: The year is 1880 and the setting is Venice. Marian Evans – whose novels under the pen name George Eliot have placed her among the famed Englishwomen of her time – has come to this enchanted city on her honeymoon. Newly married to John Cross, twenty years her junior, she hopes to put her guilt to rest. Marian lived, unmarried, with George Henry Lewes for twenty-five years, until his death. She took a tremendous risk and paid a high price for that illicit union, but she also achieved happiness and created art. Now she wants to love again. In this new marriage, in this new place, can this writer give herself the happy ending that she provided for Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke?
The parallel story of a sculptor named Caroline Spingold takes us to Venice one hundred years later, in 1980. Caroline’s powerful, wealthy older husband has brought her to the city against her will, to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Having spent a perfect childhood summer in Venice with her parents, before her father left her mother, Caroline had vowed never to return.
In alternating chapters linked by the themes of art, love, and marriage, The World Before Her tells of these two women—and their surprising similarities. In a city where the canals reflect memory as much as light, they both confront desire, and each assesses what she has and who she is. At the heart of this sumptuously and evocatively written novel lies the eternal dilemma of how to find love and sustain it, without losing one’s self.
This is not the type of novel that I normally gravitate toward. I was seduced by the image, and promise of Venice, Italy. I visited and fell in love with Venice this past April; Venice with its romantic vistas, cocky godoliers, palpable history and shabby, old world elegance.
Beautifully written with emotions revealed on every page, I could not put this novel down. I found myself highlighting sentences and passages that seemed to have such a ring of universal truth. There are two stories entwined here, neither like the other yet neither dissimilar. The book is written from the point of view of the women yet we are totally aware of the husbands’ viewpoints. The men are not sympathetic but I struggled to not judge them harshly. That I even had to think about judgement is testament to this author’s ability to evoke reality. More than a story of two women, it is the story of marriage and all its joys, sorrows and complications.
The story does alternate between each woman and each century and this style I sometimes find confusing. Although I didn’t like it here, I was so engrossed in the drama that I hardly noticed.