Romola, Book 2

Selling his ring did not keep Baldassarre from being restored to an unwilling Tito. In fact, it was instrumental in bringing them together. In this book, Tito has been exposed to Baldassarre as a traitor when he denounces him as a madman, and to Romola when he sells her father’s library and artifacts.

Baldassarre meets Tessa, who is kind to him. His whole world is now absorbed by the passion for revenge against Tito, and he is unable to perceive Tessa except as “a creature who would need to be avenged” (ch. 33). Sadly, his estimation of her is correct as we learn that, despite being happily married to Romola, Tito has not disabused Tessa of the notion that she is married to him and has been sleeping with her. She leads a secluded life with her baby and a rather deaf old woman.

Lillian Gish & William Powell - Romola, 1924.-Fearing revenge from Baldassarre, Tito begins wearing armour beneath his clothes and decides to liquidate his assets to provide against a possible move from Florence. This involves selling the library of Romola’s father which she has been working to see preserved as a memorial to him. (Being acknowledged and remembered was just about the most important thing to Bardo de’ Bardi.) While Tito is correct in that it is pointless to bind ourselves to spend our lives in useless devotion to the dead, Romola has right on her side when she counters, “Is it no good that we should keep our silent promises on which others build because they believe in our love and truth?” (ch. 32). Tito was faithless to Romola and her father. Romola’s love for him dies and, in a remarkable hypocritical move, she determines to leave him. After despising him for breaking a tacit vow to see her father’s library preserved as a memorial, she decides to be faithless to her explicit marriage vows. Romola has never submitted to “any obligation apart from personal love” (ch. 36) — in sharp contrast to the sense of duty she requires from Tito.

In her attempt to leave Florence, Romola is stopped by Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who rebukes her for her attempt to escape her duty. He puts before her the “higher life” of renouncing our own will “to bow before a Divine law” (ch. 40), as sacrificial but good life. “If there is wickedness is the streets, your steps should shine with the light of purity, if there is a cry of anguish, you, my daughter, because you know the meaning of the cry should be there to still it.” Bowing to these grains of truth contained in Savonarola’s lengthy speech to her, Romola returns to Florence.

The nature of Tito’s love for Romola puzzles me. It is obviously a very shallow feeling — there is little to nothing that Tito feels deeply about apart from his own comfort. The degree to which his comfort depends on her is what eludes me. This book is still mainly focused on Tito, but I suspect that Book 3 will have more about Romola. As keeping up such a web of lies cannot lies, Tito’s downfall in some way is almost certain.


This is part of the Eliot Project which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are doing. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the first book of Romola here: “Romola: Part II”.

Publicity shot of Lillian Gish and William Powell as Romola and Tito in a 1924 adaptation of Romola.

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