Samatha Ellis

Entertaining Eliot

Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance

By Patricia Duncker

Bloomsbury 292pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

‘The lady is old. The lady is ugly. The lady has wonderful eyes.’ So Max, junior partner in his brother’s publishing house in Berlin, sums up George Eliot on the first page of this exuberant novel. Eliot is liver-spotted, wrinkled (it is 1872 and she is racing to finish Middlemarch), smells of cinnamon and alcohol, and has a long thin face, a massive jaw and vast eyes. Max shares a surname with Patricia Duncker; the seed of this novel was a reference Duncker found to Eliot’s German publishers, which sparked the question, ‘If someone who bore my name had been so closely connected to the writer I loved, why should I not take his place?’

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