THE WORLD BEFORE HER by Deborah Weisgall


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In her second novel (Still Point, 1990), Weisgall contrasts the marital predicaments of two women (one famous, one invented) living a century apart.

The great English novelist Marian Evans Lewes wrote under the pseudonym George Eliot; the love of her life was a fellow author, her common-law husband George Lewes. After his death she married a family friend and businessman, John Cross. Weisgall begins with their disastrous honeymoon in Venice in 1880. Marian, now 60, 20 years older than her Johnnie, craves a physical relationship, which he abhors: “[S]he had mistaken Johnnie’s passionate solicitousness for passion itself.” The stress causes her new husband to jump into a canal in a possible suicide bid, but he is quickly rescued. It’s the most dramatic moment of their lives together. Marian soon realizes she will have to settle for companionship. The two return to England, but by the end of the year she’s dead. Weisgall embellishes Marian’s story with frequent flashbacks, some of them well done, making Marian’s short-lived marriage seem a paltry thing. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, Weisgall tells the story of Caroline Spingold, a woman living in 1980 who’s on vacation in Venice. The 33-year-old Caroline has been married for ten years to Malcolm, who is 20 years her senior. The controlling, filthy rich investment whiz snatched up the young sculpture student, and Caroline for a time enjoyed the money and protectiveness he offered. But now, coming into her own as a sculptor, she’s feeling restless, resenting Malcolm’s domination. The story is cluttered with minor characters and the language is only a cut above something found in a run-of-the-mill romance. There are frequent echoes of the other story (Malcolm, too, will fall into the water) and one huge difference: Caroline, a liberated 20th-century woman, can decide whether and when to end her marriage.

A misguided concept.

Pub Date: May 13th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-618-74657-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2008