Authors: Dinitia Smith
The Illusionist Remember This The Hard Rain
Copyright © Dinitia Smith, 2016
Production editor: Yvonne E. Cárdenas
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Other Press LLC, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. For information write to Other Press LLC, 267 Fifth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Or visit our Web site:
The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Names: Smith, Dinitia, author.
Title: The honeymoon / Dinitia Smith.
Description: New York : Other Press, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015037067| ISBN 9781590517789 (hardcover) |
ISBN 978-1-59051-779-6 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Eliot, George, 1819-1880—Fiction. | Women novelists—Fiction. | Man-woman relationships—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Biographical. | FICTION / Literary. | FICTION / Historical. | GSAFD: Biographical fiction. | Historical fiction. | Love stories. Classification: LCC PS3569.M526 H66 2016 | DDC 813/.54—dc23 LC record available at
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
For David, as always & Peter, Daniel, and Layla
This is a novel, a product of my imagination inspired by the life and writings of George Eliot. It is an effort to depict her inner world as she lived out her life. To write it, I have sometimes transposed phrases from Eliot’s novels, letters, and journals. The rest, however, is my own creation.
For the sake of clarity, I have taken some dramatic license in the chronology, but there is nothing in this story that I know with certainty did not happen.
Most, but not all, of the letters quoted are Eliot’s own, or those of her circle.
I have profited enormously from the biographies and scholarship on Eliot and her contemporaries. An essay on sources is appended at the end.
May 26, 1857
My dear Brother
You will be surprized, I dare say, but I hope not sorry, to learn that I have changed my name, and have someone to take care of me in the world. The event is not at all a sudden one, though it may appear sudden in its announcement to you. My husband has been known to me for several years, and I am well acquainted with his mind and character …
Your affectionate Sister, Marian Lewes …
ne late afternoon in June of 1880, a rather famous woman sat in a railroad carriage traveling toward Venice with her new husband, a handsome young man twenty years her junior. The journey from Padua had taken just over an hour, across the flat plain, through vineyards and olive groves, and now the train was approaching the iron bridge that led across the lagoon to the city. As the woman glimpsed the shimmering waters ahead, and in the distance, the misty domes and campaniles of the celestial place, the light in the sky over it just beginning to turn pink, she discovered she was unable to give herself over to the surge of excitement she’d experienced sixteen years earlier — to the day — when she caught sight of the city with her first husband, George Lewes, by her side.
The woman’s face was partly hidden by a lace mantilla, as had been her custom for several years, white, not black now (she was no longer in mourning), and she wore a gray silk moiré dress that she’d bought for her trousseau. The mantilla served to prevent her from being recognized and set upon by tourists who begged for autographs. Though not completely hiding her face, it distracted from it, from her large nose and broad jaw, and she welcomed this because she believed that she was homely. She was sixty
years old and her auburn hair, speckled with gray, hung in thick, heavy curves on either side of her face. Her skin was lined. Her gray-blue eyes were heavy and watchful. But her figure was still lovely, slender, almost serpentine — she’d never borne a child.
But now, as she watched her new young husband, it was as if he were drifting away from her, going farther and farther into his own world, and she didn’t know why.
He was staring out the window of the compartment, his brow furrowed in the light. He was a tall, athletic-looking man with dark red, curly hair that peeked out from under the brim of his straw hat, vivid blue eyes that shone in the heat, and a small, neat beard. As always, he was wearing an elegantly cut suit, white linen, which had somehow preserved its freshness from the journey — Johnnie loved good clothes.
Yet he was still his same kind self, the way he had always been, tending to her every need. Ever since April, when she’d accepted his proposal, he’d been frantically rushing around, arranging the wedding and securing the new house, anxious to attend to her every comfort — that she have her shawl with her in case it was cool at night, and the best room in the hotel, that she not get tired, or have to stand waiting too long for their trains. He hadn’t been sleeping, he’d hardly been eating. There were shadows under his eyes, his cheeks had hollowed out. “Darling,” she would say, “slow down. You’ll make yourself ill.”
And he’d try to calm himself, like a child forced to sit still for a moment, but then he was up again, springing into action.
Perhaps Venice would make him better, restore him to his old self, and the romance of the city, its sensuousness
and foreignness and hidden ways, the strangeness of it, would free him and bring him back to her.
The train had reached the bridge. A cinder from the track flew in through the open window and caught her in the eye. “Oh dear,” she cried, and tried to get it out. Johnnie, awakened from his reverie, jumped up. “Here, let me,” he said. He bent over her and gently managed to ease it out with his pocket handkerchief. “There you go,” he said, and then he sat down again and resumed looking out the window.
After a few minutes they had crossed the bridge. The train pulled into the Santa Lucia station and they disembarked.
When they emerged onto the
, they were met by a scene of chaos, crowds of tourists and piles of baggage, porters and boatmen yelling and bustling about.
“You stay here, Marian,” Johnnie said. “I’ll go and find the boat.”
She waited under her parasol. The air was filled with an anxious cacophony of French, Italian, English, German, as the tourists searched for the boatmen from the hotels who were supposed to meet them. A Gypsy girl was sitting on the pavement with an infant, begging, holding it out to the tourists and whining, “
Il bambino ha fame. Il bambino ha fame …
,” wearing a look of exaggerated suffering on her face.
At last, Johnnie returned to her. He’d found their boat, and he led her across the
to where it was tied. The gondolier was standing on the shore waiting. When he saw them coming, he threw his cigarette into the canal with a decisive gesture and began loading their luggage.
“This is Corradini,” Johnnie said. “Madame Cross.” The man was older, she noticed, in his fifties, weathered and thin and muscular, with close-cropped gray hair, very pale blue eyes — probably Dalmatian, a lot of the gondoliers were, or a remnant of the Crusaders that you saw sometimes among Venetians. He had a browned, seamed face and he wore a gold ring in one ear. The gondolier nodded at her cursorily, then extended a rough hand to help her into the boat. No bowing or scraping, no kissing of the hand, no false effusion. As she passed close to him to step into the boat, she smelled an unwashed odor, old tobacco and sweat, and something else, cologne meant to cover it.