Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The World Before Her.
The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall is an ingenious novel that tells of two different women - living a century apart - and their struggles for identity and artistic fulfillment within the confines of marriage.
The story begins in 1880 in Venice. Marian Evans (whose pen name is George Eliot, one of the most celebrated Victorian writers of her time) is on her honeymoon with John Cross, her new, much-younger husband. Marian is hoping for a new beginning to her life, one that is filled with happiness and love - a happy ending like the one she gave the heroine of her famous novel Middlemarch. But her honeymoon is clouded by guilt and sadness; she is still mourning her recently dead lover, George Lewes, and wants to start a new chapter in her life in Venice, surrounded by art and beauty.
The other main character in The World Before Her is a modern woman. Caroline Spingold is a sculptor whose story takes place in 1980, 100 years after George Eliot's. Malcolm, Caroline's calculating and controlling husband, has systematically disabled Caroline's sense of independence, belittling her art and making her feel like she is nothing without him and his financial support. Malcolm has taken her to Venice against her wishes by Malcolm in an effort to rebuild their decaying ten-year-old marriage.
The third main character in the story is Venice itself. Weisgall's sumptuous prose evocatively depicts this beautiful, eternal city.
The novel's chapters alternate between the stories of Marian and Caroline. Even though they are two different woman living a century apart, their lives are remarkably similar. The intricate plot keeps the novel moving at a brisk pace, and Weisgall’s poetic writing makes you want to jump on the next flight to Venice as soon as you're done with the book.