When George Eliot became ‘fired’ with the idea of writing an historical romance set in fifteenth-century Florence, she contemplated this leap into unfamiliar creative territory with a mixture of trepidation and determination. So conscious was she of the risk of producing ‘something else than what was expected’ (III, 339), that she considered publishing her ‘Italian story’ anonymously in Blackwood’s Magazine.1 Nonetheless, Eliot was resolved to sacrifice popularity — ‘Of necessity, the book is addressed to fewer readers than my previous work’ — in the interests of extending and diversifying her creative range: ‘If one is to have the freedom to write out one’s own varying unfolding self, and not be a machine always grinding out the same material or spinning the same sort of web, one cannot always write for the same public’ (IV, 49).
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