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Review: Zoe, by Geraldine Jewsbury


Pages: 431
Original date of publication: 1845
My edition: 1989 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Oxfam Bookshop in London, September 2011

Zoe is the story of a young woman who marries at a young age and ends up having an affair—with the priest Everhard Burrows. Both of them are outsiders to their ways of life, so it’s natural that they find themselves drawn to each other.

Geraldine Jewsbury spent many years in Manchester’s cultural scene, becoming friends with the Carlyles, GH Lewes, and others. Jewsbury was famous for her outrageous behavior—she wore men’s clothing, smoked, cursed, and claimed George Sand as her inspiration. As such, her novel Zoe was meant to titillate her readers, but as a modern reader, I didn’t care so much for either of the protagonists especially Zoe, who behaves as a coquette in her pursuit of Everhard. I didn’t find her behavior shocking so much as annoying.

The theme certainly would have been shocking to the Victorian reader, but to a modern-day reader, the most interesting part of the book is how it got written. This novel was actually a collaboration between Jewsbury, Jane Carlyle, and another friend, but became a solo effort when Jane Carlyle expressed her displeasure with the content of the novel. Also, the religious expostulating got tiresome after a while.


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