This article argues that in Romola, George Eliot uses the real, historical case of Savonarola, whose motivations remain unknowable in the novel and historical record alike, to investigate the epistemological difficulties inherent in knowing an other, and posits a form of sympathy that forgoes such knowledge altogether. Despite Eliot's years of archival research, and despite efforts on behalf of the eponymous heroine and the reader, knowledge-based sympathy of the kind promoted in her previous novels is neither available nor desirable. In Romola, Eliot develops an alternative sympathy based not on knowledge but, instead, on acknowledgment. Whereas knowledge suggests certainty (I know you're in pain), acknowledgment entails a response even in the absence of certainty (I acknowledge that you're in pain even if I can't know it). This emphasis on ethical action in spite of knowledge mobilizes feeling and reason in a new orientation, overcoming a radical skeptical impasse.

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