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In Berlin, Max Duncker and his brother, Wolfgang, own a thriving publishing business, which owes its success to one woman: the Sibyl, or Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot,who is writing the final installment of her bestselling serial Middlemarch. Max is as fond of gambling and brothels as Wolfgang is of making a profit and berating his spendthrift brother, but Max is given a chance to prove his worth by visiting the Sibyl and her not-quite-husband Lewes, to finalize the publishing rights to her new novel. The Sibyl proves to be as enthralling and intelligent as her books, bewitching Max and all of those around her.
But Wolfgang has an ulterior motive for Max’s visit; he wants his brother to consider the beautiful eighteen-year-old Countess Sophie von Hahn as a potential wife. An acquaintance from Max’s childhood, she comes from a German family of great wealth. However, Sophie proves to be nothing like the angelic vision of domesticity Max envisaged; wild and willful, she gambles recklessly yet always wins, rides horses fiercely, and is happy to disobey authority, especially when it comes to her idol, George Eliot. Enchanted by this whirlwind of a woman, Max nevertheless fears he will never be able to tame her.
With its vivid portrayal of George Eliot and how she lived her life, and the turbulent love story of the countess and Max, Sophie and the Sibyl is both a compulsive read and a high literary achievement.