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Eleonora and Joseph. Passion, Tragedy, and Revolution in the Age of Enlightenment. A Novel. 

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

As the novel opens, aristocratic Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel pleads with the High Court of Naples to be beheaded instead of hanged like a criminal. One of the leading revolutionaries of her time, Eleonora contributed to the establishment of the Neapolitan Republic, based on the ideals of the French Revolution. Imprisoned in 1799 after the return of the Bourbon Monarchy - due to her work as editor-in-chief of Il Monitore Napoletano - and while waiting to be sentenced, she writes a memoir. Here, she discusses not only her revolutionary enthusiasm, but also the adolescent lover who abandoned her, Joseph Correia da Serra. While visiting Monticello many years later, Joseph discovers Eleonora's manuscript in Thomas Jefferson's library. Now retired, Jefferson is committed to founding the University of Virginia and entices Correia with a position in the institution, once it opens. As the two philosophes explore Eleonora's writing through the lens of their own lives, achievements, and follies, they share many intimate secrets. Told from Eleonora and Joseph's alternating points of view, the interwoven first-person narratives follow the characters from the elegant salons of Naples to the halls of Monticello, from the streets of European capitals such as Lisbon, London, and Paris to the cultured new world of Philadelphia and the chic soirées in Washington. Eleonora and Joseph were both prominent figures of the Southern European Enlightenment. Together with Thomas Jefferson, they formed part of The Republic of Letters, a formidable network of thinkers who radically influenced the intellectual world in which they lived - and which we still inhabit today.
In this illuminating historical novel, Rodrigues imagines two illustrious, surprising, and nation-shaping 18th century lives, separated by years despite an intimate initial connection: that of Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel, an Italian poet and revolutionary of the short-lived Neapolitan Republic born into a Portuguese family, and Portuguese naturalist Joseph Correia da Serra, here Pimentel’s erstwhile lover, who kindled a passion with her in their youth in Naples. At the novel’s arresting start, after the fall of the Neapolitan Republic, Pimentel stands accused of high treason against the crown—“she believed the poor deserved to be educated in order to have a better future," Rodrigues notes. She is sent to prison for her revolutionary role, where she writes the memoir that narrates her half of Eleonora and Joseph. Facing death later, she pleads for a dignified beheading, which is denied.

Pimentel's pages eventually reach Correia da Serra, years later, in the most surprising of places: Monticello, the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, another thoughtful revolutionary, though one with blind spots. “It was perplexing,” Correia da Serra notes, observing Monticello’s slaves, “that a man like Jefferson didn’t see the contradictions of his own life.” Correia da Serra is thrown into a state of nostalgia and regret when Jefferson shares Pimentel’s memoir. As Correia da Serra reads her words, he and readers are transported through time as Eleonora recounts their love story and her impassioned revolutionary path, rooted in the principles of the French Revolution.

Rich in culture, history, and revolutionary fervor, this captivating read conjures the heart-pounding tale of one woman “born in one world and wanted to invent another” —and the men who wielded their power and status to silence her. Pimentel is a sharp-witted and impassioned protagonist willing to die for her beliefs, while Correia de Serra faces guilt over his younger self’s inaction. Written with lyrical prose and vivid detail, this sweeping novel of love, betrayal, and politics offers romance, redemption, and suspense. History buffs will relish the scrupulously described milieu.

Takeaway: Engrossing historical novel of love, betrayal, revolution.

Comparable Titles: Andrea Camilleri’s The Revolution of the Moon, Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel’s From Arcadia to Revolution.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A