Berlin, September 1872. The Duncker brothers, Max and Wolfgang, own a thriving publishing business in the city. Clever, irresponsible Max is as fond of gambling and brothels as the older, wiser, Wolfgang is of making a profit. When Max's bad habits get out of hand, Wolfgang sends him to the Spa town of Homburg, to dance attendance upon a celebrity author - the enigmatic Sibyl, also known as George Eliot. As enthralling and intelligent as her books, she soon has Max bewitched.
Yet Wolfgang has an ulterior motive: for his brother to consider Sophie von Hahn, daughter of a wealthy family friend, as a potential wife. At first, Max is lured by Sophie's beauty and his affectionate memories of their shared childhood. But Sophie proves to be nothing like the vision of angelic domesticity Max was expecting. Mischievous, wilful and daring, Sophie gambles recklessly and rides horses like a man.
Both women have Max in thrall - one with her youth and passion, the other with her wisdom and fierce intelligence. Out of his depth, Max finds himself precariously balanced between Sophie and the Sibyl. What's more, Sophie worships the great novelist of questionable morals - and is determined to meet her.
A compelling Victorian novel and a playful meditation on the creation of literature, Sophie and the Sibyl balances a tale of courtship and seduction with a fascinating, lively imagining of the writer George Eliot at the end of her boldly unconventional life, and the height of her fame.
Patricia Duncker is the author of five previous novels: Hallucinating Foucault (winner of the Dillons First Fiction Award and the McKitterick Prize in 1996), The Deadly Space Between, James Miranda Barry, Miss Webster and Cherif (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2007) and The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge (shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger award for Best Crime Novel of the Year in 2010). She has written two books of short fiction, Monsieur Shoushana's Lemon Trees (shortlisted for the Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1997) and Seven Tales of Sex and Death, and a collection of essays, Writing on the Wall. Patricia Duncker is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of Manchester.