Set in fifteenth-century Andalucía, Eliot’s narrative poem, conceived as early as 1864 and finished in 1868, tells the story of Fedalma, a young woman experiencing the clashing of two duties.
Raised in luxury and as a Catholic by her fiancé Don Silva’s family, the heroine was born a Gypsy. In a reversal of the usual child-stealing plot involving Gypsies, she was snatched from her parents by marauding Spaniards during a raid against the Moors. Her origins first appear to burst out from behind a façade of nurtured control when she dances publicly and sensuously in the town square to the horror of her husband and the Catholic religious authorities:
Sudden, with gliding motion like a flame