Daniel Deronda is the rare male protagonist who is self-aware, mature, and searching. He's probably the most admirable male character I've read in a novel. But Eliot doesn't just write about saints; a lead female character, for example, undergoes a brilliantly described, painful learning curve as she comes becomes acquainted with Daniel and comes to understand that his motives are far superior to hers.Laura
Discussion is being held at the Victorians group. This is the story of Daniel Deronda and his search for his true identify. In this book Eliot show her best of style of writing: in the first two chapters, in a flashback point of view, Deronda met Gwendolyn at a Casino but she is forced to go home due to financial duties with her family. Apparently, a romantic relationship is established between these characters. However, as the plot develops, one learns the true story of Daniel Deronda and his search for his true identity. In the meantime, Gwen accepted the marriage proposal made by Lord Grandcourt thus avoiding her probably future as a simple Governess.Then Eliot introduces a Jewish component into the plot: Daniel met Mirah who is trying to find her own mother and brother and then we have the feeling of Daniel's Jewish parentage. Eliot describes in a very sensitive way in which Jews were perceived during this Victorian period.There is other turmoil into the story but I prefer to avoid spoilers here.I haven't read all the books by George Eliot but it seems to be Daniel Deronda is her masterpiece work as a writer. Now, I must read Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Romola in order to get a true vision of her whole work.Haythem Bastawy
Daniel Deronda is an over-written excessively expansive book that would have made the same point and stressed on the same themes in just half its size. I give Eliot though the credit of immense research and maybe she just wanted to translate it all into this which subsequently deemed it out of focus.Daniel Deronda discusses a lot of the themes of its day, illegitimate children, pre and post-marriage relationships, filial duty and how far it should go, anti-semitism, Judaism and more than anything else Zionism.Zionism explained though unnamed takes the biggest place in the book. Daniel Deronda is occupied throughout the book with the question of his parenthood. He eventually discovers that he is a Jew, born to two Jewish parents. He also befriends Mordecai who teaches him Hebrew and gives him a purpose for his life, which is to fight for establishing a home land for the Jews in the East, in other wordsto become a devoted Zionist.Zionism, controversial as it is, does not require much commentary. It's complete disregard for Palestinians, the inhabitants of this so called homeland is utterly as disgusting as the antisemitism Jews have been subjected to in Europe.I also disagree with the notion of classing Jews in general no matter where they come from as a race. Religion does not make a race. It is the physical and cultural traits that make a race. European Jews have different religious habits from Middle-Eastern ones, Russian Christians are different from Coptic or Greek Christians and Egyptians moslems celebrate Eid differently from Saudis, Pakistanis or Indonesian. Religion is not good enough to call the people who belong to it a race, hence not good enough for founding a state upon it.Laurele
George Eliot's last novel does not quite ring true to me. Was she being too ambitious with her mix of characters and themes? It just does not seem to all work together. I plan to watch the BBC Andrew Davies video next to see what he makes of it.I liked it quite a bit more after my second reading.Martine
Nope, it's not Middlemarch. Its scope is less vast, the characters aren't quite as three-dimensional, and the ending is a little less emotionally satisfying. But in all other regards, Daniel Deronda is a great novel, one of the best nineteenth-century English literature in general and George Eliot in particular have to offer.The title of the book notwithstanding, the main character of Daniel Deronda is Gwendolen Harleth, a young, beautiful and manipulative young woman who is forced by circumstances to marry the terrifying Henleigh Grandcourt, who is probably the one person on earth she cannot dominate. Tragedy ensues as the shallow and self-centred Gwendolen must confront her fate and the knowledge that the one person she actually admires, the eponymous hero Daniel Deronda, is less interested in her than in a poor singer called Mirah Lapidoth. So far, so generic nineteenth-century romance, but Eliot wouldn't be Eliot if she didn't add a whole lot of intellectual and cultural background. See, Mirah is Jewish, and the more Daniel digs into her background, the more he feels himself attracted to Judaism. And so the stage is set for a brilliant comparison of the staid English upper class and the oh so vibrant Jews, some of whom are in the thrall of the Zionist movement. Initially, the tone of the book is somewhat anti-Semitic, but the second half almost reads like an ode to Judaism. Eliot obviously researched her subject well and freely drops names which won't mean much to twenty-first-century readers, and probably didn't mean much to non-Jewish nineteenth-century readers, either. At times, the cultural and historical references and grand idealism get a bit tedious, but even so you've got to admire the scholarship that went into the writing of Daniel Deronda, and the audacity of making some of the most likeable people in the book Jewish (hardly an obvious choice for a Victorian author). Eliot (who said some harsh things about Jews in the earlier part of her career and was obviously eager to make amends) was clearly determined to do her subject justice, and boy, did she ever. Yet I have to say it's not the Jewish aspect of the book which has stayed with me. Rather it's Eliot's extraordinary portrayal of Gwendolen, who may well be her greatest tragic heroine. Sure, Gwen is flawed (very much so), but there is something fascinating about her personality and the tragic journey she has to make. No doubt some readers hate her with a vengeance, but I, personally, was riveted by the acute psychological insight with which Eliot analyses her heroine, some of whose less admirable traits I'm afraid I share. Likewise, Gwendolen's detestable husband Grandcourt is a formidable and endlessly fascinating character. By contrast, the much more likeable Daniel and Mirah are somewhat boring, but aren't the goodies always less interesting than the baddies?I wouldn't recommend Daniel Deronda to a first-time Eliot reader (I'd suggest Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss instead), but those who know they can deal with Eliot's wordiness and fiercesome intellect will find this a very rewarding psychological and cultural novel. It's rich stuff, and then some.Maria Grazia
When Daniel Deronda came out it was as a serial of eight instalments from February to September 1876 and its author, George Eliot, was a successful bestselling author. As early instalments appeared, sales exceeded those of Middlemarch and reviews were promising. However, the novel was so different from her previous works to perplex not only many readers, but also John Blackwood, Eliot's publisher, and even Eliot’s supportive lover George Henry Lewes . When Book III was out reviews became more critical. What was so disturbing for readers and critics?My Wordsworth Classics edition includes a long, accurate, very informative study by Dr Carole Jones , which introduces Daniel Deronda as “ Eliot’s most heterogeneous and nearly – contemporary work” in which, Dr Jones adds, the author “examines estreme moral issues, such as race, religion and imperialism, alongside more controversial analyses of social decay and gender inequality. Radically, the novel’s devastating critique of a degenerate English society was achieved by way of an audacious comparison with Judaism.”That was in fact George Eliot’s provocation, that was what shocked many of her readers. Many fell for George Eliot ‘s provocation and Daniel Deronda became her most controversial work and still is, in fact. Both in her writing and in her life, Mary Ann Evans (true name of George Eliot) loved being unconventional and in contrast to the Victorian norms (she worked in the public sphere, supporting herself as an editor, then as a writer, with great success , she even moved in with a married man , defying her Christian upbringing and the strict social conventions of her time). But in her last novel she ventured into dangerous territory by leading her main character, young aristocrat Daniel, to explore and embrace his newly discovered identity, religion, and culture as a Jew and finally marry his little Jewish protegée, Mirah. Social and cultural criticism as well as deep psychological insight ( psychological realism) are Eliot’s best talents. Though not at their best, both are definitely relevant to the complex narration here. What I most appreciate in her work is just her skill at depicting complex human personalities and make the readers sympathetic toward them.In this book, the reader follows Daniel Deronda’s and Gwendolyn Harleth’s intertwining lives in search for personal and vocational fulfilment and sincere relationships. She is beautiful but spoiled and selfish, he is selfless but restless and alienated. Set largely in the degenerate aristocratic society of the 1860s, Daniel Deronda proposes two champions of goodness, the eponymous hero and his “little Jewess”, Mirah, the girl he rescues and protects and who will become Gwendolyn’s antagonist in the quest for Daniel’s heart.Daniel and Mirah - especially the latter – have been criticized at times as boring characters or as types opposed to Gwendolyn’s lively and round personality. I like them both instead and I’m convinced their complexity lies just in their being pure selfless creatures living a corrupt selfish world, trying to cope with and to bravely accept their portion of human sufferings. You may have read or heard that a century after the book's publication, the eminent Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis proposed to cut out of it an alternative novel to be titled Gwendolen Harleth :"as for the bad part of Daniel Deronda," he said, "there is nothing to do but cut it away. The "bad part" – the eloquent speechifying of Mordecai, the Zionist visionary – is high oratory, not novelistic art”. We can agree with Leavis’s literary reasons , but in doing so we risk agreeing “to eviscerate the morally serious, historically judicious and passionately just George Eliot “ as writer Cynthia Ozick stated. Love her or hate her. That is what happens with George Eliot: either you totally come to admire her commitment or you simply must leave her work be. To try to re-write it is totally unfair and un just. You may always read Dickens or Gaskell (I love them both deeply with all their differences) If you like Victorian literature and it historical context, my recommendation is give the book a chance and watch the TV series - in whichever order you prefer. I’m sure you’ll find a way, your own way, to sympathize with Eliot’s characters because they are all extremely touching human beings. Read my complete review on my blog FLY HIGH at http://flyhigh-by-learnonline.blogspo...Elizabeth
I found this book to be a fascinating portrayal of the Industrial Age in England and the emergence of the Zionist movement. A thought-provoking novel that provides a clear insight into an unusual era.Ken-ichi
** spoiler alert ** My sister wrote her senior thesis on this book, so I figured if I was going to stand half a chance at understanding but a quarter of that thesis, I would have to read it. Still haven’t gotten to the thesis (80 pages Ak?! C’mon!), but I did finally polish off the book, and am not sorry that I did. Much like Middlemarch this book is packed with long, intricate, sometimes movingly ornate, oftentimes completely hilarious (and not in a self-conscious way), frequently ultranerdy sentences that somehow seem even more absurdly arcane/wonderful than other 19th century Brits. If Austen fired a word pistol, Elliot preferred the lexical two-decker broadside.As with Middlemarch, Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen did not prepare me to fully interpret a book of Deronda’s sweep and complexity, so my only real point of reference is Middlemarch itself. Like the characters in that book, most of the protagonists in Deronda struggle with deliberately crafting their own lives, but unlike the focus on vocation in Middlemarch, these characters seemed more concerned with morality. Deronda himself wasn’t seeking a job so much as a crusade, and Gwen spent almost the entire book watching her ego eroded by both circumstance and her husband only to find she barely even knew what good meant if it couldn’t mean pleasing herself. I suspect the fact that many of the protagonists had lost parents plays into this somehow, perhaps severing them from strong religious and cultural norms and forcing the characters to question and then assert moral positions. The Meyricks, the Gascoignes, Grandcourt, and perhaps Sir Hugo rarely seemed to question their own codes, whereas Gwen and Dan were constantly revisiting them. I guess that falls a part a bit with Mordecai and Mirah, but perhaps we just met Mordecai long after he’d settled many of these internal debates (he certainly had a code, albeit a long-winded possibly delusional one).Ultimately I found Gwen to be the most interesting and appealing character, mostly because I’m a traditionalist and I like it when characters change in profound but believable ways (yes, Ak, I’m am looking forward to reading about how narrative is just a myth Elliot was trying to lay bare with this book, or something, right?), and Gwen went from back-of-the-hand-cackling-anime-villainess to having her will entirely crushed. She was the only appealing character with any wit in the book (I wasn’t a fan of Hans, and Daniel’s mom, while awesome, was really just a guest star). Actually, part of the tragedy for me was seeing that verve brought down not just by Grandcourt’s weird dominance, but also by her submission to Deronda’s moral authority. Gwen’s smart, willful, and clearly possesses the kernel of morality in her love for her mother. Why can’t she figure this shit out herself?! I found Deronda himself a bit boring. He was always good and always right. Dull. Keeping with the anime theme, he was just sad Pikachu, all the time. The way his constant deliberation always seemed to border on passivity bugged me too. His public attitude was more like Grandcourt's than anyone else’s, even though his inaction was usually due to deliberation rather than indifference.Anyway, long but good, glad I read it. Bring on the thesis.Oh, and you know there were words:prebendary (n): a stipend given to a clergyman from the revenues of a church or cathedral. (p. 33)fidus Achates: in the Aeneid, Achates was Aeneus's bff. (p. 37)euphonious (adj): sounding good. (p. 43)spoony (adj): foolish, silly, particularly when in love. It always drove me nuts that this was in the Scrabble dictionary, but I guess it does have meaning beyond "of or pertaining to a spoon" (p. 58)antigropelos (n): waterproof leggings for riding or walking, aka spatterdashes. (p. 70)burthen (n): archaic form of burden, which is pretty obvious, but I don't recall this word coming up so much with other 19th century authors. (p 90 and just about every other page in the book)monody (n):: a solo lament. (p. 90)"It was impossible to be jealous of Juliet Fenn, a girl as middling as mid-day market in everything but her archery and her plainness, in which last she was noticeably like her father: underhung and with receding brow resembling that of the more intelligent fishes."Amazing how cruel and bigoted she could be. Ak tells me she believed in physiognomy. (p. 121)uncial (n): a form of all-caps (or majuscule) script that is very rounded. Now, what exactly Elliot meant by handwriting "of the delicate kind which used to be esteemed feminine before the present uncial period" I have no idea. Did people write in all-caps all the time in her day?perrugue (n): alt. form of peruke, which is a man's wig from the 17th and 18th centuries. (p. 179)"...impaling the three Saracens' heads proper and three bezants of the one with the tower and falcons argent of the other..." Only now that I am looking things up do I realize she was talking about heraldry. Behold, a Saracen's head, bezants, and falcons argent. I was very, very disappointed to learn that Saracens bear no relation to the genus of carnivorous pitcher plants, Sarracenia, which were apparently named after an 18th century botanist named Michel Sarrazin. How does that even work?! (p. 180) "But for God's sake, keep an English cut, and don't become indifferent to bad tobacco!" Sir Hugo Mallinger's advice to Danny Boy on learning that the latter wishes to go abroad. Another winning epitaph. I'm gonna need, like, 30 graves when I die. (p. 200)"I could not bear memories any more: I could only feel what was present in me – it was all one longing to cease from my weary life, which seemed only a pain outside the great peace that I might enter into." I found this conclusion to Mirah's autobiography somewhat remarkable for the extent dedicated to her thoughts of suicide. Granted I haven't read that broadly, but I don't recall many 19th century brits dwelling on suicide too much, particularly in protagonists. (p. 241)"The self-delight with which she had kissed her image in the glass had faded before the sense of futility in being anything whatever – charming, clever, resolute – what was the good of it all?" And in addition to suicide, we have all this depression, not just sadness but an acute sensation of pointlessness. (p. 248)"Outsiders might have been more apt to think..." This paragraph is just hilarious: essentially about the triumph of personality over physicality, it just descends into this pedantic mess about the Odyssey, which she concludes by admitting that the Odyssey was just a terrible analogy. Oh George Elliot. This whole chapter is just amusing for being the only traditionally romantic passage in the entire book ("I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together." Queue the Tchaikovsky). Kind of like she was saying, "Look, I will give you guys one happy romance. One. Ok? But it will only last a single chapter. A short chapter. And I am going to talk about the Odyssey." (p. 259)chignon (n): style of hair where the hair is tied in a knot or bun at the back of the head or the nape of the neck. Never knew this had a name. Definitely better than "cockernonnie" and "cock-up." (p. 358)rinderpest (n): viral disease affecting cattle. (p. 360)"...that mania of always describing one thing while you were looking at another..." My God I hate this, and I am always catching myself about to do it, particularly while eating. The only motivations I can think of are to belittle the present meal, thereby making everyone consider it inferior, or boast about your own taste, both of which seem horrible. (p. 461)cynosure (n): something that attracts attention. Constantly forgetting this word. (p. 487)"What sort of earth or heaven would hold any spiritual wealth in it for souls pauperized by inaction?" It seems ridiculous that Deronda would deliver this line, as he is almost entirely inert for half of the book. (p. 499)persiflage (n): banter (p. 512)caliginous (adj): misty, dark. (p. 512)Melusina: a figure in Celtic and northern European legend, beautiful woman above the waist, serpent below, but apparently only on Saturdays. (p. 689)murrain (n): another infectious cattle disease. (p. 707)Supralapsarian (n): honestly even after reading the Wikipedia article I have no idea what this really means, and Hans' joke is sadly lost on me. Absurd doctrinal stances like this just make me think of Life of Brian. (p. 712)Sandy Tjan
** spoiler alert ** Daniel Deronda is not an easy book to read. If Middlemarch is a masterpiece of 19th century realism, Deronda is something else altogether. Like its predecessor, the narrative follows two main protagonists: Deronda, a young Englishman of uncertain parentage, and Gwendolen Harleth, a pretty, at times vain and spoiled daughter of a well-off family. The two meet by chance at the gambling hall of a swanky European watering place, where Gwendolen is doing her best to live in fashionable dissipation. The gentlemanly Deronda discreetly helps her when she loses everything at the roulette table. He doesn’t know that she is, in a sense, a runaway, and that her reason for being so is perfectly honorable. Gwendolen may share certain qualities with the shallow Rosamond Vincy in Middlemarch, but she is not entirely devoid of a sense of honor. Gwendolen has been running away from one Henleigh Grandcourt, a rich, indolent playboy who is only one life away from inheriting vast estates and a peerage. Everyone, including her widowed mother and country parson uncle think that he is a splendid catch for her. Except that Gwendolen has secretly found out that he had fathered a number of illegitimate children with another woman, whom he is now ready to discard to be able to marry her. As long as her family remains well off, she has no pressing need to marry, and she keeps fending him off. But then all the family money is lost in a speculative bubble, and what can a pretty, essentially uneducated girl of modest talents do? She wants to sing for her supper, but is told that she is not talented and tough enough to be a professional singer. The only other alternative is to be a governess, a desperate option that she despises. She is too dutiful a daughter to let her beloved mother and sisters live poorly in a dinky cottage. Therefore, she (with a little nudge from her newly impoverished family) convinces herself that after all, Grandcourt is a suitable husband material. He seems pliable enough, and with her beauty and forceful personality, she figures out that she will have the upper hand in that marriage. She is unaware that in Eliot’s universe, marriage is a noose and a husband likes to be master. Soon, she finds herself at the mercy of the possessive, passive-aggressive Grandcourt, a control freak of the first order who is jealous of his wife’s emotional dependence on Deronda.Gwendolen is an interesting character and her dysfunctional relationship with her husband is morbidly fascinating, but the Deronda side of the narrative suffers from the lack of character development. Deronda accidentally rescues a suicidal girl, Mirah, a Jewess who had ran away from her abusive father to find her family in London. He brings her to live with the family of Hans Meyrick, a painter friend whom he has helped in the past. In the course of searching for her long-lost relatives, Deronda develops an interest in Judaism, and under the influence of Mordecai, Mirah’s terminally ill brother, even becomes a Zionist sympathizer. But how can a goyim be a (proto) Zionist and also win the hand of Mirah the Jewess (who, despite being attracted to him is dead set against miscegenation)? Cue a letter from Deronda’s long lost mother, now Contessa Maria Alcharisi, who informs him that he IS a Jew (duh). She had given him up to be raised as an English gentleman when she decided to pursue her singing ambition. The character of the Contessa is probably the most interesting one in the Deronda strand, although she immediately exits the stage after discharging her plot duties. Among the three women who aspire to be singing stars (Gwendolen, Mirah and herself), the Contessa is the only one who manages to succeed. But to achieve it she had to abandon her son, family and race. Success for a woman always comes at a price, often a steep one. Deronda himself, despite being given lengthy, sometimes rambling monologues, is oddly amorphous as a character. We know that he is a rescuer of distressed damsels, and that he is almost saintly, but other than that he is a blank. Even his transformation from an English gentleman to a committed Zionist is not entirely convincing. It doesn’t help that the parts in which Eliot expounds about Judaism are perhaps aesthetically among the weakest in the book. It is mostly done through Mordecai’s rambling about ‘ruach-ha-kodesh’ and other bits of Jewish lore, as well as through scenes of a meeting, where talking heads discuss --- rather abstrusely --- proto-Zionist ideas. Eliot clearly had researched the subject extensively, but the regurgitated knowledge that she presents to the reader is patchy and quite tedious to read. Mordecai himself is so much the Suffering Jew that he virtually has no personality, a fact that holds true for most of the Jewish characters. It is surely laudable that Eliot strived to present Jewish characters in a positive light in the midst of rampant anti-Semitism in Victorian Britain, but what is gained in positive characterization is lost in the believability of the characters themselves. The Jews are too busy being model minorities to be real people.Meanwhile, Gwendolen’s increasingly creepy husband drags her across Europe on a trip, which primary object seems to be to put the farthest distance between her and Deronda. While boating off Genoa, he accidentally drowns, thus releasing Gwendolen from the ‘empire of fear’ that he had created. Deronda, who happens to be there to meet his mother, rescues her. He notes that, while she herself did not do the deed, she actively desired her husband’s death. He also discovers that, in a vindictive move, Grandcourt had altered his will to prevent Gwendolen from inheriting the bulk of his property, bequeathing it to his illegitimate son instead. The novel’s end is inconclusive; Gwendolen learns to stoically accept her situation and Deronda, after marrying Mirah, sets off for Palestine. Despite a happy ending for Deronda and Mirah, the tone of the novel is somber, with very little of the sarcastic wit and humor that enliven Middlemarch. At certain parts, Eliot seems to abandon realism and descends into melodrama and insipid characterization, which makes it hard to continue reading. If you absolutely have to read one Eliot novel, pick Middlemarch instead.3.5 stars.Shannon
This was my second time reading Daniel Deronda, and it turned out to be exactly the right time to revisit it. Ever since finishing it I can't seem to read other fiction. What can possibly be the right thing to come after George Eliot's final novel?If The Mill on the Floss is Eliot's most autobiographical novel, I think Daniel Deronda might be the one in which her talents as a writer are most clearly reflected in her characters. For me one of the defining features of Eliot's work is her unfailing compassion for girls and young women, which is a quality Daniel shares. His compassion, and Eliot's, extends even to Gwendolen Harleth, who, spoiled and narrow as she is, has as great a capacity for suffering as Eliot's nobler characters. Maybe greater, since her narrowness only makes her more helpless in the face of her problems. She doesn't have the habit of cultivating intellectual or moral sources of internal support.Gwendolen is an easy character to dislike, especially at the beginning, but I think her selfishness isn't what's interesting about her, and it's only one piece of her fundamental problem. The other, more interesting piece, is that within Gwendolen's society the only respectable career for a woman is to make a good marriage, and she doesn't want to be married. She craves admiration and fears shame so much that she can barely admit her lack of desire for marriage, even to herself, but she objects "with a sort of physical repulsion" to men directly stating their love for her. In addition to his wealth and social position, what makes Grandcourt her most acceptable suitor is his willingness to refrain from too-direct appeals to her affection. After the wedding, though, Gwendolen's feeling of repulsion seems to be back in full force, and by that time she's stuck with him. Poor Gwendolen gets everything wrong, being at first too interested in unserious attentions from men to live up to the ideal of womanhood, and ultimately not interested enough in the duties of being a wife to find any consolation in attempting to fulfill them. It's amazing what a blank Grandcourt becomes in her consciousness immediately after their marriage. It's like he's something that happens to her, not a person she can relate to on any level. And I can't blame her for that. Her early expectation of getting everything she wants is unreasonable, but so is the outcome in which she gets nothing that she wants, and plenty that she doesn't want.Gwendolen's foil in her own mind, and probably in Daniel's, is Mirah, who remains a problem for me. It feels like she doesn't quite belong in a George Eliot novel, like maybe she wandered in by mistake from some nearby Dickens novel. Unlike Gwendolen, Mirah does match the ideal of womanhood in nearly every way, which somehow seems unfair of her. Nobody should be that perfect all the time -- a feeling Eliot herself seems to recognize in Gwendolen's comment, "I have no sympathy with women who are always doing right. I don't believe in their great sufferings."The issues I have with Mirah, though, are more than counterbalanced by the chapters containing Princess Leonora Halm-Eberstein, who is one of those characters seeming to stand slightly outside of the world everyone else in the novel inhabits, posing a useful challenge to all expectations of who or what a woman should be: "People talk of their motives in a cut and dried way. Every woman is supposed to have the same set of motives, or else to be a monster. I am not a monster, but I have not felt exactly what other women feel--or say they feel, for fear of being thought unlike others."Taking Daniel as the protagonist, it would be easy to read the choice he makes as a rejection of the Princess's position and a moral judgment about what is valuable in a woman, or to see the novel's women as symbols of the differing lifestyles available to him. But I think that would be wrong. Instead, for me, Gwendolen is the main protagonist, and Daniel's choice is an important step in her development into a full and independent person, as well as in his. I love those moments in George Eliot novels when a character's blinders suddenly fall away, and the world seems wider than it used to and, if they're lucky, there's time for growth.Christopher H.
I have just finished a leisurely eight-week group-read of George Eliot's last completed novel, Daniel Deronda, with my 'Anglophiles Anonymous' group on Shelfari.com. I very much enjoyed the experience of reading and discussing the book, section by section, each week. I am convinced that I got so much more out of it this way than if I'd read it by myself. Without the incentive of the group-read, I am also quite sure that this is a novel that I probably would not have even acquired, much less read.The novel, first published in 1876, is quasi-Tolstoyan in scope and complexity. It has a whole raft of fairly interesting characters that border on being 'Dickensian.' While written in her characteristic style of 'social realism,' Eliot uses some quite elegant and sophisticated literary and plot devices too. For example, she is adept at using flashbacks to bounce characters and events back and forth in time. She also runs dual storylines through much of the novel, that are quite divergent at the beginning, but close in a relatively satisfying convergence near the end. Her use of allusion, allegory, and metaphor is deft and appropriate. Eliot, in writing this novel, is clearly didactic, without being overtly 'preachy' or academic like Tolstoy (e.g., Anna Karenina) or Victor Hugo (Les Miserables).In some respects, for much of the first half of the novel I found myself more interested in the character and plot-threads associated with Gwendolen Harleth versus that of the eponymous Daniel Deronda. Gwendolen reminded me, at various times, of Jane Austen's 'Emma' or even Eliot's own 'Dorothea Brooke' (Middlemarch). With the convergence of Gwendolen's storyline with that of Daniel's, I did find that Daniel's story and character became much more compelling and interesting.All in all, this is a novel about double-standards, redemption and balance. Eliot provides a fascinating portrait of the situation and lives of English and European Jews during the Victorian period, and particularly the nascent proto-Zionist movement and her interpretation of the Kaballistic philosophy. Eliot balances this portrait with a similar examination of the ways and social mores of the well-established English upper class. Eliot pulls off this balancing act superbly through having the novel's primary male protagonist, Daniel Deronda, having a foot in the both worlds. I was also completely taken with the intelligent young Jewish woman, Mirah Lapidoth. From her introduction, early on in the novel, I eagerly looked forward to her each of her appearances. The Meyrick family, especially Mrs. "Little Mother" Meyrick and her vivacious daughters, are splendidly wonderful characters. The novel also contains some characters that you simply love to hate, and others that you hate to love. Ambiguity and shades of gray abound.In conclusion, I enjoyed reading George Eliot's last novel, Daniel Deronda, very much. I can say, however, that it did not affect me in the same visceral and emotional sort of way that her earlier books have; specifically, The Mill on the Floss, or Silas Marner. I could also tell that writing Daniel Deronda and telling this story was somehow quite important to George Eliot, and for that reason alone I am glad that I read it. While perhaps not as monumental as her Middlemarch masterpiece, this is a big and meaty novel and well worth reading. Four out of five stars for me.***[My review is based upon the 2003 Penguin Classics edition of Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, 850 pages.:]Bruce
I don’t know why I had never read George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda before, having read nearly all her other novels. This is a marvelous work, its great length permitting intricacy of plot and detailed examination of character. Published in 1876, it was Eliot’s last novel and her only novel taking place in contemporary Victorian society. It was also arguably one of her most controversial works. The plot is two-fold, one plot line involving traditional English class society and focusing on the life and fate of Gwendolen Harleth, an initially arrogant and pampered young woman who, through a series of misadventures, chooses to marry Grandcourt, a corrupt and domineering titled Englishman who makes her life a misery. The second plot line involves a young Jewess, Mirah, and her brother Mordecai (Ezra), following their struggles in the England of the time. The two plots are linked by the somewhat enigmatic Daniel Deronda, the ward and often-presumed illegitimate son of the wealthy Hugo Mallinger (thus making Deronda the presumed illegitimate cousin of Grandcourt). Deronda is presented as an idealized figure, receptive to the feelings and aspirations of people of all kinds, supportive of those in all circumstances, but himself somewhat lost in terms of personal aspirations and identity because of the questions about his ancestry. He eventually becomes a far more rounded figure, although not as quickly as Gwendolen does, as he discovers his personal background and develops a purpose to his life, these two representing the only two characters that emerge from relative flatness and stereotypes, even though some of the other characters are sympathetic in a simpler way.The novel is fascinating in part because of its sympathies toward and positive depiction of Judaism and proto-Zionism in a time when both were not popular in Victorian society. In fact, after Eliot’s death attempts were made to republish the book leaving out the Jewish subplot, an attempt which failed due to its effect in eviscerating the book altogether. I was also impressed by Eliot’s philosophical authorial digressions and the beauty and subtlety of her syntax. This is a work, a long work, designed to be read, as most Victorian novels were designed to be read, leisurely and carefully, the reader savoring the language as well as plot and underlying message. It should not be rushed through.Reflecting on our society more than a century later, I found myself musing about what societal groups might substitute for the Judaism of Eliot’s day, what groups are similarly stigmatized, often reflexively and almost unconsciously. Muslims might be one example, as might be Native Americans and other minority racial groups. The difficulty in discerning other possibilities may represent the fact that such stigmatizations often exist belong the level of usual awareness.Rose
George Eliot a Zionist? That's more than surprising: it's almost as amazing as the fact that she seems to have come to her Zionism by way of the Kabbalah. Like Eliot's earlier novels, this, her last work of fiction, is filled with gentle yet sharply ironic observations and a sublimely lofty sense of the potential of extraordinary individuals. The moral education of an egotistical English beauty runs parallel with the self-discovery of an English gentleman who serves as her spiritual lodestar, particularly during her brief but hideous marriage. Most if not all plot twists were spoiled for me by reading the introduction, but anyone who tackles the novel divines from the moment the first Jewish character is introduced that Mr. Deronda will ultimately find both true love and his place in the world (and this is not meant metaphorically) when he discovers his Jewish birthright. One does read this book to learn what becomes of the characters, but what makes it so intensely rewarding is the wealth of Eliot's intellect. In its day, this novel was considered as much essay as story, though at the time that was attributed as a fault. Eliot's sense of Jewish destiny seems strikingly prescient, while her idealistic belief in the ultimate good that would result elicits a sigh. This is a long novel. It demands total attention. But you won't be able to read the entire thing without becoming, however briefly, a better person.Melanie
Another book I know I read in college - I even wrote a paper on it - yet my memory of it is hazy at best. But since Middlemarch remains probably my favorite book, I thought I'd give Eliot's final novel and treatise on Judaism another try. Again, I find it much more compelling now. Eliot is just SO DEEP! Her books take those central principles of Austen (see above catalogue of my recent reading, nonexistent reader) - by which I mean, the immovable facts of wealth and birth and beauty and wit except for that brief, fluid period of matrimonial musical chairs; the only time, as far as I can see, that women had any opportunity of changing their birth status and situations (which, incidentally, has given me new insight into the difference between the English class system and our American ideas of mutability) - and adds about 900 pages of depth and insight and, yes, some heavy Christian symbolism stuff. There are no Casaubons in here - that is, I think Eliot loves all her characters in this book, even those flawed. Except maybe Lush. Maybe the lesson here is that I shouldn't have taken a 10:10 class when I was 21. Or maybe college is wasted on the young. I'm not done yet but this is a great, great book.Katja
** spoiler alert ** Daniel Deronda is a powerful novel which carries an amazing message. It is also heartbreaking. Gwendolyn's spoiled but naive character changes throughout the novel in a way that makes you feel for her a lot at the end. Mira's longing to find her mother and her brother connects magically to Daniel's desires and brings them together in a moving ending. Ezra's dream of Israel made a huge political statement, a famous popular author writing a novel about the Jewish dream for Israel angered many anti-semites who wanted her to stick to romance and the Gwendolyn story. Ezra's story was the most touching part of the book and when Gwendolyn decides to live you feel that the message the book tells is to find your path and follow it to the end. As Daniel, Gwendolyn, and Mira move through their lives we walk with them and hope their path will be quick and safe.