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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Daniel Deronda

I finished "Daniel Deronda" last night, the first of the three novels that are my part of the Victorian challenge. When I posted last month after reading only a portion of the book I anticipated that I was going to greatly enjoy it. I don't typically take such a position after reading only part of a book, but having read all of George Eliot's novels (other than "Romola") and enjoyed them I thought this would be no exception - especially after liking the beginning.

Unfortunately I have to say that on completion I did not enjoy this, the last of her novels and the only one set in the Victorian era. In reading the introduction (after reading the book) I noticed that of the main characters Gwendolyn is usually praised while Deronda, Mirah and Mordercai
typically produce a negative reaction. That is pretty much how I felt about it. Gwendolyn is the spoiled young girl, who marries out of financial need, thinking she can manage her husband, finds out otherwise and suffers greatly. Eliot gives a very complete picture of her suffering and her wishes and efforts to redeem her life.

The means of her redemption is the guidance of the title character Daniel Deronda. Deronda is certainly a good person, but I found it hard to understand how someone who is also so young can be such a fount of wisdom and guidance, not just for Gwendolyn, but for other characters. One of these is Mirah, a young Jewish woman who Deronda rescues and befriends. I found Mirah to be a little bit full of herself, but she pales in comparison to her brother Mordercai or Ezra.

Ezra's cause in life is the Jewish people or more specifically the creation of a Jewish state like today's Israel. That's a noble calling, but to me Mordercai was so full of himself that he was incredibly tedious. At the end of the book when Mordercai and Mirah are visited by their evil doing father, Mordercai tells his sister that "our lot is the lot of Israel." In all his reflection on his religion, he might have been well advised to consider the dangers of a messianic complex.

Unlike Eliot's other novels about England, this one takes place in the Victorian era - in the 1860's. There was also for me another significant difference - Eliot's other novels are stories of people and place - that is while the characters move around they are from one place and the story is about their lives in that place. "Daniel Deronda" on the other hand is more a story of people - they move around quite bit both in England and in Europe so they lack grounding or roots. To me it weakened the novel. There also seemed to me to be an excessive level of co-incidence in the novel - Deronda and Gwendolyn co-incidentally being in Genoa at the crucial moment, Deronda accidentally running into his grandfather's best friend in Germany - again too much for me.

Reading the introduction after reading the book showed me some things I might have missed so I plan to read some more criticism of the novel as well as about Eliot's other works. She is still one of my favorite writers and one novel I didn't care for isn't going to change that opinion. Now it is on to "Mary Barton," my first experience with Elizabeth Gaskell.


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