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Daniel Deronda
by George Eliot

Inside Flap Copy
George Eliot's last and most unconventional novel is considered by many to be her greatest. First published in installments in 1874-76, Daniel Deronda is a richly imagined epic with a mysterious hero at its heart. Deronda, a high-minded young man searching for his path in life, finds himself drawn by a series of dramatic encounters into two contrasting worlds: the English country-house life of Gwendolen Harleth, a high-spirited beauty trapped in an oppressive marriage, and the very different lives of a poor Jewish girl, Mirah, and her family. As Deronda uncovers the long-hidden secret of his own parentage, Eliot's moving and suspenseful narrative opens up a world of Jewish experience previously unknown to the Victorian novel.

From the Back Cover “Daniel Deronda is a startling and unexpected novel . . . it is a cosmic myth, a world history, and a morality play.” —A. S. Byatt

From: Barbara Moors Date: Thursday, January 01, 2004 10:51 AM Ann asked me to start the discussion on Daniel Deronda. She'll be back with us in a few days. I am a little more than halfway through the novel and it sounds like a number of us are in the same situation. However, let's go ahead and start talking. I often like these ongoing discussions as much as the final ones. This was Eliot's final book, written after Middlemarch, and she had great ambitions for it. In Frederick Karl's extensive biography of Eliot, he quotes her many times regarding her desire for a summing up, for a final statement in this novel. He says, As her health deteriorated and her will to write lessened, she needed one work which would include everything; and it was precisely this desire to be inclusive which made Deronda into such a supreme and yet problematic work.. Despite her health problems, she did extensive research for the novel. The one step that she did not take was a trip to Israel. My approach thus far has been to simply sink in and enjoy it. However, now that I've read her ambitions, it's interesting to ponder how they affected the overall novel. I tend to love attempts to do great things even if they fall short. Do you think Daniel Deronda succeeds as Eliot's final "summing up", her crowning achievement? Karl also quotes her as saying (when having doubts about an anthology of her thoughts that was being published): I have always exercised a severe watch against anything that could be called preaching, and if I have ever allowed myself in dissertation or in dialogue anything is not part of the structure of my books, I have there sinned against my own laws.. Do you think that she stayed within her own laws in Deronda? And what do you think of these characters? Isn't Gwendolen one of the more interesting characters in fiction or is this my own prejudice? I love reading the development of such a flawed personality. What do you think of Daniel and Mirah? Do they seem real to you? Barb
From: Ernest Belden Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 01:11 AM Barb, I was fortunate to find a Modern Library edition dated 2002 in paper back. However it has been slow reading so far. Ernie
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 11:04 AM Ernie, is that the edition that has the introduction by A.S. Byatt? I was reading that for a while in Border's yesterday but couldn't finish it. I'm going to try and get it on inter-library loan just to read her comments. Another word about the characters...I wish Eliot had expanded her account of Klesmer. I keep wanting him to appear more. Barb
From: Sarah Hart Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 04:48 PM No hasty promises, but...I am reading this. I actually have a wonderful copy, inscribed "To Mr. Flynn, from Grandma, Christmas 1905." I am only about 50 pages in, so don't know if I'll make it. I generally read pretty fast but classics are always slower. Eliot is one of my favorite "old" authors, but I've never read this one, so I'm looking forward to it. When I was looking for this in the bookstore yesterday, I saw Hardy's section and can't wait until next year when I can participate in the nominations--FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD would accompany me on any desert island trip. Three cheers for Hardy in general. (I'm just realizing that I'm touting pretty depressing authors lately! Hmmm...Freud would have a field day with me) Sarah
From: Beej Connor Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 05:10 PM I'm not exactly racing through this, but that's more due to family doings than the novel itself, and I love it so far. Hopefully, I can get a good, hefty chunk of time to do nothing but read and be done soon enough to participate in the discussion. Beej
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 05:35 PM Oh, I'm glad that you are reading this one, Sarah and Beej. With Ernie, Sara Chamberlin and Ann, there are at least six of us. Mary Ellen Burns also read it during the past year so she will be in on the discussion. Anyone else? Eliot begins this in a way that was rather difficult for me initially. She presents Gwendolen at the casino with Deronda watching her and then quickly goes back in time recounting the events that led up to that scene. It took me a bit to figure out that we had gone back in time. However, once that all fell into place, I was hooked. Somewhere, I read Eliot described as England's Tolstoy. I think it's an apt comparison. And, I love them both. Barb
From: Theresa Simpson Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 06:20 PM I'm reading this too, Barb. Started last Tuesday, and am only on page 100, so I'll likely join the discussion late - I have the Modern Library edition and it's 1000 pages! Love it so far. Eliot reminds me of a less-arch Austen. She has a beautiful, economical style - it took a couple of chapters for me to fall into the swing of her writing, but now it's smooth sailing and a pleasure to read. Theresa
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 07:13 PM "To Mr. Flynn, from Grandma, Christmas 1905." What's the story behind that, I wonder. What kind of Grandma calls her grandson Mr.? R
From: Sarah Hart Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 10:05 PM You know, Ruth, I wondered the same thing. I paid $15 for this book just for the inscription. I love old books...even if they're not "worth" anything. The look of the old ink and handwriting...wondering who held this book, and was it enjoyed, or just put on a shelf? In 1905, people had fewer books...I'm sure this was treasured, even if the man had a pretty formal grandmother! I wonder if the man was actually her grandson-in-law? If so, that would explain the formality on her end--but he might have referred to her as "grandma" like people sometimes refer to their in-laws as "mother & father." Sarah
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004 10:15 PM Oh, good, Theresa. I'm glad you're going to be with us. This should be an excellent discussion book. Barb
From: Ernest Belden Date: Sunday, January 04, 2004 10:42 PM Barb, The introduction to this book printed by Modern Library is by Edmund White, notes by Dr. Hugh Oshborne. It is encouraging that some of our readers had the same problem of getting "into the story". It takes some time to get the feel of it. The introduction also compared Eliot with the "great authors" of her age. Well it is nice to praise her but I agree with you that she ain't no Tolstoy, but she is good! Her description of Gwendolen is excellent especially since she shows the readers two contrary sides of the girl. There is the strong determination on one side and extreme terror on the other This makes it interesting and puzzling. One is tempted to ask a specialist in human behavior to explain this to the reader. Ernie Ernie
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Monday, January 05, 2004 05:43 PM I just wanted to let you all know that I am slowly but surely working my way through Daniel Deronda. The beginning was a bit of a slog, but I'm finally picking up momentum, and hope to join the discussion shortly. Peggy
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, January 05, 2004 06:41 PM Peggy! That's terrific! I'm looking forward to your take on this. Ernie, Eliot does rank close to Tolstoy for me. No one quite equals him for me, but she has many of the same qualities. I realized after I asked you about the Byatt introduction that my copy is a Modern Library edition and has the introduction by White. However, I saw a hardcover Modern Library edition at Border's that had the Byatt introduction. Gwendolen really is a study in human behavior. Her character is one of the factors that reminds me of Tolstoy. I always understood why his characters were doing what they did. There were no villains and very few absolute heroes. I don't particularly like Gwendolen but I recognize many of her motivations. And, I can see facets of my own behavior that I don't particularly like or want to own up to. Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Monday, January 05, 2004 07:41 PM I'm back and I have less than 100 pages to go. Parts of the book are slow, but others are almost impossible to put down. Gwendolyn is definitely the most intriguing character. I like Deronda (although I probably shouldn't because he verges on too good to be true) and his parent is downright fascinating. I think perhaps Eliot put a great deal of herself in that one. Mirah is too syrupy. More later. Ann
From: Sarah Hart Date: Monday, January 05, 2004 11:31 PM Ok, I have lots to go (have been packing up Christmas decorations) but I'm far enough into it to have a little feel for Gwendolen. Can't help you, Barb, on the two sides thing--that fear has me mystified. Perhaps I'm not far enough into it yet. I hope someone comes up with a theory, though--I hate when a character does something that is so "weird" that I can't fit it in to who I think they are. I do like that Eliot, in general, doesn't write "one note" people. I know that is not the correct phrase, but my mind is blanking. Is there a name after one note? Time to go to bed & read more Deronda. Sarah
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 07:52 PM I'm about where you are, Ann, and the plot is picking up a bit of speed. Sarah, don't you hate the process of putting Christmas decorations, etc. away? When you're putting them up, it's all so exciting and full of memories. When you're taking them down, you know you're going back to the real world. I did it Sunday before going back to work on Monday, but still have a few odds and ends that keep showing up...sorry about straying from the topic, everyone. Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 09:13 PM Sarah, Gwendolen gets a lot more interesting as she goes. Ann
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, January 07, 2004 01:29 PM I've been musing about how Gwendolyn's terror fits with the rest of Gwendolyn at the beginning of the book. This is a facile interpretation, but here goes. It seems to me that Gwendolyn is All About Gwendolyn: she values people and things wholly to the extent of their capacity to give her pleasure. Since she has not assigned value to anything other than her personal experience, what could be worse that the extinction of that experience in death? And I vaguely recall that it is a representation of death that throws her into a tizzy. I recall that Gwendolyn made me very uncomfortable in the beginning chapters because I saw parts of myself in her, and didn't care for them too much! Mary Ellen
From: Kris Jarchow Date: Thursday, January 08, 2004 08:40 PM Hi all! I am new to posting on this site. I just found that you were going to be doing DD and I raced to get the book ....guess what? not a book to be found in my library and I don't buy many books so I am trying to read it on-line! I am going very slow but I hope to be able to join in soon. I wanted to mention that this was made into a Masterpiece theatre and I happened to see it when it was on.....anyone else? I thought so far it was very close to the book and really gave me a sense of the characters. Gwendolen was excellent! If you know what Colin Firth brought to Mr. Darcy with his looks and facial expressions this young actress brings it to Gwendolen. Ok I better get reading so I can contribute. kris
From: Ann Davey Date: Thursday, January 08, 2004 09:23 PM Kris, Welcome to Constant Reader! We always enjoy having new posters. I had no idea that this was a Masterpiece Theater presentation. I wonder if I can find the tapes at Blockbuster. Comparing an actor to Colin Firth is high praise indeed in my book! Gwendolen impressed me as a typical spoiled beauty who was used to being the most popular girl around. Consequently, she was pretty hard for me to like at first, but as she suffered, she definitely grew on me. When reading these 19th century novels, I am always impressed with how limited women's lives were, and how lucky I am to live at this time. Either Gwendolen married for money, or she became a semi-servant as a governess. Obviously she miscalculated by marrying Grandcourt, but can anyone really blame her for making a marriage of convenience? What did you all think of the treatment of Judaism in this book? Mirah is constantly referred to as a "Jewess," as though that were her essential identity. Nowadays, being Jewish seems such a non-issue in society that it is hard to imagine what all the fuss was about. I wonder if being Jewish was the equivalent of being a different race today? But even that is becoming so much less important in our increasingly multi-cultural society. I wonder if anyone reading the book is Jewish and, if so, what you think of Eliot's depiction of Jewish people. She is really condescending about the Jewish pawnbroker's family, even though they are very decent people. Perhaps her class prejudices are showing there. Ann
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, January 08, 2004 10:45 PM I saw the Masterpiece Theater production of this, perhaps 3 years ago? But I'm not reading it with you, so I'm not of much help. It did seem from MT, that most of the characters were pretty stereotyped. R
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, January 09, 2004 07:37 AM Welcome, Kris. I'm not reading DD, but I wanted to greet you. Why don't you go up to the Welcome conference and post a little bit about yourself? Sherry
From: Sarah Hart Date: Friday, January 09, 2004 09:58 PM I'm plugging along...just finished Deronda's history and his meeting of Mirah. Someone here told me I'd like Gwen better later on, and whomever that was, you were right. I started liking her at the exact point where she realizes that the world impinges on her, without her consent, and there is little she can do to change it. What a shock for someone who has been used to doing "just as I please" and not feeling confined by much. Now she is confined by her family's straits, and by her own unwillingness to take on onerous tasks. I can't wait to find out what she'll do (although I gather from some posts that she does marry Grandcourt. How does she reconcile herself to that? & for what did she send for to read more!) Sarah
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, January 10, 2004 10:00 AM I'm finished and still dabbling around in the book by reading my introduction by Edmund White and the information on it in a biography of Eliot that I own by Frederick Karl. Ann, I kept marking the points that I felt were very condescending toward Jews too. However, it turns out that Eliot got a lot of recognition from Jewish people for providing such a balanced and positive representation. Somewhere I read that about 60 years earlier (though I can't find the source just now), it was somewhat difficult for a Jew to be a citizen of England. In Henry James' review of the book, entitled "Conversation", he used 3 characters of differing attitudes to discuss the book. One of the characters wonders why the author failed to describe Deronda's nose and why Jews in general are so dirty. Though this was hopefully done in a tone of irony, it points to the ease with which anti-semitic remarks were made. Benjamin Disraeli was prime minister but converted to Christianity and his Jewish roots were still treated with disdain by many. Karl says that around the time of this writing, English treatment of Jews "was verbally contemptuous and socially condescending but otherwise tolerant" especially compared to many other nations during that time period. My overall feeling after reading these other sources was that Eliot had her own prejudices, whether admitted or not, like all of us. However, she was very advanced for her time and had a great deal of respect for Jewish thought. My biggest surprise was that she was bringing up what I think of as Zionist thought before I ever thought that it was being talked about. White says "She suggested something like Zionism two decades before Theodore Herzl came up with the idea in his book The Jewish State(1896." She seems to have been interested in Judaism for a long time but both White and Karl say that many of her more specific attitudes were shaped by her closeness with Emanuel Deutsch, a Talmudic scholar. They also both say that Deutsch was at least partly the model for Mordecai. He died from cancer and Eliot was especially close to him in the years before his death. Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Saturday, January 10, 2004 05:37 PM Thanks for that very interesting information, Barb. It just goes to show how far we have come. As I remember, Eliot was very religious in her youth, but later rejected formal religion. "Living in sin" :) as she did, I guess it was a psychological necessity. It's interesting that she had so much respect for Jewish thought. I think that Eliot was one of the great intellects of her age, so I imagine it was its intellectual power, rather than religious teachings, that most impressed her.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, January 11, 2004 02:02 PM I think you're right, Ann. Karl says that she also didn't believe in Jewish assimilation but in the retention of their community. I would guess that some of her attitudes about this were shaped by her relationship with Deutsch. I am also interested in her intention, according to Karl, that the stories of Gwendolen and Daniel are "associative, reciprocal and interlocked." Some people were so impressed by Gwendolen's story that they wanted it to be divided and published by itself. If I understand what I've read correctly, she meant to represent Gwendolen as essentially without community. I would guess that this is what was supposed to have led to her extreme egoism. She seems to be sort of tossing around on open water following any whim. Deronda moves on a journey toward a community which will define his life. In reference to discussion of a letter from Harriet Beecher Stowe who favored the Gwendolen part of the novel, Karl says: The Jewish world offers Gwendolen some hope of salvation, whereas the Gentile world traps her in hypocrisy and egomania. Her (mild) anti-semitism--her stereotyping of Jews as avaricious, then her reminding Deronda that she doesn't mind he is a Jew--is countered and finally contained by Deronda's message about self-fulfillment and community. It was clear, although not to Stowe, that the novel, by means of contrasts and parallels, needed both parts to work through Eliot's sense of human unity. Do you all think that she succeeded at this? My own sense is that I loved the effort, but I'm not sure that I would have seen that message fully if I hadn't read of her intention. Barb
From: Kris Jarchow Date: Sunday, January 11, 2004 08:07 PM Hi again! I have perhaps bitten off more than I can chew by trying to read DD on-line. I think I will try to see if I can buy a copy as I know I can read faster from a book. I am also reading Anna Karenina for another group so thus my mouth is overflowing! The MT production I mentioned the other day was done in 02 staring Romola Garai as Gwen (she recently did Dodie Smiths "I capture the castle" if anyone caught that...I have not but read the book)and Hugh Dancy as Daniel. I think she does a wonderful job of conveying the uncertainties of a young girl feeling her oats if you will! Others here have mentioned she has some qualities that we have found in ourselves that we are not especially fond of and I think many girls experience this 'testing' of power over men. For example she knows that Rex adores her but chooses to do nothing about it...she feels that if she doesn't acknowledge or reciprocate these feelings that she can continue on in her merry way! What is different from anything that we might have gone through is that she must make a match worthy of her family...thus aiming high. She finds there are things acceptable to her in mate and things that are not and she must decide before time runs out what is best for her...I think with Grandcourt...time runs out. I think someone mentioned needing a specialist in human behavior and I wonder if not a teen-aged girl might explain it as well. Barb, I can see how Gwendolen is without a community....her family are a bit nomadic and do not belong to the area in which they have settled. This makes her more fearful in that she has to fit in and make a home. I have not gotten to DD yet but he has a home, a community (jewish) and belongs. I have so much to go before I can catch up to you all but I will keep plugging away and I am just rambling. kris
From: Ernest Belden Date: Monday, January 12, 2004 12:34 AM As man times before you people have left me way behind but I was fascinated by the postings I just finished reading. In my opinion she does come close to Tolstoy in Deronda. It is a superb portrayal of Gwendolen and of this particular type of person. It occurred to me that males in this volume are not as well portrayed and this is understandable. I once picked up the idea that people besides their obvious behavior and presentations also have a shadow side and there seems to be something to this theory. I sense that if I had getting to know Gwendolen I would have avoided any but a very superficial relationship and her attractiveness would have influenced me in a negative manner. I also was turned off by Grandcourt and Lush. I sympathized with her mother and Deronda's and Genwendolen's uncle, the Canon. I am not far enough along to be able to form an opinion of Deronda. Being of Jewish descent I was fully aware that at the time this book was written Jews were neither well regarded nor accepted in England at that time. I doubt that Jews were accepted in the upper classes or the aristocracy. In Austria (where I was born) Jews were relatively successful in business and the sciences. There were a good many Jews who were elevated into the aristocracy for outstanding achievements such as advisors and counselors to the Emperor. Some were recognized for building railroads or institutions, etc. In spite of all that Jews were not accepted as equal by the general population and there was the matter of envy for their academic, artistic and business achievements. At the same time once Jews and Gentiles got to know each other, they frequently developed long lasting friendly relationship. Intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles was almost universal and also occurred with great frequency. Ernie
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, January 12, 2004 07:01 AM Your information about Jews in Europe when you were young is excellent, Ernie. Thank you so much for providing that. If you think of anything else, please post it. I'm surprised that Austria was that open since I've always read that it was one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe. Was the hatred from a small group that went on to affect others? Kris, I can't read anything more than about a page online. Visually, it just doesn't work for me. I always print short stories, etc. out to read them and have never tried to read a novel that way. Anna Karenina is at the top of my list of favorite novels. Are you enjoying it? I can't imagine reading both of these at the same time though! Barb
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Monday, January 12, 2004 11:05 AM It has been a year since I read this book, so my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. I was not struck by the condescension discussed here. It seems to me that Victorian novelists are often a bit condescending in their portraits of lots of characters, but especially those in a lower social position whom they wish us to find admirable, so it did not seem to me that Eliot was being overly condescending because these folks were Jewish. Do people think her portraits of all the Jewish characters are condescending? Actually, I thought this book was hurt a bit by Eliot's desire to use her popularity as a novelist to bring issues about the treatment of Jews in English society and especially the (what later would be called Zionist) goals of Mordechai to the attention of her readers. Although I admired her as a person for using her capital, so to speak, to stand up for victims of prejudice, I thought parts of this novel were way too didactic. Some of Mordechai's speeches needed drastic editing; I just skimmed over them. Mary Ellen
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 11:14 PM I only noticed condescension when she was talking about the Cohen family, Mary Ellen. However, I did notice remarks in general that I think would be considered somewhat anti-Semitic today, but, probably not then. I think your point about Eliot possibly being too didactic (in Daniel Deronda) is a good one. I found myself thinking about it as I was reading but then got absorbed again so it wasn't a problem for me. I posted a quote from her in the opening note about this point and will copy it here again since the subject has come up: I have always exercised a severe watch against anything that could be called preaching, and if I have ever allowed myself in dissertation or in dialogue anything is not part of the structure of my books, I have there sinned against my own laws. Her fiction is so rich for me that I would be more than willing to forgive her if she "sinned against her own laws." However, I am very interested to hear what others think about the question. Barb
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 09:40 AM I am soooo far behind on this, but determined to finish it. I'm at about the 300 page mark and loving it; my reading time is just limited right now. I hope this discussion continues until I'm done and can participate. (Tonya. I'm so glad you archive these discussions because I know the posts will begin to time out before I finish and I don't want to miss a single one.) Beej
From: Kris Jarchow Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 03:33 PM Greetings! I just wanted to comment quick on your question about Eliot being didactic...I think that even though I am behind in reading DD I can safely say that Tolstoy wins hands down when it comes to preaching his message. I realize that probably isn't fair to compare a Russian author with her since Russian authors of the time spent so much time didactically or even pedantically speaking....but since you all did a bit of comparing these two earlier I just thought I would mention that to you. (I have less than 100 pages of Anna Karenina left so it is fresh in my mind...yeah!) and not to mention my beloved Jane Austen in P and P, she cleverly preached a message that was and wasn't there!(ok she was a bit before this time but still)! Am I wrong but aren't all authors trying to get their message(their adgenda) across and it is how clever they are at fitting it into their story that brings it to our attention or not? Grimms Fairytales; 100 years of Solitude; Mrs. Dalloway or even Nicolas Sparks 'The notebook' to name a few have the authors opinions on certain subjects...although less preachy! I guess I forgot to put this on the welcome board but now you all know...i am a bit scatterbrained at times!! yikes! I wish I could see the posts before so it wouldn't be so easy for me to get off topic...I digress...kris
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 04:55 PM (An aside from the discussion. Kris, you can see the posts that came before, if that is what you mean. All you have to do is hit "All Messages" and the current topics and all the current notes in that topic will appear.) Sherry
From: Barbara Moors Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 08:18 PM I actually think that most 19th century fiction is a bit didactic. As I was writing that note about it, I kept thinking of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Wow, talk about efforts to teach. One other point emerges as I am thinking of Tolstoy. One of my favorite things about his writing is that they are really no villains. People do bad things but you always understand why they are doing them. Eliot does a fair job of that too. However, I never quite understood Grandcourt. He seems a bit two-dimensional to me, sort of a cardboard villain. As I've read about the book, some critics loved that character and felt that he was a portrait of the perfect English gentlemen of that time. Maybe that sort of person is so alien to me that I can't perceive it. However, I think that Tolstoy would have made sure that I did. Beej, I will be ready to talk about this book any time. And, there are lots of other people still reading. Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 10:05 PM Barb, I'm down to the last 50 pages. Ann
From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, January 18, 2004 11:28 AM I finally read the last page - 708 - of this mammoth novel yesterday. Parts of it were outstanding, but these almost all revolved around Gwendolen Harleth, a flawed human being who rang very true to me. Gwendolen made mistakes, suffered, and grew. Although her husband, Grandcourt, was admittedly one-dimensional, I could also believe in him as a character. What an awful marriage that must have been - admittedly not as bad as Dorothea's to Casaubon in Middlemarch, but ranking right up there with literature's worst marriages. As a reserved Victorian woman, Eliot never mentions the sexual aspects of these relationships, but they must have been appalling. For those of you who have gotten to the Genoa segment, what did you think of the way Eliot resolved that marriage? While I thought that these segments were very strong, the sections involving Daniel and Mirah and her family were lacking. At the beginning, Daniel interested me very much, but by the end of the novel, Eliot seemed so intent on showing how perfect he was in every single respect that he no longer seemed real. I think she intended him as an example of a human being who lived a truly moral life, but characters drawn as examples lose some of their humanity. Mirah reminded me of a sweet young thing from a Dickens' novel (not a compliment), Mordecai was dying for over 500 pages, and Eliot never made me understand what made the father tick. As a modern reader, I cannot appreciate the novelty of Eliot's portrayal of Jewish characters, but I think this section of the novel was driven too much by her intellectual ideas and not enough by her characters and story. There was one part of the Deronda story which I did find very compelling. That was his meeting with his mother in Book VII. That woman definitely struck me as a modern woman, intent on fulfilling herself not matter what. For her, there were no easy answers. Has anyone else finished? If so, what was your final impression?
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, January 19, 2004 07:57 AM Ann, I read somewhere that Henry James was very critical of this novel, even of the Gwendolen/Grandcourt relationship. However, the writer pointed out that he borrowed the structure of that relationship when he wrote A Portrait of a Lady. I think that my overall impression of the novel was that the Gwendolen sections were stronger but I wasn't as critical of the Daniel sections as you are. However, your view is that of most critics. both modern and of Eliot's day. I think I just loved the reach, the fact that she tried to achieve this goal, despite the imperfections. Did you read my question about her intention that both sections were integrated and dependent on each other? What do you think of that? Excellent point about Daniel's mother. The truly heartbreaking part of that to me, for Daniel, was that she went on to have other children. Other people were going to be with her while she died, as her children, but he would be excluded. That would be especially hard for me. I liked the ending, but wonder how likely it was. I thought that they mentioned a few times that Grandcourt was wiry and somewhat athletic. Am I right? However, I could imagine him being just arrogant enough, and distracted by Gwendolen's mood, to miss a swinging sail (I don't know the correct term). I also don't know enough about the waters there to know if it would be that difficult to stay afloat. Her hesitation to save him was perfect though, I thought. I couldn't imagine her actually murdering him, despite the internal violence that she describes, but I could definitely imagine her not saving him. What did you think? Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Monday, January 19, 2004 11:24 AM Barb, I hadn't realized it until you mentioned it, but Isabel Archer's marriage in Portrait of a Lady certainly does resemble Gwendolen's. I can see that Eliot meant for the two parts of the novel to be integrated, but I have a hard time seeing how Gwendolen's problems resulted from not being part of a community. I think she was a victim of the marriage customs and property laws of the time, but that's not exactly the same thing. She did have close family relations with her mother and a well-meaning if not always effective uncle, so she wasn't socially isolated. Am I missing something there? For me the two parts of the novel were connected by the idea that Deronda was a model of compassionate, ethical behavior and Gwendolen was meant to learn from him how to be a better person. I thought the whole Genoa section of the novel, which contained both the climax of Gwendolen's story and that of Deronda, was outstanding. **********PLOT SPOILERS ************* I couldn't help sympathizing with the mother, who probably did her son a favor by giving him up, although her motives were self-centered. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for a child to accept that emotionally, however, especially since (as you pointed out) she went on to have five other children. Psychologically, he was probably predisposed to embrace what she had rejected along with him - her Jewish heritage. I'm not so sure about Gwendolen; I think she could have killed Grandcourt if the relationship had continued indefinitely. As it was, I liked the way Eliot handled it. Gwendolen wanted him dead, but she was not really responsible. In 19th century novels, I don't think heroines were allowed to get away with murder. **** End of Plot Spoilers***************** I have the Karl biography, too. Although I have never been able to read through it cover to cover, I like to read parts whenever we discuss one of Eliot's novels here on CC. The more I delve into it, the more I admire Eliot. He emphasizes how sick she was during much of the time she worked on this novel. Her relationship with her "husband", George Lewes, fascinates me. Without his support, Eliot might never have been able to write and publish her great works. Generally, it's the wife who plays that role in literary relationships, isn't it? Another thing which really interests me is her conviction that people should live truly moral and unselfish lives, although she ended up rejecting religion as a basis for this behavior. As a child and young woman, she was intensely religious, and I think she would have liked to continue believing, but she could not. I can identify with that. Ann
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, January 20, 2004 12:46 PM I think there is more to Eliot's notion of community than simply having a social circle. Gwendolyn tried to manipulate everyone around her for her own ends; that is not participating in community, which implies mutual support and obligations. Gwendolyn entered her horror of a marriage (maybe it's been too long since I read Middlemarch, but I thought it worse than Dorothea's) because of her greed -- she wanted to be a rich woman, not merely a comfortable one -- and her pride. She thought she'd master Grandcourt the way she mastered everyone else. Boy, did she think wrong! SPOILERS!! I have to say that the end of the Grandcourt marriage seemed melodramatic to me -- not that I didn't enjoy it! I thought it quite plausible that Gwendolyn would seize the opportunity to rid herself of her tormentor. I did think, however, that Deronda let her off the hook a bit too easily. She may not have been legally culpable for Grandcourt's death, but I thought her actions (or inaction) a bigger moral lapse than Deronda did. Or, rather, I found his judgment surprising. I thought Eliot gave a brilliant portrait of an abusive spouse -- that scene in which he forced Gwendolyn to wear his mistress's necklace! -- and so my sympathies were with her. But I didn't expect Mr. Upright Deronda, 19th century man, to see it the same way. Eliot does love to use a dramatic death to help her out when she's painted a heroine into a corner, doesn't she? (I'm thinking Mill on the Floss -- and what is it with drowning?) Mary Ellen
From: Ernest Belden Date: Thursday, January 22, 2004 12:30 AM My initial comments got lost somehow and this may be a good thing. I tend to write lengthy comments most any book. So I will make this short. I am only 2/3 through the book, love it and consider this Eliot's master work and almost at the same level as Tolstoy. I was intrigued by your discussion of the didactic aspects of her writing and agree with someone who said that modern writers are didactic as well, but in a different way. How did Gwendolen take her husband's death in a boating accident? Did she become disillusioned and turn bitter at the world? I don't quite understand Deronda except that he is an exceptional humane and decent person. Reading this book turned into an important experience in my life in spite of my initial problems in getting through the first 50 or so pages. Ernie
From: Barbara Moors Date: Thursday, January 22, 2004 06:43 AM Ernie, I'm so glad that Daniel Deronda was an important experience for you. It was for me too. But, I wish that your initial comments hadn't been lost. I think that Gwendolen found out what was important in the end. I think she was very disillusioned by her marriage but I didn't think that she was bitter, just trying to find her way in a world in which all of her assumptions had proven false. Mary Ellen, excellent point about Eliot's use of drowning in both Mill on the Floss and this one. I didn't connect it. Barb
From: Ernest Belden Date: Friday, January 23, 2004 12:38 AM Barb and Ann, My book came from a branch library and was due within a day or so. Talked to the librarian today and he gave me a few more weeks - Thank God! I need to read the last couple of hundred pages to see how things turned out in the end. I don't quite understand why this particular book had such a powerful impact on me as I can not identify with any of the characters so far. Well the interaction of the British Gentry and the Jews was something that interested me and had some parallels that I observed while still living in Vienna. This particular book contains so many interesting aspects. The description of the characters is superb. I thought at first that Grandcourt was poorly presented, but I was wrong. He was very well described as a most unpleasant and destructive human being. Ernie Ernie
From: Theresa Simpson Date: Friday, January 23, 2004 01:09 AM I am only on page 300, and have been avoiding this thread until I finish. At this rate, that might be a while, so I hope the discussion is still here when I am ready to read it. I think DD is excellent - Eliot really knows how to subtly evoke the essence of her characters, doesn't she? Theresa Given, they may have no more literary value than the graffiti in the Grand Central rest room, but I know I enjoy the hell out of them. Thom Hanser
From: Ann Davey Date: Friday, January 23, 2004 06:05 PM Ernie and Theresa, I'm glad that you're hanging in there. I hope you will continue to post as you read more. Ernie, I am really interested in your opinions of this book. In what way did this book remind you of your experiences in Vienna? I think Eliot was very broadminded for her time, but some of her comments about Jews (mostly the lower classes) still seemed pretty stereotypical to me. Theresa, how would you rate DD in comparison to other novels you have read by Eliot? Ann
From: Kris Jarchow Date: Friday, January 23, 2004 10:08 PM I am loving your discussion! I am way behind too Theresa so you are not alone! I am reading but reading here too. I hope to stick to it and be able to contribute something in the future....great book! kris
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, January 24, 2004 04:38 PM I think that Tonya will be archiving the discussion, so we could still access it when it is timed out. Barb
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, January 25, 2004 08:17 PM Kris and Theresa, I'm slowly wending my way through this, but I'm only just at the half way mark; page 403)..I'll get there, but slowly, and I'm glad to know there will still be others willing to discuss it down the road. Beej
From: Ernest Belden Date: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 04:23 PM I am finished with the book, but this is only partly true. After reading about two third of it would occasionally skip a chapter or two. Also up to that point I was totally carried away by this novel. I thought it was George Eliot's master piece and probably is. When Deronda turned out to be the main character I somewhat changed my mind. First of all he was too good to be true. He kept moralizing and if the truth were told I did not grasp some of what he said or perhaps it did not make sense to me. George Eliot's painting a picture of the English Jews was interesting but I felt she should published a separate book on the subject including Derondo's search for identity. This major work could have been split or the Deronda part left out. Just the same it was a great experience reading this classical novel. Ernie
From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 06:58 PM Ernie, After all the excitement of the Genoa interlude, when Deronda found out who his mother was and Grandcourt was disposed of, the novel really lost speed. I agree that the ending was weak, but I really did enjoy it before it reached that point. Ann
From: Ernest Belden Date: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 06:33 PM Ann, I thought I did write some final thoughts about this book. Well I continue to think it is great and a master work. It could have done with less circumstantial and elaborate wording. But G.E. did what writers did in her days. They took their time coming to the point or to the final end. I wonder if I have a blind spot about Deronda in that I only get the essence of what he told others, namely he meant well and tried to be helpful. But I really did not understand him as a human being. Or should I say he was not as well described as the other characters? Emanating goodness on his part leaves a funny taste in my mouth. But there are people like this but as I wrote before, he did not seem real to me. I really if other readers agree with that? I played with the idea that G.E. should have split the book (so to speak) in half. Gwendolen would be book one and end with the death of her husband. Book two would mainly deal with Deronda and introduce the reader into a pictures of the interaction of jews and gentiles in Europe at the time. Herzel was the person who came up with the idea of Zionism (after he first suggested that all jews should get baptized according to a historical article I read once) Herzel supposedly lived in Vienna, but that is all I know about him. At his time his idea was questioned because the land of Israel was in a state of continues turmoil. There never was much peace in that place as we can see even today. Ernie
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Thursday, January 29, 2004 11:59 PM Three days left in the month, and I finally make it to the end of Daniel Deronda. Yay, me! I've just caught up on the discussion, and it seems I'm in the minority here when I say that I didn't enjoy this one as much as I did the previous Eliot novels I've read with CC. Most of it I can attribute to too much exposition, and will confess to skipping over some of the longer blocks, especially toward the end. My sympathies with the characters waxed and waned, but alas, by the end, I found myself frustrated with the lot of them. Gwendolen's high point was when she declared, "I don't wish to make men miserable. I simply object to them making me miserable." Amen, sister. She was an interesting character. I couldn't help but think that Eliot used the device of making her mother poor (via loss of the family fortune) as a way to elicit sympathy for Gwendolen when she opted to marry the evil, moustache-twirling Mr. Grandcourt (who could easily have stepped from a Lifetime "Woman in Peril" movie of the week). If she had married him as a means to better herself in society, and not to support her mother, would we have been able to feel as sorry for her? When reading these classic novels in historical settings, I'm usually struck by how very different and "fragile" these highborn characters are -- like butterflies flitting around under a dome, all atwitter at the slightest agitation. I was leaning toward this feeling again, when Rex took to his bed after Gwendolen rejected him. I thought, "Good Lord, man, get a grip," then I realized that his bout of suffering wasn't all that different than me lounging around in my sweats, eating Ben & Jerry's and watching Buffy reruns when life gets me down. I immediately declared Rex my fictional boyfriend for the duration of the novel. My realization that things weren't all that different was cemented in Chapter 11, during Gwendolyn's conversation with Grandcourt, where parenthical pauses were inserted to let the reader know what was going on in her mind. I was quite entertained by this, and have had many of the same thoughts running through my head during conversations with the opposite sex. ****SPOILER**** I was genuinely surprised by Grandcourt's "resolution. The whole time they were in the little boat, I kept thinking "push him in! push him in!" And damn if she didn't do it. Except she didn't do it. I wasn't disappointed that she hadn't killed him, but grew increasingly irritated with her insistence that Daniel "tell her what to do." That's where she lost me, and I have to admit that, now that the book is over, I'm not all that curious about what happened to her. And as I type that, it makes me kind of sad. I also want to second whoever it was up thread who mentioned the horrors that had to have been Gwendolen's "marriage bed." :::shudder::: I can't decide if I'm relieved or disappointed that Eliot didn't at least hint at it, but then, I don't think it would have been possible for me to like Grandcourt any less. Finally, I also agree that one of the most interesting characters was Daniel's birth-mother. I would have liked to know more about her life, and found an interesting parallel between her and Mirah. One longed for the stage and had a father who forbid it. The other loathed the stage, and had a father who forced her to perform. Peggy
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, January 30, 2004 08:05 AM Peggy, I didn't read this book, but loved reading your take on it. Sherry
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, January 30, 2004 11:30 AM Me too, Peggy. R
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, January 30, 2004 01:16 PM Peggy & Ernie, Thanks for all the thoughts on the book! I agree that I did not enjoy this book as much as others by GE, especially Middlemarch," which I think is her best. Ernie, I also think that Deronda himself was not as well drawn as the others in this book. Especially in contrast to Gwendolyn, whom I felt I knew inside out (though more so prior to Grandcourt's end). Peggy, your Lifetime comment gave me a good laugh! I agree that Gwendolyn's reliance on Deronda grew tiresome. At the time I read it (about a year ago), I viewed her rather harshly at that point. It seemed to me that she was still very self-centered. Certainly if she really wanted to do good for others, she didn't need Deronda's help; she could just look around her! Now I'm giving that judgment second thought. She had just been through a traumatic time that shattered her view of the world and her place in it (right at the center!) and her role in it (to control all those around her to her best advantage!). I now find it less surprising that she was at a loss as to what to do. That doesn't make her dithering any less tiresome to read, however! I had not thought about the contrast between Mirah and Deronda's mother -- so interesting! Mary Ellen
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, February 02, 2004 07:10 AM That review could be published, Peggy. I especially like your description of highborn characters as " butterflies flitting around under a dome, all atwitter at the slightest agitation." Great visual image and so apt! Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, February 17, 2004 10:23 PM I didn't know netflix had this, Peggy. Thanks for posting about it! Barb
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 02:53 PM Netflix is sounding more and more tempting. Ann
From: Barbara Moors Date: Thursday, February 19, 2004 11:52 PM Oh, Ann, you'll never have to deal with Blockbuster's again. That alone is worth it. And, they do have a great selection. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, February 20, 2004 07:04 AM It is so convenient. And their great selection includes just about anything that's out on dvd. I think they have 15,000 titles now, and every Tuesday, there are new releases. Sometimes they are so fast, it amazes me. The mail didn't come until late Tuesday afternoon, about 4:30. I had three dvd's in the mailbox. Bright and early Wednesday morning, I was notified that they had been received, and three new ones were mailed out. The post office also gets kudos for that. But here is an example that I just don't understand. On Monday, Presidents' Day, they notified they sent me a title. I received it Tuesday. Now how do they send things on days the Post Office is closed? Beats me. Sherry
From: Lynn Isvik Date: Friday, February 20, 2004 09:23 AM I don't really know how the postal system works, Sherry, but I imagine that big users have agreements to be able to take pre-sorted mail directly to some sort of central postal facility. Just guessing though! Lynn
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, February 20, 2004 12:06 PM Maybe they're like me, Sherry. I consider something mailed if I've dropped it in the box, no matter what day it is. Where does your stuff come from? Mine comes out of Santa Ana, which is just down the road apiece so I get it fast, too. We're really enjoying Netflix. Thanks for talking me into it, people. R
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Friday, February 20, 2004 01:32 PM I took the NetFlix plunge thanks to the messages here, and I like it very much. I know the postings down in Movies, Etc. give reviews, but I would be interested in what you think is special on you queue. pres
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, February 20, 2004 05:09 PM I send mine to Gaithersburg, MD. That's about a 45 minute drive from here, so it's pretty close, too. When I first joined, I sent them to their headquarters in California--somewhere in the Bay Area. Now I feel like I ought to order "Daniel Deronda" to get this topic back on course. Sherry
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, February 20, 2004 05:28 PM Article in the Times this morning said they have 23 distribution centers. And the whole thing started in the great metropolis of Los Gatos. R
From: Sherry Keller Date: Saturday, February 21, 2004 07:28 AM Los Gatos. That's it. I ate pizza one time in Los Gatos. My mother-in-law's long lost cousin owned a Round Table Pizza there years ago. (Tonya, you can just cut all this superfluous talk off the DD discussion. Sorry, Ann.) Sherry
From: Ann Davey Date: Saturday, February 21, 2004 09:17 AM I was surprised to see all the revived interest in Daniel Deronda when I logged on, but now that I have read the notes, I see the connection. :) Thanks for the recommendations. Please see the Movies conference for the continuation of the NetFlix discussion. Ann.
From: Theresa Simpson Date: Monday, June 21, 2004 08:51 PM Just felt compelled to announce that I finally finished this book last week-end. The comments have long ago phased out. Must have taken me 3-4 months to read the darn thing - a record, and pretty amazing considering I liked it. Eliot seemed to throw in everything including the kitchen sink (Victorian love story; morality play; political exegesis, you name it) but it worked for the most part. Gwendolyn was so well-drawn, though I think a bit too abject at the end of the game (she'd have shown a bit more spirit, don't you think?) I sometimes found Deronda insufferable (when I was a kid, we had a phrase for people so sure of their moral high ground -- "Who died and made you God?). I finally decided Eliot had to make him the perfect/honerable/moral English gentleman to make him sympathetic to her readers. Notice that he incorporated all of the class/ethnic prejudice of the milieu in which he was raised? He only transcended existing prejudice with respect to those acceptable to that class. Theresa You shall love your crooked neighbour With your crooked heart. – W. H. Auden
From: Ann Davey Date: Monday, June 21, 2004 09:41 PM Theresa, Congratulations on finally finishing! I loved parts of DD; other sections made me impatient. I think the book was quite daring for the times, but times change. Still, Eliot is one of my very favorite 19th century authors. Ann
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 07:32 AM Theresa, your experience with DD reminds me of my reading of Les Miserables. It took me an entire year and I loved the book. However, my sons were young and I was working full time. And, something about the book just didn't pull me into reading big blocks of it at a time even when I could steal the time away. I thought Gwendolyn was a bit too passive at the end too. However, I kept thinking of people I've known who scared themselves a bit with their exploits when they were young and then immerse themselves in a very restrictive religion to feel safe. She thought she knew everything and then Grandcourt emotionally kicked her teeth in. I think she just wanted to stay as safe as possible. BTW, I thought that Grandcourt was a terrific villain, but I wish Eliot had given us more facets of him. I like writing better when, like Tolstoy, everyone is complex, understandable, even when they do bad things. Barb

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