Daniel Deronda

I’ve spent the last month with George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and while I enjoyed the read, I definitely found one storyline better than the other. This book was originally released as eight books in a serial and so it’s long, with lot of the fantastic descriptions that Eliot writes so well. But it’s also a strange book, with the way she portrays Jews in British society, which even while reading I was questioning. [Note: I did a bit of reading after finishing and apparently the way in which Eliot portrays Jews in British society was not really the way it was, but perhaps she was trying to say something with this portrayal? I’m still thinking about it.]

The storyline with Gwendolen captured me most and the relationship between her and Deronda. Gwendolen starts off as a seemingly selfish girl, one who gambles and does as she pleases. But as she lives with the difficulties of facing poverty and a loveless marriage, she changes and in some respects becomes almost pitiful as she blames herself for much that was not in her fault. Deronda is the only person she can truly share everything with and with whom she feels comfortable.

Deronda is trying to figure out who he is, who are his parents? The mystery of this leaves him to investigate the Jewish religion, going to services and then becoming involved with a woman who he rescues and helps at a low point in her life. The two story lines weave in and out and even as I enjoyed the writing, I was left wondering more when it came to Deronda and what Eliot was trying to say about her time and society.

A few passages that struck me as I was reading are below.

What should we all do without the calendar, when we want to put off a disagreeable duty? The admirable arrangements of the solar system by which our time is measured, always supply us with a term before which it is hardly worth while to set about anything we are disinclined to. (p 341)

Our consciences are not all of the same pattern, an inner deliverance of fixed laws: they are the voice of sensibilities as various as our memories (which also have their kniship and likeness). And Deronda’s conscience included sensibilities beyond the common, enlarged by his early habit of thinking himself imaginatively into the experience of others. (p 464)

Among the things we may gamble away in a lazy selfish life is a capacity for the truth, compunction, or any unselfish regret—which we may come to long for as one in a slow death longs to feel laceration, rather than be conscious of a widening margin where consciousness once was. (p 674)

It is hard to say how much we could forgive ourselves if we were secure from judgment by another whose opinion is the breathing-medium of all our joy—who brings to us with close pressure and immediate sequence that judgment of the Invisible and Universal which self-flattery and the world’s tolerance would easily melt and disperse. In this way our brother may be in the stead of God to us, and his opinion which has pierced even to the joints and marrow, may be our viture in the making. (p 693)