Tuesday, June 03, 2014

One last lash at Deronda

{And now, one last post on Daniel Deronda, this one by Maggie Bandur. For the whole run of Deronda posts, just scroll on down!}

I really don't think I should have the last word, but I do feel like I need to express a sense of disappointment with Daniel Deronda. When I began it, I was so swept up, I thought this is the book I am going to be giving as a gift for the next several years--with a long explanation why the recipient should commit to 900 pages. But I do think the book never quite gels, and it is not a challenge to my expectations, but a flaw. Even as I am touched by Gwendolen's unrequited love, I still feel all her dealings belong to a separate novel from the one of mystical religious awakening.

I also found myself affected by the scenes where Deronda and Mordecai are drawn to each other--in the shop, on the bridge. There's something undeniably beautiful about them. But the first part of the novel paints Deronda so convincingly as the typical deeply humanistic, but unambitious protagonist, that it is hard for me to believe him when he tells Gwendolen he has always been wanting a sense of duty. I don't object to a character not realizing he has a void and then discovering the spiritual sense that fills it; I just don't think Eliot has shown me his development convincingly. The child who had such a hissy fit when someone mildly suggested he should be a singer seems unlikely to be the adult who, not only takes the revelation of himself being a Jew so calmly--a revelation that immediately changes his status in the society to which he has hitherto been so devoted--but now feels as if his whole life is fulfilled. I think his journey might need another 50-100 pages to feel real. Although I laughed when his mother basically asks, "So who's the girl?" I suppose that explains a lot.

I found myself unexpectedly amused several times towards the end. When Mirah lashes out from jealousy, she is such a stranger to normal human emotion that she wonders at the revelation that this "jealousy" must be what all those arias she sings are about! And Gwendolen, whose whole story is about her learning to be less selfish, never stops talking about herself long enough for the basic courtesy of asking Daniel how he is doing, and so it takes him weeks to tell her the news he is getting married and moving away forever. And as much as she needs his comfort, what special message does Deronda really impart to her about how to live beyond be kinder? It makes me think of Mark Markowitz's comment: maybe these people just aren't very nice.

There is so much that is good and clever and well-observed about the book, that I would still recommend it, but it is not a complete enough piece to give for Christmas (or Hannukah). And I know it is a moral failing, but I find myself clinging to the hope that "off screen" the characters are getting a traditional Victorian novel ending. Humbled and with diminished circumstances, Gwendolen can marry Rex and Hans will marry Anna, and they will all live happily ever after. I was surprised how much I ended up liking the selfish, flighty, pretentious Hans because he seemed to have the right attitude toward the proceedings: when Hans suggests Gwendolen will marry Rex, and Daniel wonders why she should have to wed again, Hans replies, "'You monster!' retorted Hans, 'do you want her to wear weeds for you all her life--burn herself in perpetual suttee while you are alive and merry?" Yeah!


  1. Maggie Bandur11:29 AM

    Mark is almost certainly correct. We have misread the book. Gwendolen, canary-killer, almost certainly murdered that man. Why else was she so scared of that creepy painting and had a fit when her half-sister left the door to it open? She knew there were guilty, bloody urges inside her.

    1. Mark Marowitz8:26 PM

      That was some performance by Gwen, especially back in Genoa.
      Let's write a script together. We'll change the scene to Catalina Island off the coast of California. George Sanders as Grandcourt, young Barbara Stanwyck as Gwen.
      Forget about the Deronda part.
      Or for a 21st century version we'll recast Eva Green and Daniel Craig and we'll shoot on location. Forget about about the budget.