Saturday, 15 March 2008

George Eliot – “Daniel Deronda”


This is the fourth George Eliot novel I have read in the last twelve months or so and probably the one I enjoyed least. The other three – Middlemarch, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss made a real George Eliot fan. Compared to Middlemarch, the quintessential Victorian novel, Daniel Deronda seemd to me a bit pedestrian and rather hard work. Nevertheless it was good enough for me to complete the work which was originally published in seven volumes and which I reckon has 4 million words.
Only in her final novel, in 1876, did George Eliot turn to contemporary English and European life as material for the expression of her own idealism. Daniel Deronda is a psychologically incisive investigation, probing the egoism of a spoiled girl, Gwendolen, and her increasing awareness of conscience through suffering. She comes to regard Daniel as her moral and spiritual mentor. He, meanwhile, is busy rescuing a young Jewess from suicide and getting involved in the Jewish culture - a theme which Eliot explored in depth, demonstrating the depth and quality of her research.

GEORGE ELIOT, the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans. was born on 22nd November 1819 near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and died in 1880. She began her literary career as a translator, and later became editor, of the Westminster Review. She lived for many years with George Henry Lewes, a journalist whose marriage had irretrievably broken down but who could not get a divorce. It was through his encouragement that she started writing fiction at the age of 37. In 1857, she published Scenes of Clerical Life, the first of eight novels she would publish under the name of 'George Eliot', Adam Bede, published in 1859, caused her to be described in The Times thus – “It’s author takes rank at once amongst the masters of the art.”
My favourite quotations from Daniel Deronda:-
’...I will wait till after Christmas’.
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
Extension, we know, is a very imperfect measure of things, and the length of the sun’s journeyings can no more tell us how far life has advanced than the acreage of a field can tell us what growths may be active within it. A man may go south, and, stumbling over a bone, may meditate upon it till he has found a new starting-point for anatomy; or eastward, and discover a new key to language telling a new story of races; or he may head an expedition that opens new continental pathways, get himself maimed in body, and go through a whole heroic poem of resolve and endurance; and at the end of a few months he may come back to find his neighbours grumbling at the same parish grievance as before, or to see the same elderly gentleman treading the pavement in discourse with himself, shaking his head after the same percussive butcher’s boy, and pausing at the same shop-window to look at the same prints.”
(This second quote really sums up how I felt when David died. I could not believe that after having gone through such emotions and revolution in my life in the space of two and a half weeks I could come back to find that work had not changed one iota and the same people were carrying on their lives in the same old way...)

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