Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot

Second paragraph of third chapter:

But this blessed persistence in which affection can take root had been wanting in Gwendolen’s life. It was only a year before her recall from Leubronn that Offendene had been chosen as her mamma’s home, simply for its nearness to Pennicote Rectory, and that Mrs. Davilow, Gwendolen, and her four half-sisters (the governess and the maid following in another vehicle) had been driven along the avenue for the first time, on a late October afternoon when the rooks were crawing loudly above them, and the yellow elm-leaves were whirling.

Way back in the summer of 2002 we visited a friend who was living at Chilworth Manor near Guildford. The BBC were filming the TV version of Daniel Deronda there – Chilworth Manor was playing the part of Offendene – but it was the weekend so nobody from the film crewwas there. While we weren't looking, five-year-old B opened and played with the BBC's cans of paint, and had great fun. It was a memorable afternoon…

Anyway, I was inspired to get this, not by an embarrassing afternoon in Surrey in 2002, but by reading F.R. Leavis' The Great Tradition many years later, in which Leavis says that half of Daniel Deronda is really good, however it's not the half with Daniel Deronda but the other half, about the novel's heroine Gwendolen. To be honest I disagree. I thought that both stories were pretty good. Gwendolen, like several other George Eliot characters, marries the wrong man for reason that seem to her right at the time (and that the reader can clearly understand) but which are obviously doomed to failure. It's a story told well, but I actually found the Middlemarch version more compelling. (I guess because Dorothea is a nicer person than Gwendolen.) Meanwhile Daniel Deronda finds himself on a quest for his own roots, and ends up as an early Zionist having started the book unaware that he was even Jewish. I found that absolutely fascinating; Zionism in the 1870s was obviously a very different phenomenon from its later permutations. Deronda's awakening does depend on a coulpe of lucky coincidences, but great stories are often told about unlikely events. I'll give a shout out for the three mothers in the books as well – Deronda's mother, who makes a late but spectacular appearance; Gwendolen's mother, who is smarter than her children realise; and Mrs Glasher, the mother of Gwendolen's husband's children, who we see from several different perspectives. (Mrs Glasher is also Irish, though this is stated only once and obliquely.) Both halves of it are a great book, if a long one. You can get it here.

This was both the top unread non-sf fiction book on my pile and the top unread book by a woman. The next on both counts is The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters.

One thought on “Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot

  1. Mildly surprised that no Soviet era literature other than Bulgakov makes it. There are at least 3 Nobel winners that don’t figure.

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