Friday, July 13, 2012

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Like Eliot’s Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda has two storylines. The first half of the book is about beautiful Gwendolen Harleth who cares for nothing but her own pleasure. Daniel Deronda makes a few appearances, but the gist of his story starts about halfway through the book.  The two characters’ lives intersect, however, more often than those of the main characters in Middlemarch.

Initially, I had little patience with Gwendolen’s selfishness and pettiness.  In chapter seven she is having one of her snits and Eliot writes (sarcastically), “It was not that she was out of temper, but that the world was not equal to the demands of her fine organism.”  To Gwendolyn life is a bore and men are hateful.  And her love of ease causes her to make a disastrous marriage.

Young, handsome Daniel Deronda is the ward of Sir Hugo Mallinger.  His parentage has been kept a secret from him and he assumes that Sir Hugo is his father.  Because of his insecurities about his position, he has a humble spirit and is sensitive to the needs of others.  His tender-heartedness is in stark contrast to Gwendolen’s petulance. At first Gwendolen views Deronda as odious and self-righteous, but after her marriage, she begins to repent her ways and looks to Deronda for advice on how to improve her situation.

I can’t write anymore without spoiling the story.  This one is long (31 hours at Librivox) and has a few tedious passages, but, as usual, I loved Eliot’s good writing and her insights into human nature.

It’s a credit to Eliot’s great prose and memorable characters that even though I listened to this book over a period of four months I never forgot what was happening or who was who.  

It is also interesting to note that this novel was one of the first to deal with Judaism in a positive light.  Most of the British gentry in the book, reflecting the popular opinions of the times,  look down on the Jews.  But Eliot obviously did not share their sentiments.

(Daniel Deronda is also available free for Kindle)


Barbara H. said...

I absolutely loved the Masterpiece Theater production of this a few years back and wondered if the book itself would be good. I don't think I've read Eliot before.

Vintage Reading said...

I've only read Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss by Eliot. I need to read more so I think I will try this, thanks for your review.