Monday, October 31, 2016
Why Eliot is like other Victorian-era novelists - and why she isn't
It wouldn't be a 19th-century British novel without: a mysterious woman shows up out of nowhere and warns the heroine that she should not proceed with marriage plans, says she was formerly the engaged to the scoundrel and he's fathered her two children - who should be his rightful heirs! Without: a handsome wealthy orphaned nephew of a titled gentleman learns or at least suspects he's not the gentleman's nephew but his son out of wedlock and he should be an heir to the title (and fortune), not the so-called "legitimate" sons. Yes, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, pace its many quirks and innovations that set it apart from the typical Victorian potboiler or tearjerker or polemic rant, is still in some ways very much of its age. Looking for moment at the first instance: Yes, the heroine, Gwendolen, is warned not to proceed w/ her plans to marry the wealth Grandmountain (or whatever his name is) - and in receipt of this warning she takes off from home and heads off to the Continent with some friends of the family (leading us back to the point where the narrative began with Gwendolen carelessly gambling like a wealthy person, which she is not, and attracting the attention of Deronda). But here's the difference that Eliot makes in her use of this convention: Gwendolen doesn't go off heartbroken, and she hasn't left behind the man of her dreams, as might happen in an Austen novel, for ex. She was uncertain and even somewhat cynical about her plan to marry GrandM - she'll marry him not because she loves him but because his wealth can buy her independence. Her ambivalence, her ambiguity, and her forthright confidence in her presence and her beauty make her a much more complex character than we see elsewhere in Victorian fiction - a "round" character, and not at all a "type."