Thursday, November 24, 2016
Cliffhanger endings in Daniel Deronda: Did she kill him? Is she alive?
You have to sense something will go wrong when the dour and spiteful Grandcourt insists on going "boating" with wife, Gwendolen, while they're laid over in Genoa. They rent a sailboat, and we have no idea whether he has any idea how to manage the boat, although he's so sure of himself that we suspect he may be getting in way over his head. Gwendolen dutifully manages the tiller, and all seems OK, and then - we shift viewpoint to Deronda's who arrives at the shorefront and sees a great disturbance and learns that a man has drowned in a boating accident. First reaction: even for 19th-century fiction, Eliot is pushing the boundaries of coincidence here. You figure the chances! Only a novelist's hand could bring these 3 characters together 1,000 miles from home at the very moment of greatest crisis. The question: was it an accident? We then get into a long scene in which Gwendolen "confesses" to Deronda; she's tormented by guilt. But did she kill her husband? Eliot toys with us for quite a while before the waters settle and we see that she didn't kill him but she sure didn't rush to his rescue - holding a line far too long - once he'd been knocked into the sea. (Might have been good if Eliot had set it up earlier that he couldn't swim - but maybe that's the problem w/ writing a novel in installments - you can't backtrack.) So her guilt is about her failure to act. That's too bad - it would have been more dramatically satisfying if she'd killed the bastard. In any event, Eliot ends this section of the novel - Revelations - when the hoteliers find Gwendolen on the floor in the morning crushed by her guilt. So - I'm hanging here - is she alive or dead? Readers, beware - a novelist will probably says "dead" if that's the outcome - "crushed" leaves everything open, and I think she needs this character alive for the remaining chapters. Gwendolen is by far the most interesting (and tragic) character in the novel; I don't believe DD will end up w/ her - too many forces are pulling him in different directions - but she will probably make amends to Mrs. Glasher and the out-of-wedlock children her horrible husband Grandcourt left behind.