Sunday, November 27, 2016
Darkness at the heart of Daniel Deronda
George Eliot does a beautiful job in sorting out the complicated love relationships among the central characters toward the end of Daniel Deronda: The eponymous DD at last feels he can be in love with and marry the beautiful Jewish woman, Mirah, but the class differences between them are so vast and both he and she as so sensitive to the imbalance of power between them that their dialogue is awkward and stilted. DD does not want it to appear that he is taking advantage of Mirah, through some form of droits de seigneur, and she in turn thinks it's presumptuous for her to make an claim on DD's affections - so her older brother, Mordecai/Ezra, becomes what you might call the mediator: they both talk about their devotion to him and to his obsession with independence and freedom for the Jewish people, rather than about their attraction to and affection for each other. In a subsequent chapter, the widowed but now impoverished Gwendolen invites DD to her house to discuss her future. Ostensibly, she asks his advice on accepting any part of the inheritance from her abusive late husband, Grandcourt - she wants to take only enough $ to support her mother and half-siblings, none for herself. But what she really wants - is DD. She's trying to tell him that she will give up all of her claims on the Grandcourt estate if he will have her; he completely misunderstands and gives her cold, thoughtful, legal advice - or, if he does understand, he resists her overtures because of his love for Mirah. Her sorrow is extremely sad and touching - and I imagine all modern readers will wish that these characters could just come out and say what's in their hearts. There's so much unspoken here. I still suspect that Gwendolen will marry her cousin Rex - but it will be settling for second-best, not a likelihood for happy marriage among equals. Same with DD - can her really have a happy marriage with Mirah, so different from him and so lost in devotion to her strange brother; for how long will the marriage endure with the memories of St. Mordecai constantly between them? Eliot is, to her credit, resisting the happy resolution of the comic romance - there's a lot of darkness at the heart of this novel.