Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Good Eliot, Bad Eliot
Good Eliot, bad Eliot - some parts of Daniel Deronda are so smart and engaging, especially owing to Eliot's shrewd and all-knowing narration, full of insights and apercus, yet other parts just drag along, and I'm afraid I encountered one of the drag-along sections last night, the beginning of section VI - Revelations, which of course promises much but so far has delivered little. To be revealed: DD's parentage (and is he Jewish by birth?), the connection between Mirah and the Cohens of London, the role of Mordecai. But so far we get only DD's long rumination about who Mordecai is or might be: a wise prophet, or a deranged man? And then an even longer chapter in which DD accompanies Mordecai to some kind of discussion group or club where there's a long debate about the anti-Semitism and the treatment of the Jews in modern (19th century) Europe. Of course this is building toward discussion of the fledgling Zionist movement; all well and good, but this whole section shows Eliot at her polemical worst, putting forward ideas without any serious effort to link the ideas to character or action. The men in this group are, to me, largely indistinguishable, and the whole debate seems abstract and removed - there's nothing, at this point, at stake, it's just words. Well, a novel is also "just words," but they are words that are, as Aristotle (whom Eliot quotes) puts it: an imitation of an action. Or, put another way, a novel tells a story - it's not, or ought not be, a repository of facts and ideas. A novel must move through time and move its characters (and us?) from innocence to experience. DD is on that course in this novel, as is Gwendolen, his counterpart - but Eliot puts that on hold for too long as she diverts into didactics.