Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The Jewish strand of Eliot's Daniel Deronda
I'm beginning to see what WS via FR Leaviss warned of regarding Daniel Deronda. Part of my interest in reading this novel was that I'd heard it was about Zionism, as perceived in England in the 19th century; as anyone who's studied British lit knows there are very few Jewish characters in British Lit until the 20th century, and most of those that make the cut are hardly sympathetic. (Revenge!). And - though it takes about 25 percent of the novel - finally the Eliot introduces the Jewish theme, as the eponymous Deronda, a well-educated young man with a good inheritance but no title (although he thinks he may be the out-of-wedlock son of his uncle and therefore the legit heir to his title) is dabbling in "the law," for which he clearly has no interest or aptitude but it's what one does - like so many characters, e.g., the cousin in Bleak House, or, for that matter, think of Nick Carraway, an American counterpart, who aimlessly decides to "learn about bonds" - when he saves a beautiful young woman in despair from drowning in the Thames. Turns out she's a "jewess," and she expects Deronda to despise her, but instead he shelters her and seems to be falling in love with her. Well and good - but then we get so far the longest chapter in the novel in which she tells her life story to the woman who's offered her housing (mother of Deronda's college friend). This is really a tedious chapter, as Eliot gives up her narrative voice and just grinds through the events the life of this unfortunate woman. I can see that the is headed toward didacticism - Jews are people, too! - but expect more from Eliot and hope she rescues the novel rather than letting it slip into preaching and cheap moralising.