**spoiler alert** My sister wrote her senior thesis on this book, so I figured if I was going to stand half a chance at understanding but a quarter of**spoiler alert** My sister wrote her senior thesis on this book, so I figured if I was going to stand half a chance at understanding but a quarter of that thesis, I would have to read it. Still haven’t gotten to the thesis (80 pages Ak?! C’mon!), but I did finally polish off the book, and am not sorry that I did. Much like Middlemarch this book is packed with long, intricate, sometimes movingly ornate, oftentimes completely hilarious (and not in a self-conscious way), frequently ultranerdy sentences that somehow seem even more absurdly arcane/wonderful than other 19th century Brits. If Austen fired a word pistol, Elliot preferred the lexical two-decker broadside.
As with Middlemarch, Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen did not prepare me to fully interpret a book of Deronda’s sweep and complexity, so my only real point of reference is Middlemarch itself. Like the characters in that book, most of the protagonists in Deronda struggle with deliberately crafting their own lives, but unlike the focus on vocation in Middlemarch, these characters seemed more concerned with morality. Deronda himself wasn’t seeking a job so much as a crusade, and Gwen spent almost the entire book watching her ego eroded by both circumstance and her husband only to find she barely even knew what good meant if it couldn’t mean pleasing herself. I suspect the fact that many of the protagonists had lost parents plays into this somehow, perhaps severing them from strong religious and cultural norms and forcing the characters to question and then assert moral positions. The Meyricks, the Gascoignes, Grandcourt, and perhaps Sir Hugo rarely seemed to question their own codes, whereas Gwen and Dan were constantly revisiting them. I guess that falls a part a bit with Mordecai and Mirah, but perhaps we just met Mordecai long after he’d settled many of these internal debates (he certainly had a code, albeit a long-winded possibly delusional one).
Ultimately I found Gwen to be the most interesting and appealing character, mostly because I’m a traditionalist and I like it when characters change in profound but believable ways (yes, Ak, I’m am looking forward to reading about how narrative is just a myth Elliot was trying to lay bare with this book, or something, right?), and Gwen went from back-of-the-hand-cackling-anime-villainess to having her will entirely crushed. She was the only appealing character with any wit in the book (I wasn’t a fan of Hans, and Daniel’s mom, while awesome, was really just a guest star). Actually, part of the tragedy for me was seeing that verve brought down not just by Grandcourt’s weird dominance, but also by her submission to Deronda’s moral authority. Gwen’s smart, willful, and clearly possesses the kernel of morality in her love for her mother. Why can’t she figure this shit out herself?!
I found Deronda himself a bit boring. He was always good and always right. Dull. Keeping with the anime theme, he was just sad Pikachu, all the time. The way his constant deliberation always seemed to border on passivity bugged me too. His public attitude was more like Grandcourt's than anyone else’s, even though his inaction was usually due to deliberation rather than indifference.
Anyway, long but good, glad I read it. Bring on the thesis.
Oh, and you know there were words:
prebendary (n): a stipend given to a clergyman from the revenues of a church or cathedral. (p. 33) fidus Achates: in the Aeneid, Achates was Aeneus's bff. (p. 37) euphonious (adj): sounding good. (p. 43) spoony (adj): foolish, silly, particularly when in love. It always drove me nuts that this was in the Scrabble dictionary, but I guess it does have meaning beyond "of or pertaining to a spoon" (p. 58) antigropelos (n): waterproof leggings for riding or walking, aka spatterdashes. (p. 70) burthen (n): archaic form of burden, which is pretty obvious, but I don't recall this word coming up so much with other 19th century authors. (p 90 and just about every other page in the book) monody (n):: a solo lament. (p. 90)
"It was impossible to be jealous of Juliet Fenn, a girl as middling as mid-day market in everything but her archery and her plainness, in which last she was noticeably like her father: underhung and with receding brow resembling that of the more intelligent fishes."
Amazing how cruel and bigoted she could be. Ak tells me she believed in physiognomy. (p. 121)
uncial (n): a form of all-caps (or majuscule) script that is very rounded. Now, what exactly Elliot meant by handwriting "of the delicate kind which used to be esteemed feminine before the present uncial period" I have no idea. Did people write in all-caps all the time in her day?
perrugue (n): alt. form of peruke, which is a man's wig from the 17th and 18th centuries. (p. 179)
"...impaling the three Saracens' heads proper and three bezants of the one with the tower and falcons argent of the other..." Only now that I am looking things up do I realize she was talking about heraldry. Behold, a Saracen's head, bezants, and falcons argent. I was very, very disappointed to learn that Saracens bear no relation to the genus of carnivorous pitcher plants, Sarracenia, which were apparently named after an 18th century botanist named Michel Sarrazin. How does that even work?! (p. 180)
"But for God's sake, keep an English cut, and don't become indifferent to bad tobacco!" Sir Hugo Mallinger's advice to Danny Boy on learning that the latter wishes to go abroad. Another winning epitaph. I'm gonna need, like, 30 graves when I die. (p. 200)
"I could not bear memories any more: I could only feel what was present in me – it was all one longing to cease from my weary life, which seemed only a pain outside the great peace that I might enter into." I found this conclusion to Mirah's autobiography somewhat remarkable for the extent dedicated to her thoughts of suicide. Granted I haven't read that broadly, but I don't recall many 19th century brits dwelling on suicide too much, particularly in protagonists. (p. 241)
"The self-delight with which she had kissed her image in the glass had faded before the sense of futility in being anything whatever – charming, clever, resolute – what was the good of it all?" And in addition to suicide, we have all this depression, not just sadness but an acute sensation of pointlessness. (p. 248)
"Outsiders might have been more apt to think..." This paragraph is just hilarious: essentially about the triumph of personality over physicality, it just descends into this pedantic mess about the Odyssey, which she concludes by admitting that the Odyssey was just a terrible analogy. Oh George Elliot. This whole chapter is just amusing for being the only traditionally romantic passage in the entire book ("I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together." Queue the Tchaikovsky). Kind of like she was saying, "Look, I will give you guys one happy romance. One. Ok? But it will only last a single chapter. A short chapter. And I am going to talk about the Odyssey." (p. 259)
chignon (n): style of hair where the hair is tied in a knot or bun at the back of the head or the nape of the neck. Never knew this had a name. Definitely better than "cockernonnie" and "cock-up." (p. 358)
"...that mania of always describing one thing while you were looking at another..." My God I hate this, and I am always catching myself about to do it, particularly while eating. The only motivations I can think of are to belittle the present meal, thereby making everyone consider it inferior, or boast about your own taste, both of which seem horrible. (p. 461)
cynosure (n): something that attracts attention. Constantly forgetting this word. (p. 487)
"What sort of earth or heaven would hold any spiritual wealth in it for souls pauperized by inaction?" It seems ridiculous that Deronda would deliver this line, as he is almost entirely inert for half of the book. (p. 499)
persiflage (n): banter (p. 512)
caliginous (adj): misty, dark. (p. 512)
Melusina: a figure in Celtic and northern European legend, beautiful woman above the waist, serpent below, but apparently only on Saturdays. (p. 689)
murrain (n): another infectious cattle disease. (p. 707)
Supralapsarian (n): honestly even after reading the Wikipedia article I have no idea what this really means, and Hans' joke is sadly lost on me. Absurd doctrinal stances like this just make me think of Life of Brian. (p. 712) ...more
**spoiler alert** Another beautiful trip through the Austenverse, replete with Jane's stock cast of regulars. We've got The Heroine: can perfection be**spoiler alert** Another beautiful trip through the Austenverse, replete with Jane's stock cast of regulars. We've got The Heroine: can perfection be personified? Why yes, yes it can. The Dude: so awesome his awesomeness (almost) blinds him to the commensurate awesomeness of The Heroine! The Interloper: you know he's bad because he seems more awesome than The Dude, which science has proven to be physically impossible! And the usual string of caricatures Austen arranges, pinata-like, so that she might eviscerate them, ninja-like, with her katana wit.
I feel Jane scowling down upon me from beneath her bonnet in 19th century heaven (where everyone is ... happily married? But Jane still enjoys making fun of them?), so I'll relent and admit that like most of Austen's books, this one had me laughing, concerned, anxiously flipping pages, my only source of discontent the rapidly approaching back cover.
Once finished, however, and I began considering the titular theme of the book, and I had concerns. Anne gets into her screwed up situation because she allows herself to be persuaded not to marry Wentworth, way before the novel even begins. Wentworth gets into his screwed up situation because a) Anna reneged, but more importantly b) he was obstinate in his resentment despite continuing to love her, and never tried to re-establish ties even though he had the opportunity to do so, thereby deceiving himself and perpetuating the unhappiness of them both. Austen set that up pretty early and I predicted Anne would show some willfulness in a bold admission of her feelings, and that Wentworth would get angry and then eventually melt and see the error in his ways. By the end, Wentworth learns "to distinguish between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will," (p. 239), but has Anne grown a backbone? I thought not. She never makes the kind of bold gesture or speech I might have expected from Lizzy Bennet, and instead continues to be reactive. Her fate, while influenced by her own virtues, remains the product of the will of others, i.e. if Wentworth hadn't resolved to go to Bath and determine if he still had a chance with her, nothing would have happened. That bothered me. I like it when heroes benefit from their own actions.
However, the Everyman's edition (many thanks, Ak!) has an excellent introduction, which addresses this very point: "The task of the novel is not [...] to show Anne's moral growth. [...] But we do see her change. She achieves authority." The introducer goes on to point out that Anne progresses from being persona non grata among her blood relations to taking (and deserving) command at the novel's moment of greatest physical urgency (Louisa's injury), and to subtly asserting herself as the intellectual equal of any man in her crucial conversation with Capt. Harville about the relative capacity for feeling between the sexes. She also points out smaller actions Anne takes, including several attempts to place herself in Wentworth's way, and addressing him directly in the presence of her family, who she knows do not entirely approve. If these are indeed Austen's way of demonstrating the transformation I expected to see in Anne, then I guess I buy it. As a guy reading these books in the 21st century, there's a part of me that's impatient with the endless dalliance, thinking, "Would you just make out with the guy already?!" I wish all books had good intros like this.
Words & Quotes
"Freckles do not disgust me so very much as they do him: I have known a face not materially disfigured by a few, but he abominates them." (p. 34)
"Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match. Any body between fifteen and thirty may have me for asking. A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy, and I am a lost man." (p. 60) I feel the need to make this my profile on an online dating site. This inclination goes a long way toward explaining my singleness, I imagine.
pelisse (n): an outer coat worn by women (this one might have been Jane's). (p. 63)
"...she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly." (p. 98) I was extolling the virtues of language in The Wire the other night to the point of general aggravation, and while I might not "estimate it truly," I may try to "taste it but sparingly" in the future for the sake of my uninitiated compatriots. Thanks for the tip, Jane.
plaister (n): plaster (I was really hoping for something better) (p. 125)
sedulous (adj): diligent, assiduous. (p. 132) I distinctly remember this on a high school vocab list. Curse my sieve of a memory.
cavil (v): to nitpick. (p. 153). Also learned in HS, I think. ...more
"The Person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
Found this beautiful Everyman's Library editio"The Person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
Found this beautiful Everyman's Library edition in Pendragon Books while shopping for gifts, so I nabbed it. I find it amusing that this was Austen's first novel because it reads a bit like the work of a self-conscious undergraduate who has yet to outgrow her fixation upon the prefix "meta-". The romantic heroine is a bookish provincial who longs to be a romantic heroine. Characters are constantly discussing books and reading, and Austen herself drops in now and then to comment on the state of contemporary fiction, or on the state of her own novel (even commenting on the number of remaining pages). I guess an intrusive narrator is pretty common in 19th century British literature, but it seemed particularly noticeable here.
Other than that, a decent read, though the most memorable characters were Austen's caricatures: coquettish golddigger Isabella, blowhard John Thorpe, and the vapid Mrs. Allen. Catherine and the Tilneys were a bit dull.
farrier (n): a specialist in taking care of horses feet (!) (p. 162) rhodomontade (n): pretentious boasting (John Thorpe's signature foible) (p. 236)....more
Huh, can't believe I haven't added a review for this. I just re-read it after finishing Persuasion for the first time, and, as in previous readings, lHuh, can't believe I haven't added a review for this. I just re-read it after finishing Persuasion for the first time, and, as in previous readings, loved it. Obviously I don't have any pointed additions to centuries of criticism, so I'll just say Elizabeth and Darcy remain two of my favorite characters, the former for her wit and indomitable vivacity, and the latter for his self-righteous propriety subtended by genuine warmth. I guess I enjoy the company of Elizabeths, and aspire to be something like Darcy, even if in actuality I'm probably more akin to some stunted mutt of Mr. Collins' obliviousness and Mr. Bennett's disengagement. It actually took me a long time to figure out the flaws Austen satirized in Mr. Bennett, which speaks to their proximity, no doubt.
It's also wonderful to feel how close Austen's world feels to the present day, despite 200 years of separation. Sure, they're set a long time ago in a place far, far away (from California), but hey! I can see my awkward conversational gaps from here! And I totally know that guy making inappropriate remarks at a social gathering!...more