Mark's Reviews > Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
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Mar 13, 12

Read in March, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Utterly conventional in its romantic elements and unconvincing in its foray into Zionist politics. The strange doubling of unlikely family discoveries and terminal illnesses at first seems rife with emotional implications but upon reflection seems more like a failure of imagination on the author's part, an obsessive repetition of themes. (Mirah discovers her long-lost brother Mordecai only when he's at death's door; Deronda reunites with his long-lost mother only when she's about to die: but what do their confrontations with death mean? It never becomes clear, and the tragedy lies not in their deaths but in the original separations.) The novel is ultimately anti-romantic and bourgeois, punishing those who choose love or art as the highest value (Gwendolyn, Hans) and rewarding those who choose family and community, especially if that community is based on ethnicity (Mirah, Daniel). Grandcourt's death seems like a blow for justice, but his evil is pervasive enough to drain the complexity out of his sadistic relationship with Gwendolyn, and we are allowed to sympathize with neither character but only to pity them. Even Gwendolyn's hard-won journey from selfishness to concern for others is really just a sacrifice of her high-spirited individualism to the more banal needs of the community (no matter how much it looks like a conversion of prideful arrogance to Christian charity). An unsatisfying inversion of the typical tropes of Romantic literature, despite all of the supposedly moral lessons we learn.
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