Sunday, 8 February 2015

Other possibilities for Gwendolen and Daniel

Recently some people and I have just talked about all the possibilities in life, all the people we could have turned out to be if we had made a different decision, chosen a different path.  

So, reading Daniel Deronda, I'm following the plot but at the same time, for whatever reasons, thinking of other possibilities. 
Now imagine that Gwendolen Harleth rejected Mr Grandcourt. Would she become a governess, or try to become a singer? If she chose the governess's life, how long could she stay in that job? No, she has to make that decision, to marry Mr Grandcourt, because she has been brought up a spoilt child who cannot bear hardship and misery. If she said no to Mr Grandcourt then and there, later she would try to find another wealthy man to lift her out of poverty. It's also because she doesn't have strong morals that she can break her promise with Mrs Glasher. No, let's imagine that Mrs Glasher never approached Gwendolen, and nobody else told her about the illegitimate children, what would happen? She would of course marry him, but there would be no guilt, no bad conscience. Would they be happy? In that case her marriage wouldn't be as she imagines, because she couldn't have her way, but she wouldn't be tormented by guilt and could still enjoy luxury and Mr Grandcourt's generosity. Would they be happy? 
Or, let's say, Gwendolen killed Mr Grandcourt. George Eliot tells us that she's not a cruel, bad-natured person, but who knows, really. She's desperate, she's miserable, unhappy, she feels suffocated, she abhors her own husband, she's tormented by guilt, she's in a rage at the moment and angry people don't think. Suddenly there's an opportunity. We would have a more horrible Gwendolen, selfish, immoral, cruel, harder to sympathise with, but that would be interesting. 
Contemplate the idea that Daniel Deronda loved Gwendolen. That's not possible, you say, and I agree, Adam Bede may be blind and fall in love with Hetty Sorrel, but there's no way that Daniel Deronda, the unrealistically perfect, the eternally good Daniel Deronda, may love Gwendolen. He might be a bit attracted to her at the beginning, but that's all. Consider another possibility then: Daniel not in love with Mirah. Concern, sympathy, pity, understanding, but not love. How's that? Mirah is the most tedious character in the book- the only thing that makes her human is her jealousy. If not her, Daniel would probably have nobody to love here, but let's forget that for a moment. Or maybe the other way around: Mirah not in love with Daniel. Gratitude, admiration, but not love. That would be fun. Perhaps I am too human to understand these 2 saints. Perhaps I'm a sadist who doesn't want a happy ending. 
It would be fun, too, if Daniel and Mirah still love each other but it turned out that he's not Jewish. That's something. 
Of course, there's no point in any of this. The 2nd strand of the story is about Jews, and Daniel has to be Jewish. That's the pattern of the book, and it has a purpose. And all the things that happen in Daniel Deronda happen because they have to, because it's a fictional world created by George Eliot, because that's what she wants. 
But I can't help it, messing around with this book. Maybe if I were a different person, I would have appreciated Daniel Deronda better. 


  1. You say, "And all the things that happen in Daniel Deronda happen because they have to, because it's a fictional world created by George Eliot, because that's what she wants."

    That sounds like quite an indictment, but it also sounds like a very accurate assessment of much in 19th century (pre-modernism) literature since authorial (narrator) dominance sometimes seems to control characters and events; this is corrected, I think, by other authors when the character and plot are so interconnected through cause-and-effect that the author's (narrator's) influence recedes into the background. Perhaps this is why I do not warm up to novels and stories in which the author's presence and attitudes are distractions.

    1. Postscript: And in The French Lieutenant's Woman (Fowles), the post-modern Victorian-styled novel, he exploits the author/narrator domination through the ironic, over-the-top device of having the author/narrator interrupt the narrative to insert his own commentary, giving readers alternative plot trajectories. TFLW is a great corrective to 19th century styles.

    2. I read that novel some years ago. The author appears twice, in chapter 13, saying that everything is in his imagination and, I think, chapter 55, sitting on the train with 1 of the characters. The narrator sometimes comments on the differences between the present society and the Victorian one. And the novel has 3 endings.
      I've watched the film too. Very well-done.
      Brilliant novel. But I see it as a novel of ideas- the characters are very pale and forgettable.
      I don't know, I don't think that what you say (authorial dominance) is a 19th century thing. But I'll come back to this.

    3. Hi.
      Sorry for my late reply.
      I should have been clearer in my post, and phrased it differently, because I was thinking of something else: there's no point in imagining other possibilities because this is George Eliot's book and she wanted to write about the Jews, or wanted to write about a bad marriage and a selfish but nevertheless good-natured girl, etc., otherwise we would have had another book instead of this Daniel Deronda.
      However, it's also true that, in my opinion, George Eliot interferes with her story, because of her moralism, and it can irritate (but this probably deserves another post). I just don't think that it's a 19th century thing. There were some moralistic, didactic writers in the 19th century, yes, some of them wanted a happy ending and ended up ruining the whole story because it seemed too easy or hasty or unconvincing or unrealistic, yes, but whether everything seems plausible and natural as though following their own course, or makes us feel like the author is moving around, changing this, fixing that, is more like a matter of talent. Take Tolstoy and George Eliot. Both Tolstoy and George Eliot are didactic, but if it feels very clear that George Eliot writes a book to preach, to teach a lesson, the feeling is less strong in the case of Tolstoy, because he has genius, because the artist in him takes over and triumphs, in War and Peace and Anna Karenina, even in the later work The Death of Ivan Ilyich. We see the author there, we once in a while see his comments, but he never lets it affect the emotions, reactions, actions and conversations of his characters. I don't see that in Gogol, Chekhov, Turgenev, Leskov... either. I admit seeing Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot let their private feelings interfere with, and ruin, their art- but not Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, possibly not Dickens.
      In the 20th century, and now the 21st, there are certainly books written to preach or to fit some agenda, whether morality or politics or gender issues or whatever, books written for a clear purpose. The results may be masterpieces or they may be contrived, implausible, unconvincing stories- in the end I think it only boils down to the question of the author's talent.
      I think the later writers are simply more conscious of the conventions of fiction (and its dangers), because of the rise of concepts and ideas such as "the author is dead", "the unreliable narrator"... and experiments such as multiple narrators, metafiction... Or put it this way, by creating pastiches, parodying earlier works, experimenting with the forms of fiction... they are playing with conventions and the artificiality of fiction and stretching its boundaries, rather than "correct" earlier writers.