Daniel Deronda: A Conversation
THEODORA, one day early in the autumn, sat on her piazza with a piece of embroidery, the design of which she invented as she proceeded, being careful, however, to have a Japanese screen before her, to keep her inspiration at the proper altitude. Pulcheria, who was paying her a visit, sat near her with a closed book, in a paper cover, in her lap. Pulcheria was playing with the little dog, rather idly, but Theodora was stitching, steadily and meditatively. “Well,” said Theodora, at last, “I wonder what he accomplished in the East.” Pulcheria took the little dog into her lap and made him sit on the book. “ Oh,” she replied, “ they had tea-parties at Jerusalem,—exclusively of ladies, — and he sat in the midst and stirred his tea and made high-toned remarks. And then Mirah sang a little, just a little, on account of her voice being so weak. Sit still, Fido,” she continued, addressing the little dog, “and keep your nose out of my face. But it’s a nice little nose, all the same,” she pursued, “ a nice little short snub nose, and not a horrid big Jewish nose. Oh, my dear, when I think what a collection of noses there must have been at that wedding!” At this moment Constantius steps out upon the piazza from the long parlor window, hat and stick in hand and his shoos a trifle dusty. He has some steps to take before he reaches the end of the piazza where the ladies are sitting, and this gives Pulcheria time to murmur, “ Talk of snub noses! ” Constantius is presented by Theodora to Pulcheria, and he sits down and exclaims upon the admirable blueness of the sea, which lies in a straight band across the green of the little lawn; comments too upon the pleasure of having one side of one’s piazza in the shade. Soon Fido, the little dog, still restless, jumps off Pulcheria’s lap and reveals the book, which lies title upward. “ Oh,” says Constantius, “ you have been finishing Daniel Deronda? ” Then follows a conversation which it will be more convenient to present in another form.
Theodora. Yes, Pulcheria has been reading aloud the last chapters to me. They are wonderfully beautiful.
Constantius (after a moment’s hesitation). Yes, they are very beautiful. I am sure you read well, Pulcheria, to give the fine passages their full value.
Theodora. She reads well when she chooses, but I am sorry to say that in some of the fine passages of this last book she took quite a false tone. I could n’t have read them aloud, myself, I should have broken down. But Pulcheria, — would you really believe it? — when she could n’t go on, it was not for tears, but for — the contrary.
Constantius. For smiles? Did you really find it comical? One of my objections to Daniel Deronda is the absence of those delightfully humorous passages which enlivened the author’s former works.
Pulcheria. Oh, I think there are some places as amusing as anything in Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss: fur instance, where, at the last, Deronda wipes Gwendolen’s tears and Gwendolen wipes his.
Constantius. Yes, I know what you mean. I can understand that situation presenting a slightly ridiculous image; that is, if the current of the story does not swiftly carry you past that idea.
Pulcheria. What do you mean by the current of the story ? I never read a story with less current. It is not a river; it is a series of lakes. I once read of a group of little uneven ponds resembling, from a bird’s-eye view, a looking-glass which had fallen upon the floor and broken, and was lying in fragments. That is what Daniel Deronda would look like, on a bird’s-eye view.
Theodora. Pulcheria found that comparison in a French novel. She is always reading French novels.
Constantius. All, there are some very good ones.
Pulcheria (perversely). I don’t know; I think there are some very poor ones.
Constantius. The comparison is not bad, at any rate. I know what you mean by Daniel Deronda lacking current. It has almost as little as Romola.
Pulcheria. Oh, Romola is unpardonably slow; it absolutely stagnates.
Constantius. Yes, I know what you mean by that. But I am afraid you are not friendly to our great novelist.
Theodora. She likes Balzac and George Sand and other impure writers.
Constantius. Well, I must say I understand that.
Pulcheria. My favorite novelist is Thackeray, and I am extremely fond of Miss Austen.
Constantius. I understand that, too. You read over The Newcomes and Pride and Prejudice.
Pulcheria. No, I don’t read them over, now; I think them over. I have been making visits for a long time past to a series of friends, and I have spent the last six months in reading Daniel Deronda aloud. Fortune would have it that I should always arrive by the same train as the new number. I am considered a frivolous, idle creature; I am not a disciple in the new school of embroidery, like Theodora; so I was immediately pushed into a chair and the book thrust into my hand, that I might lift up my voice and make peace between all the impatiences that were snatching at it. So I may claim at least that I have read every word of the work. I never skipped.
Theodora. I should hope not, indeed!
Constantius. And do you mean that you really did n’t enjoy it?
Pulcheria. I found it protracted, pretentious, pedantic.
Constantius. I see; I can understand that.
Theodora. Oh, you understand too much! Here is the twentieth time you have used that formula.
Constantius. What will you have? You know I must try to understand, it’s my trade.
Theodora. He means he writes reviews. Trying not to understand is what I call that trade!
Constantius. Say, then, I take it the wrong way; that is why it has never made my fortune. But I do try to understand ; it is my — my — (He pauses.)
Theodora. I know what you want to say. Your strong side.
Pulcheria. And what is his weak side?
Theodora. He writes novels.
Constantius. I have written one. You can’t call that a side.
Pulcheria. I should like to read it, — not aloud!
Constantius. You can’t read it softly enough. But you, Theodora, you did n’t find our book too “ protracted ”?
Theodora. I should have liked it to continue indefinitely, to keep coming out always, to be one of the regular things of life.
Pulcheria. Oh, come here, little dog! To think that Daniel Deronda might be perpetual when you, little short-nosed darling, can’t last at the most more than eight or nine years!
Theodora. A book like Daniel Deronda becomes part of one’s life; one lives in it or alongside of it. I don’t hesitate to say that I have been living in this one for the last eight months. It is such a complete world George Eliot builds up; it is so vast, so much-embracing! It has such a firm earth and such an ethereal sky. You can turn into it and lose yourself in it.
Pulcheria. Oh, easily, and die of cold and starvation!
Theodora. I have been very near to poor Gwendolen and very near to dear little Mirah. And the dear little Meyricks, also; I know them intimately well.
Pulcheria. The Meyricks, I grant you, are the best thing in the book.
Theodora. They are a delicious family; I wish they lived in Boston. I consider Herr Klesmer almost Shakespearian, and his wife is almost as good. I have been near to poor, grand Mordecai —
Pulcheria. Oh, reflect, my dear; not too near.
Theodora. And as for Deronda himself, I freely confers that I am consumed with a hopeless passion for him. He is the most irresistible man in the literature of fiction.
Pulcheria. He is not a man at all!
Theadora. I remember nothing more beautiful than the description of his childhood, and that picture of his lying on the grass in the abbey cloister, a beautiful seraph-faced boy, with a lovely voice, reading history and asking his Scotch tutor why the Popes had so many nephews. He must have been delightfully handsome.
Pulcheria. Never, my dear, with that nose! I am sure he had a nose, and I hold that the author has shown great pusillanimity in her treatment of it. She has quite shirked it. The picture you speak of is very pretty, but a picture is not a person. And why is he always grasping his coat-collar, as if he wished to hang himself up? The author had an uncomfortable feeling that she must make him do something real, something visible and sensible, and she hit upon that awkward device. I don’t see what you mean by saying you have been near those people; that is just what one is not. They produce no illusion. They are described and analyzed to death, but we don’t see them or hear them or touch them. Deronda clutches his coatcollar, Mirah crosses her feet, and Mordecai talks like the Bible; but that does n't make real figures of them. They have no existence outside of the author’s study.
Theodora. If you mean that they are nobly imaginative, I quite agree with you; and if they say nothing to your own imagination, the fault is yours, not theirs.
Pulcheria. Pray don’t say they are Shakespearian again. Shakespeare went to work another way.
Constantius. I think you are both in a measure right; there is a distinction to he drawn. There are in Daniel Deronda the figures based upon observation and the figures based upon invention. This distinction, I know, is rather a rough one. There are no figures in any novel that are pure observation and none that are pure invention. But either element may preponderate, and in those cases in which invention has preponderated George Eliot seems to me to have achieved at the best but so many brilliant failures.
Theodora. And are you turning severe ? I thought you admired her so much.
Constantius. I defy any one to admire her more, but one must discriminate. Speaking brutally, I consider Daniel Deronda the weakest of her books. It strikes me as very sensibly inferior to Middlemarch. I have an immense opinion of Middlemarch.
Pulcheria. Not having been obliged by circumstances to read Middlemarch to other people, I did n’t read it at all. I couldn’t read it to myself. I tried, but I broke down. I appreciated Rosamond, but I could n’t believe in Dorothea.
Theodora (very gravely). So much the worse for you, Pulcheria. I have enjoyed Daniel Deronda because I had enjoyed Middlemarch. Why should you throw Middlemarch up against her? It seems to me that if a book is fine it is fine. I have enjoyed Deronda deeply, from beginning to end.
Constantius. I assure you, so have I. I can read nothing of George Eliot’s without enjoyment. I even enjoy her poetry, though I don’t approve of it. In whatever she writes I enjoy her mind — her large, luminous, airy mind. The intellectual brilliancy of Daniel Deronda strikes me as very great, in excess of anything the author had done. In the first couple of numbers of the book this ravished me. I delighted in its tone, its deep, rich English tone, in which so many notes seemed melted together.
Pulcheria. The tone is not English, it is German.
Constantius. I understand that — if Theodora will allow me to say so. Little by little I began to feel that I cared less for certain notes than for others. I say it under my breath — I began to feel an occasional temptation to skip Roughly speaking, all the Jewish burden of the story tended to weary me; it is this part that produces the small illusion which I agree with Pulcheria in finding. Gwendolen and Grandcourt are admirable. Gwendolen is a masterpiece. She is known, felt, and presented, psychologically, altogether in the grand manner. Beside her and beside her husband - a consummate picture of English brutality refined and distilled (for Grandcourt is before all things brutal) — Deronda, Mordecai, and Mirah are hardly more than shadows. They and their fortunes are all improvisation. I don’t say anything against improvisation. When it succeeds it has a surpassing charm. But it must succeed. With George Eliot it seems to me to succeed only partially, less than one would expect of her talent. The story of Deronda’s life, his mother’s story, Mirah’s story, are quite the sort of thing one finds in George Sand. But they are really not so good as they would be in George Sand. George Sand would have carried it off with a lighter hand.
Theodora. Oh, Constantius, how can you compare George Eliot’s novels to that woman’s? It is sunlight and moonshine.
Pulcheria. I really think the two writers are very much alike. They are both very voluble, both addicted to moralizing and philosophizing à tout bout de champ, both inartistic!
Constantius. I see what you mean. But George Eliot is solid and George Sand is liquid. When occasionally George Eliot liquefies,—as in the history of Deronda’s birth, and in that of Mirah, — it is not to as crystalline a clearness as the author of Consuelo and André. Take Mirah’s long narrative of her adventures, when she unfolds them to Mrs. Meyrick. It is arranged, it is artificial, old-fashioned, quite in the George Sand manner. But George Sand would have done it better. The false tone would have remained, but it would have been more persuasive. It would have been a fib, but the fib would have been neater.
Theodora. I don’t think fibbing neatly a merit; and I don’t see what is to be gained by such comparisons. George Eliot is pure and George Sand is impure; how can you compare them? As for the Jewish element in Deronda, I think it a very fine idea; it’s a noble subject. Wilkie Collins and Miss Braddon would not have thought of it, but that does not condemn it. It shows a large conception of what one may do in a novel. I heard you say, the other day, that most novels were so trivial — that they had no general ideas. Here is a general idea, the idea interpreted by Deronda. I have never disliked the Jews, as some people do; I am not like Pulcheria, who sees a Jew in every bush. I wish there were one; I would cultivate shrubbery! I have known too many clever and charming Jews; I have known none that were not clever.
Pulcheria. Clever, but not charming!
Constantius. I quite agree with you as to Deronda’s going in for the Jews and turning out a Jew himself being a fine subject, and this quite apart from the fact of whether such a thing as a Jewish revival is at all a possibility. If it is a possibility, so much the better — so much the better for the subject, I mean.
Pulcheria. A la bonne heure !
Constantius. I rather suspect it is not a possibility; that the Jews in general take themselves much less seriously than that. They have other fish to fry! George Eliot takes them as a person outside of Judaism — picturesquely. I don’t believe that is the way they take themselves.
Pulcheria. They have the less excuse, then, for keeping themselves so dirty.
Theodora. George Eliot must have known some delightful Jews!
Constantius. Very likely; but I should n’t wonder if the most delightful of them had smiled a trifle, here and there, over her book. But that makes nothing, as Herr Klesmer would say. The subject is a noble one. The idea of depicting a nature able to feel and worthy to feel the sort of inspiration that takes possession of Deronda, of depicting it sympathetically, minutely, and intimately— such an idea has great elevation. There is something very fascinating in the mission that Deronda takes upon himself. I don’t quite know what it means, I don’t understand more than half of Mordecai’s rhapsodies, and I don't perceive exactly what practical steps could be taken. Deronda could go about and talk with clever Jews — not an unpleasant life.
Pulcheria. All that seems to me so unreal that when at the end the author finds herself confronted with the necessity of making him start for the East by the train, and announces that Sir Hugo and Lady Mallinger have given his wife “ a complete Eastern outfit,” I descend to the ground with a ludicrous jump.
Constantius. Unreal if you please; that is no objection to it; it greatly tickles my imagination. I like extremely the idea of Mordecai believing, without ground of belief, that if he only waits, a young man on whom nature and society have centred all their gifts will come to him and receive from his hands the precious vessel of his hopes. It is romantic, but it is not vulgar romance; it is finely romantic. And there is something very fine in the author’s own feeling about Deronda. He is a very generous creation. He is, I think, a failure — a brilliant failure; if he had been a success I would call him a splendid creation. The author meant to do things very handsomely for him; she meant, apparently, to make a faultless human being.
Pulcheria. She made a dreadful prig.
Constantius. He is rather priggish, and one wonders that so clever a woman as George Eliot should n’t see it.
Pulcheria. He has no blood in his body. His attitude at moments absolutely trenches on the farcical.
Theodora. Pulcheria likes the little gentlemen in the French novels who take good care of their attitudes, which are always the same attitude, the attitude of “ conquest,” and of a conquest that tickles their vanity. Deronda has a contour that cuts straight through the middle of all that. He is made of a stuff that isn’t dreamt of in their philosophy.
Pulcheria. Pulcheria likes very much a novel which she read three or four years ago, but which she has not forgotten. It was by Ivan Tourguéneff, and it was called On the Eve. Theodora has read it, I know, because she admires Tourguéneff, and Constantius has read it, I suppose, because he has read everything.
Constantius. If I had no reason but that for my reading, it would be small. But Tourguéneff is my man.
Pulcheria. You were just now praising George Eliot’s general ideas. The tale of which I speak contains in the portrait of the hero very much such a general idea as you find in the portrait of Deronda. Don’t you remember the young Bulgarian student, Inssaroff, who gives himself the mission of rescuing his country from its subjection to the Turks? Poor man, if he had foreseen the horrible summer of 1876! His character is the picture of a race - passion, of patriotic hopes and dreams. But what a difference in the vividness of the two figures. Inssaroff is a man; he stands up on his feet; we see him, hear him, and touch him. And it has taken the author but a couple of hundred pages — not eight volumes — to do it!
Theodora. I don’t remember Inssaroff at all, but I perfectly remember the heroine, Elena. She is certainly most remarkable, but, remarkable as she is, I should never dream of calling her so wonderful as Gwendolen.
Constantius. Tourguéneff is a magician, which I don’t think I should call George Eliot. One is a poet, the other is a philosopher. One cares for the reason of things and the other cares for the aspect of things. George Eliot, in embarking with Deronda, took aboard, as it were, a far heavier cargo than Tourguéneff with his Inssaroff. She proposed, consciously, to strike more notes.
Pulcheria. Oh, consciously, yes!
Constantius. George Eliot wished to show the possible picturesqueness — the romance, as it were — of a high moral tone. Deronda is a moralist, a moralist with a rich complexion.
Theodora. It is a most beautiful nature. I don’t know anywhere a more complete, a more deeply analyzed portrait of a great nature. We praise novelists for wandering and creeping so into the small corners of the mind. That is what we praise Balzac for when he gets down upon all fours to crawl through the Père Goriot or the Parents Pauvres. But I must say I think it a finer thing to unlock with as firm a hand as George Eliot some of the greater chambers of human character. Deronda is in a manner an ideal character, if you will, but he seems to me triumphantly married to reality. There are some admirable things said about him; nothing can be finer than those pages of description of his moral temperament in the fourth book—his elevated way of looking at things, his impartiality, his universal sympathy, and at the same time his fear of their turning into mere irresponsible indifference. I remember some of it verbally: “ He was ceasing to care for knowledge — he had no ambition for practice — unless they could be gathered up into one current with his emotions.”
Pulcheria. Oh, there is plenty about his emotions. Everything about him is “emotive.” That bad word occurs on every fifth page.
Theodora. I don’t see that it is a bad word.
Pulcheria. It may be good German, but it is poor English.
Theodora. It is not German at all; it is Latin. So, my dear!
Pulcheria. As I say, then, it is not English.
Theodora. This is the first time I ever heard that George Eliot’s style was bad!
Constantius. It is admirable; it has the most delightful and the most intellectually comfortable suggestions. But it is occasionally a little too long-sleeved, as I may say. It is sometimes too loose a fit for the thought, a little baggy.
Theodora. And the advice he gives Gwendolen, the things he says to her, they are the very essence of wisdom, of warm human wisdom, knowing life and feeling it. “ Keep your fear as a safeguard, it may make consequences passionately present to you.” What can be better than that?
Pulcheria. Nothing, perhaps. But what can be drearier than a novel in which the function of the hero — young, handsome, and brilliant — is to give didactic advice, in a proverbial form, to the young, beautiful, and brilliant heroine?
Constantius. That is not putting it quite fairly. The function of Deronda is to have Gwendolen fall in love with him, to say nothing of falling in love himself with Mirah.
Pulcheria. Yes, the less said about that the better. All we know about Mirah is that she has delicate rings of hair, sits with her feet crossed, and talks like a book.
Constantius. Deronda’s function of adviser to Gwendolen does not strike me as so ridiculous. He is not nearly so ridiculous as if he were lovesick. It is a very interesting situation — that of a man with whom a beautiful woman in trouble falls in love, and yet whose affections are so preoccupied that the most he can do for her in return is to enter kindly and sympathetically into her position, pity her, and talk to her. George Eliot always gives us something that is strikingly and ironically characteristic of human life; and what savors more of the essential crookedness of human fortune than the sad cross-purposes of these two young people? Poor Gwendolen’s falling in love with Deronda is part of her own luckless history, not of his.
Theodora. I do think he takes it to himself rather too little. No man had ever so little vanity.
Pulcheria. It is very inconsistent, therefore, as well as being extremely impertinent and ill-mannered, his buying back and sending to her her necklace at Leubronn.
Constantius. Oh, you must concede that; without it there would have been no story. A man writing of him, however, would certainly have made him more peccable. As George Eliot lets herself go about him she becomes delightfully, almost touchingly feminine. It is like her making Romola go to housekeeping with Tessa, after Tito Melema’s death; like her making Dorothea marry Will Ladislaw. If Dorothea had married any one after her misadventure with Casaubon, she would have married a hussar !
Theodora. Perhaps some day Gwendolen will marry Ilex.
Pulcheria. Pray, who is Rex ?
Theodora. Why, Pulcheria, how can you forget?
Pulcheria. Nay, how can I remember? But I recall such a name in the dim antiquity of the first or second book. Yes, and then he is pushed to the front again at the last, just in time not to miss the falling of the curtain. Gwendolen will certainly not have the audacity to marry any one we know so little about.
Constantius. I have been wanting to say that there seems to me to be two very distinct elements in George Eliot — a spontaneous one and an artificial one. There is what she is by inspiration, and what she is because it is expected of her. These two heads have been very perceptible in her recent writings ; they are much less noticeable in her early ones.
Theodora. You mean that she is too scientific ? So long as she remains the great literary genius that she is, how can she be too scientific ? She is simply permeated with the highest culture of the age.
Pulcheria. She talks too much about the “dynamic quality” of people’s eyes. When she uses such a phrase as that in the first sentence in her book she is not a great literary genius, because she shows a want of tact. There can’t be a worse limitation.
Constantius (laughing). The “dynamic quality ” of Gwendolen’s glance has made the tour of the world.
Theodora. It shows a very low level of culture on the world’s part to be agitated by a term perfectly familiar to all decently-educated people.
Pulcheria. I don’t pretend to be decently educated; pray tell me what it means.
Constantius (promptly). I think Pulcheria has hit it in speaking of a want of tact. In the manner of Daniel Deronda, throughout, there is something that one may call a want of tact. The epigraphs in verse are a want of tact; they are sometimes, I think, a trifle more pretentious than really pregnant; the importunity of the moral reflections is a want of tact; the very diffuseness of the book is a want of tact. But it comes back to what I said just now about one’s sense of the author writing under a sort of external pressure. I began to notice it in Felix Holt; I don’t think I had before. She strikes me as a person who certainly has naturally a taste for general considerations, but who has fallen upon an age and a circle which have compelled her to give them an exaggerated attention. She does not strike me as naturally a critic, less still as naturally a skeptic; her spontaneous part is to observe life and to feel it, to feel it with admirable depth. Contemplation, sympathy, and faith, — something like that, I should say, would have been her natural scale. If she had fallen upon an age of enthusiastic assent to old articles of faith, it seems to me possible that she would have had a more perfect, a more consistent and graceful development, than she has actually had. If she had cast herself into such a current, — her genius being equal, — it might have carried her to splendid distances. But she has chosen to go into criticism, and to the critics she addresses her work; I mean the critics of the universe. Instead of feeling life itself, it is “views” upon life that she tries to feel.
Pulcheria. Pray, how can you feel a " view ” ?
Constantius. I don’t think you can; you had better give up trying.
Pulcheria. She is the victim of a firstclass education. I am so glad!
Constantius. Thanks to her admirable intellect she philosophizes very sufficiently; but meanwhile she has given a chill to her genius. She has come near spoiling an artist.
Pulcheria. She has quite spoiled one. Or rather I should n’t say that, because there was no artist to spoil. I maintain that she is not an artist. An artist could never have put a story together so monstrously ill. She has no sense of form.
Theodora. Pray, what could be more artistic than the way that Deronda’s paternity is concealed till almost the end, and the way we are made to suppose Sir Hugo is his father?
Pulcheria. And Mirah his sister. How does that tit together? I was as little made to suppose he was not a Jew as I cared when I found out he was. And his mother popping up through a trapdoor and popping down again, at the last, in that scrambling fashion! His mother is very bad.
Constantius. I think Deronda’s mother is one of the unvivified characters; she belongs to the cold half of the book. All the Jewish part is at bottom cold; that is my only objection. I have enjoyed it because my fancy often warms cold things; but beside Gwendolen’s history it is like the full half of the lunar disk beside the empty one. It is admirably studied, it is imagined, it is understood; but it is not realized. One feels this strongly in just those scenes between Deronda and his mother; one feels that one has been appealed to on rather an artificial ground of interest. To make Deronda’s reversion to his native faith more dramatic and profound, the author has given him a mother who on very arbitrary grounds, apparently, has separated herself from this same faith, and who has been kept waiting in the wing, as it were, for many acts, to come on and make her speech and say so. This moral situation of hers we are invited retrospectively to appreciate. But we hardly care to do so.
Pulcheria. I don’t see the princess, in spite of her flame-colored robe. Why should an actress and prima-donna care so much about religions matters?
Theodora. It was not only that; it was the Jewish race she hated, Jewish manners and looks. You, my dear, ought to understand that.
Pulcheria. I do, but I am not a Jewish actress of genius; I am not what Rachel was. If I were, I should have other things to think about.
Constantius. Think now a little about poor Gwendolen.
Pulcheria. I don’t care to think about her. She was a second - rate English girl who spoke of her mother as “my mamma,” and got into a flutter about a lord.
Theodora. I don’t see that she is worse than if she were a first-rate American girl, who should speak of her female parent as “ mother, ” and get into exactly the same flutter.
Pulcheria. It would n’t be the same flutter, at all; it would n’t be any flutter. She would n’t be afraid of the lord.
Theodora. I am sure I don’t perceive whom Gwendolen was afraid of. She was afraid of her misdeed,—her broken promise, — after she had committed it, and through that fear she was afraid of her husband. Well she might be! I can imagine nothing more vivid than the sense we get of his absolutely clammy selfishness.
Pulcheria. She was not afraid of Deronda when, immediately after her marriage, and without any but the most casual acquaintance with him, she begins to hover about him at the Mallingers’, and to drop little confidences about her conjugal woes. That seems to me very indelicate; ask any woman.
Constantius. The very purpose of the author is to give us an idea of the sort of confidence that Deronda inspired — its irresistible potency!
Pulcheria. A lay father - confessor. Dreadful!
Constantius. And to give us an idea also of the acuteness of Gwendolen’s depression, of her haunting sense of impending trouble.
Theodora. It. must be remembered that Gwendolen was in love with Deronda from the first, long before she knew it. She did n’t know it, poor girl, but that was it.
Pulcheria. That makes the matter worse. It is very disagreeable to have her rustling about a man who is indifferent to her, in that fashion.
Theodora. He was not indifferent to her, since he sent her back her necklace.
Pulcheria. Of all the delicate attention to a charming girl that I ever heard of, that little pecuniary transaction is the most felicitous.
Constantius. You must remember that he had been en rapport with her at the gaming table. She had been playing in defiance of his observation, and he, continuing to observe her, had been in a measure responsible for her loss. There was a tacit consciousness of this between them. You may contest the possibility of tacit consciousness going so far, but that is not a serious objection. You may point out two or three weak spots in detail; the fact remains that Gwendolen’s whole history is superbly told. And see how the girl is known, inside out, how thoroughly she is felt and understood! It is the most intelligent thing in all George Eliot’s writing, and that is saying much. It is so deep, so true, so complete, it holds such a wealth of psychological detail, it is more than masterly.
Theodora. I don’t know where the perception of character has sailed closer to the wind.
Pulcheria. The portrait may be admirable, but it has one little fault. You don’t care a straw for the original. Gwendolen is not an interesting girl, and when the author tries to invest her with a deep tragic interest she does so at the expense of consistency. She has made her at the outset too light, too flimsy ; tragedy has no hold on such a girl.
Theodora. You are hard to satisfy. You said this morning that Dorothea was too heavy, and now you find Gwendolen too light. George Eliot wished to give us the perfect counterpart of Dorothea. Having made one portrait she was worthy to make the other.
Pulcheria. She has committed the fatal error of making Gwendolen vulgarly, pettily, dryly selfish. She was personally selfish.
Theodora. I know nothing more personal than selfishness.
Pulcheria. I am selfish, but I don’t go about with my chin out like that ; at least I hope I don’t. She was an odious young woman, and one can’t care what becomes of her. When her marriage turned out ill she would have become still more hard and positive; to make her soft and appealing is very bad logic. The second Gwendolen doesn’t belong to the first.
Constantius. She is perhaps at the first a little childish for the weight of interest she has to carry, a little too much after the pattern of the unconscientious young ladies of Miss Yonge and Miss Sewell.
Theodora. Since when is it forbidden to make one’s heroine young? Gwendolen is a perfect picture of youthfulness— its eagerness, its presumption, its preoccupation with itself, its vanity and silliness, its sense of its own absoluteness. But she is extremely intelligent and clever, and therefore tragedy can have a hold upon her. Her conscience doesn’t make the tragedy; that is an old story, and, I think, a secondary form of suffering. It is the tragedy that makes her conscience, which then reacts upon it ; and I can think of nothing more powerful than the way in which the growth of her conscience is traced, nothing more touching than the picture of its helpless maturity.
Constantius. That is perfectly true. Gwendolen’s history is admirably typical — as most things are with George Eliot ; it is the very stuff that human life is made of. What is it made of but the discovery by each of us that we are at the best but a rather ridiculous fifth wheel to the coach, after we have sat cracking our whip and believing that we are at least the coachman in person? We think we are the main hoop to the barrel, and we turn out to be but a very incidental splinter in one of the staves. The universe, forcing itself with a slow, inexorable pressure into a narrow, complacent, and yet after all extremely sensitive mind, and making it ache with the pain of the process — that is Gwendolen’s story. And it becomes completely characteristic in that her supreme perception of the fact that the world is whirling past her is in the disappointment not of a base, but of an exalted passion. The very chance to embrace what the author is so fond of calling a “larger life” seems refused to her. She is punished for being narrow and she is not allowed a chance to expand. Her finding Deronda preëngaged to go to the East and stir up the race-feeling of the Jews strikes one as a wonderfully happy invention. The irony of the situation, for poor Gwendolen, is almost grotesque, and it makes one wonder whether the whole heavy structure of the Jewish question in the story was not built up by the author for the express purpose of giving its proper force to this particular stroke.
Theodora. George Eliot’s intentions are extremely complex. The mass is for each detail and each detail is for the mass.
Pulcheria. She is very fond of deaths by drowning. Maggie Tulliver and her brother are drowned, Tito Melema is drowned, Mr. Grandcourt is drowned. It is extremely unlikely that Grandcourt should not have known how to swim.
Constantins. He did, of course, but he had a cramp. It served him right. I can’t imagine a more consummate representation of the most detestable kind of Englishman — the Englishman who thinks it low to articulate. And in Grandcourt the type and the individual are so happily met: the type with its sense of the proprieties, and the individual with his absence of all sense. He is the apotheosis of dryness, a human expression of the simple idea of the perpendicular.
Theodora. Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch was very dry, too; and yet what a genius it is that can give us two disagreeable husbands who are so utterly different.
Pulcheria. You must count the two disagreeable wives, too — Rosamond Vincy and Gwendolen. They are very much alike. I know the author did n’t mean it; it proves how common a type the worldly, pincée, illiberal young Englishwoman is. They are both disagreeable; you can’t get over that.
Constantius. There is something in that, perhaps. I think, at any rate, that the secondary people here are less delightful than in Middlemarch; there is nothing so good as Mary Garth and her father, or the little old lady who steals sugar, or the parson who is in love with Mary, or the country relatives of old Mr. Featherstone. Rex Gascoigne is not so good as Fred Vincy.
Theodora. Mr. Gascoigne is admirable, and Mrs. Davilow is charming.
Pulcheria. And you must not forget that you think Herr Klesmer “ Shakespearian.” Wouldn’t “Wagnerian” be high enough praise ?
Constantius. Yes, one must make an exception with regard to the Klesmers and the Meyricks. They are delightful, and as for Klesmer himself, and Hans Meyrick, Theodora may maintain her epithet. Shakespearian characters are characters that are born out, of the overflow of observation, characters that make the drama seem multitudinous, like life. Klesmer comes in with a sort of Shakespearian “ value,” as a painter would say, and so, in a different tone, does Hans Meyrick. They spring from a much-peopled mind.
Theodora. I think Gwendolen’s confrontation with Klesmer one of the finest things in the book.
Constantius. It is like everything in George Eliot, it will bear thinking of.
Pulcheria. All that is very fine, but you cannot persuade me that Deronda is not a very awkward and ill-made story. It has nothing that one can call a subject. A silly young girl and a heavy, overwise young man who don't fall in love with her! That is the donnée of eight monthly volumes. I call it very flat. Is that what the exquisite art of Thackeray and Miss Austen and Hawthorne has come to? I would as soon read a German novel outright.
Theodora. There is something higher than form — there is spirit.
Constantius. I am afraid Pulcheria is sadly æsthetic. She had better confine herself to Mérimée.
Pulcheria. I shall certainly to - day read over the Double Méprise.
Theodora. Oh, my dear, don’t!
Constantius. Yes, I think there is little art in Deronda, but I think there is a vast amount of life. In life without art you can find your account; but art without life is a poor affair. The book is full of the world.
Theodora. It is full of beauty and sagacity, and there is quite art enough for me.
Pulcheria (to the little dog). We are silenced, darling, but we are not convinced, are we? (The dog begins to bark.) No, we are not even silenced. It’s a young woman with two bandboxes.
'Theodora. Oh, it must be our muslins.
Constantius (rising to go). I see what you mean!
Henry James, Jr.