Tag Archives: jews

Key Passages – Daniel Deronda

Men can do nothing without the make believe of a beginning. Even Science, the strict measurer, is obliged to start with a make-believe unit, and must fix on a point in the stars’ unceasing journey when his sidereal clock shall pretend that time is Nought. His less accurate grandmother Poetry has always been understood to start in the middle; but on reflection it appears that her proceeding is not very different from his; since Science, too, reckons backwards as well as forwards, divides his unit into billions, and with his clock-finger at Nought really sets off in media res. No retrospect will take us to the true beginning; and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact which our story sets out.

This, the opening to the novel, proceeds the famous opening line: “Was she beautiful or not beautiful?” We do not know who asks this question and we do not know of whom it is asked. Thus the starting point is already displaced, the object coming before the subject that would produce it. Throughout the novel, the toggling between cause and effect is crucial (is Daniel determining his future according to liberal civic codes à la Mill or is he being determined by biological histories?) and here Eliot is making that ambiguity immanent to the very production of narrative. There is also a critique of Copperfield “Retrospects,” which make a bid on narrating origins. The passage also forcefully naturalizes traditional images of fate (stars) through the use of “sidereal,” which refers to the measurement of time by comparing the earth’s rotation with fixed stars. Also relatable to the mathematical sublime (the smallness of the unit becomes an object of wonder). And such problematic beginnings will look forward to the problematic ending, in which Eliot will unsatisfactorily attempt to suture her double-plot.


[Human life] should be well-rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of the earth…a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, a kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys may spread, not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as sweet habit of the blood

A rather curious importation of pre-cosmopolitan fantasies more appropriate to Mill on the Floss. By the time one gets to Deronda, these utopian visions are realized as unattainable. As opposed to earlier novels, Deronda is not about constructing a world, but showing how various characters navigate a larger society that is not conducive to their aims.



This claim, indeed, considered in what is called a rational way, might seem justifiably dismissed as illusory and even preposterous; but it was precisely what turned Mordecai’s hold on him from an appeal to his ready sympathy into a clutch on his struggling conscience.

Throughout the novel Eliot plays with the rational-emotional binary. Think of this as a way to bring the culture debate into the psychological realm. This is also an updated form of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility binary. Here, sensibility becomes the work of careful cultivation. To much sense would lead to a state literally without culture (critique of Bentham, etc.). There is also an engagement with the discourse of sympathy.


She was the first time feeling the pressure of a vast mysterious movement, for the first time being dislodged from her supremacy in her own world, and getting a sense that her horizon was but a dipping onward of an existence with which her own was revolving…[S]he could not spontaneously think of him as rightfully belonging to others more than to her. But here had come a shock which went deeper than personal jealousy—something spiritual and vaguely tremendous that thrust her away, and yet quelled all anger in self-humiliation.

The moment when the ethical force of the novel turns over the Gwendolen. Theorized in terms of receptivity to the other’s demands. Think of this within the terms of the heroine whose historical worth/validity/legibility is constantly in question. Here, the dialectic is turned: in order to become a full character in the narrative/story, she must be radically unseated from her presumed role in history. Contrawise, Daniel’s graduation into history effectively excises him from the novel.


Daniel, where a kenn personal interest was aroused, could not, more than the rest of us, continuously escape suffering from the pressure of that hard unaccomodating Actual, which has never consulted out taste and is entirely unselect…. Here undoubtedly lies the chief poetic energy:–in the force of imagination that pierces or exalts the solid fact, instead of floating among cloud-pictures.

Just one of many moments when Eliot compresses the plot-character dynamics with her artistic practice. But even here the Jewish-English binary is brought into play. Is it that English art is the best mode of representation, but Jewishness is the best object for art? Role of the author.


Secondary – Daniel Deronda

Terry Eagleton delvers a common verdict on Daniel Deronda when he argues that the utopianism of the Jewish plot, with its accompanying ideal of organic totality, disavows the unstable conditions of modernity so vividly depicted in the Gwendolen Harleth plot, with its countervailing emphasis on exchange value, amoralism, contingency, and sheer will to power.

At the most basic level, it is clear that she sought to insert the nineteenth century European Jew fully into the modern project of nation-building…Through the figure of Deronda, a nascent Jewish nationalism is projected as exemplary, along with the future state it heralds. By this reading Judaism does not obediently subordinate itself to the dictates of modernity, but rather makes good on modernity’s most important and defensible ideals: self-reflective affirmation of cultural heritage, individual and political self-determination, democratic will-formation, and recognition of cultural differences. And as Eliot’s portrayal of Deronda persistently implies, all of these ideals are only made possible through the careful cultivation of dialogic openness—to the individual other, to one’s own cultural heritage(s), and to other cultures.

Amanda Anderson, George Eliot and the Jewish Question [Read this as dialogue between Arnold’s conception of culture (eternal pregnancy) and Schiller’s utopian ideal of the merging of perception and creation…]



In her compelling “double-reading” of Deronda Cynthia Chase argues that this tension between the explanatory power of origin and the subversion of origin’s causal potency finds a larger expression in the tension between the two plots. She argues that the “English Part” works through irony and satire to undermine the “system of assumptions about teleological and representational structure” that characterize the “Jewish Part” and realist fiction more generally (216). “On the one hand,” Chase claims, “the narrator’s account emphatically affirms its [Deronda’s origin] causal character. On the other hand, the plot and overall strategy of the novel conspicuously call attention to its status as the effect of tactical requirements” (218).

Cynthia Chase, “The Decomposition of Elephants: Double-Reading Daniel Deronda.” [my paraphrase]


From the beginning, Daniel’s response is figured as a struggle between a conventional, rational dismissal of Mordecai’s plea and a stronger impulse to suspend judgment and open himself to other possibilities.

Rachel Hollander, “Daniel Deronda and the Ethics of Alterity”



George Eliot – Daniel Deronda (1876)

Begins with the English plot: Daniel sees Gwendolen at a roulette table (in Germany), finds her attractive, sees her pawn a necklace (which he buys back and returns to her). Flashback to when Gwendolen meets Henleigh Grandcourt, whom she almost marries until finding out that he has a separate family with Miss Glasher. She flees. Meanwhile, Daniel (who is being raised by Sir Hugo Mallinger) sees Mirah Lapidoth floating in the river. He saves her, and eventually gets mixed up with Mordecai Cohen, the consumptive Jewish mystic who dreams of Gemeinschaft and utopia. Meanwhile, Gwendolen tries to avoid marriage by becoming a singer but Klesmer tells her straight that she’s not an artist, only a dilettante. She eventually marries Grandcourt, thinking she can tame him, but she fails. They go to Italy on their honeymoon, where Grandcourt drowns (Gwendolen hesitates to save him and is then racked with guilt). Daniel is in the same town, where he meets his mother, Princess Halm Eberstein. She tells him that she was asked to raise him as an English gentleman with no knowledge of his Jewishness. He returns feeling better about his connection to Mirah, marries her. Gwendolen, in love with Daniel, is rejected by him, and instead she gets a little moral lesson by being good, etc. She eventually writes a litter on Daniel’s wedding day telling him she has been made better. Mordecai dies, and Dan and Mirah set off to the East to help the Jewish race.


The double plot. Relate to Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. Different temporalities. Stultified English cultue vs. vibrant Jewish gemeinschaft. Different ethical systems. Read out of Hume and Smith, look forward to Levinas. Displacing, getting rid of the protagonist, the narratable exceeding the narrative (cf. Miller).

The thread, its relation to history

Insect metaphors (relate to Darwin)

Cynthia Chase argument “Double-reading”

Amanda Anderson on Jews and Deronda

Daniel as aimless type


Charles Dickens – Our Mutual Friend (1864-5)

John Harmon, Julius Hanford and John Rokesmith are all the same character: namely, our mutual friend. He is “murdered” early on, but is reincarnated as John Rokesmith, a secretary to the Boffins, the erstwhile servants (now heirs) of the miserly Senior Hamron’s dusty fortune. He falls in love with Bella Wilfer, whom he has supposed to marry as part of the will and contrives to stay disguised as a means of testing her. The Boffins are part of the scheme to test her, and Noddy Boffin appears to be entirely corrupted by money (and at great risk of being swindled by the spurious poet-teacher-salesman Silas Wegg).

Eugene Wrayburn falls in love with Lizzie Hexam, the daugher of the boatman (Gaffer Hexam) who discovers John Harmon’s putative body. He does not marry her at first, b/c of social difference, but seeks to better her and court her. Lizzie’s brother Charley goes off to school (at her bidding) and studies under Bradley headstone, who also falls in love with Lizzie and eventually turns violently against his rival Eugene. Eugene almost dies, but not before seeking out Lizzie and marrying her on his almost-death-bed.

Eventually everything works out. A will is found which hands over all the money to the Boffins, who give it over to Harmon and Bella, a once mercenary woman turned good by the lessons directed by Harmon. Harmon is reborn as a rich inheritor but through the tidy circuit of the Boffins, who render the money “clean,” I guess. Eugene does not die.  Bradley headstone kills himself and Riderhood, a good-for-nothing boatman who attempted to falsely accuse Hexam of murder. Mortimer remains single, and Twemlow (and awkward neutral character) gives the final word on marrying across class lines.

Other important characters include the Lammles (who live beyond their means), Fledgeby (who extorts everyone behind the mask of Riah), Venus (the bone articulartor who helps but then abandons Wegg)

Plot: Wild, more wild then Bleak House. Dickens, in the afterward, admits to its emming implausibility, but used a Sherlock Holmes-style explanation: fact is often less plausible then are most highly wrought fictions.

Central Metaphor: the river Thames serves as driver of plot, but also as a reinforcement of narrative repetition —points in the plot that are similar (either foreshadowing or reversals)…begins with a death in the river, but Eugene Wrayburn is reborn in the river.  Also, track river metaphor from Redgauntlet (as murky dividing line between a Scotland partitioned between Royalists and Rebels) to [As I lay Dying, etc.]

Doubles: Not motivated by plot, but rather are imposed by characters—characters as plot making actors (Bradley Headstone tried to turn himself into a double of Riderhood); John Harmon is replaced by a nameless person in the body bag: he likewise becomes a tripel of himself, each character manifesting different aspects of his personality, itself a device for richer characterization.

Child/Parent Reversals – Bella turns her father (Rumpty, cherub, Reginald) into her child, and The Doll Dress Maker Jenny Wren turns her reprobate father into a child while she in turn looks old and wizened. A trope throughout Dickens, most notable in Skimpole.

Eugene Wrayburn is another instantiation of the aimless, listless bachelor.

Education: Dicknes contrives an entire plot within a plot to manage the moral and domestic education of Bella Wilfer. Compare this to what Marianna undergoes in Sense and Sensibility. Both characters are guilty of types of excess, whether monetary or emotive. While her’s is a gradual education, Eugene is literally reborn, and disfigurement becomes the means to his moral revolution.

Violence, not Sickness – Not nearly as pervasive as in Bleak House (think of Jo), but characters are afflicted by more outright and salient violence.

Jews – Riah stands in as the money-lender, but is, in fact, merely a front for Fledgeby, who extorts everyone in money troubles. Dickens is sympathetic to Jews throughout, and spends a while insisting on their hard-working, sympathetic character.

Orphan plot – See Seth Koven here, Mrs. Boffin goes prospecting for picturesque orphans for quite a while before realizing that it’s counter-productive.

Mirrors – besides the persistence of water as a mirror, Bella uses a mirror to interrogate herself, a mirror reflects the feast at Veneerings (themselves a mirror for society), etc.

Concealment and Revelation –

Narration – largely ominiscient third person, but without warning takes on the perspective of a character in the scene, and not always the main person. Decidely modern in its ability to shift around from consciousness to consciousness.

Literalizing metaphors – this can be comic or tragic depending on situation. Track instances throughout and make list.

Life – When Riderhood is coming back to Life, “Life” becomes an objectified force that exists outside of the individual subject.  Read Gallagher, who says that Our Mutual Friend and Unto this Lastwant to denounce British political economy, but end up importing abstract idea of life, vital labor, that animates political economy and it is exchangeable (when Riderhood is no longer who he is, he is merely bare life, that’s what invests anything with value…cf. Arendt, Agamben, etc.).

How alive does John Harmon have to be in order for him to posses value? From the position of being dead that he will recuperate value that has been tainted by social inequality—from iilth into wealth (Ruskin’s terms in Unto this Last)

Connecting to Hardy as valuing the point of death (the fact that he is dead makes it so that you narrate…but in Hardy…that’s when you know the stakes of chance are identical, lovingkindness is like being dead, because it flattens everything; contradiction: dissolve self/other differentiation…[Sanders’ point:] the precondition for that being a value is that there is a self that can appreciate it by a subject…