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George Eliot: Daniel Deronda
As of the last two days George Eliot is one of my favorite English novelists, Daniel Deronda one of my favorite English novels: as experienced through the TV version. The story begins with its protagonist, Daniel Deronda, as an English gentleman and climaxes with him learning that he is a Jew. He knew he was “illegitimate”; but he believed he was Christian illegitimate.
sprained thumb handicap, scrapbook scribble
Mid-story he meets other Jews. They see a kinship with him whether or not he does.
Academic English honcho F R Leavis said that the Jewish business was a weakness in the story. He thought all that should be excised, that the story thus expurgated should be retitled for the spoiled rotten Christian female character: Gwendolen Harleth! Well, maybe I wouldn’t object: provided that it be fully retitled: Gwendolen Harleth by F R Leavis, plagiarizing George Eliot: the moron perverting the genius.
I find the Jewish business key to the novel’s greatness. I simultaneously find its doom in the same set of problems. Christian England never really swallowed the Jews despite a track record liberal relative to other “Christian” countries (and I don’t know that any non-Christian countries have any records to brag about). Eliot presents her fellow English as class-stunted, selfish sons of bitches, earning nothing whatever of the “Christian” moniker. (I hope everyone sees 100% of the time that there might be a difference between rosters of “Christians” as compiled by God and such a roster compiled by humans: I hope you agree with me that only Jesus has a right to declare who he loves, only God the right to declare who he forgives.)
(Compare the idea of me showing a will, saying it’s my grandfather’s will, saying that my grandfather leaves everything to me, that he was also the sole true owner of GM … and it’s in my handwriting!)
These are the Christians who murdered Hypatia; not brethren of St. Francis. I see Eliot’s readers as the same: they want Daniel to have Sir Hugh’s wealth … privilege; not Mordecai’s convivial humility.
Eliot invites this. Consider the role of Jews and Jewishness in English literature. From Chaucer on. Shakespeare alone gives a Jew at least a modicum in tone of irony. Shylock’s Christians have the same spiritual integrity as Americans: drop bombs on people (sabotage those who would object), then claim all the good-guy merits.
Liberalism After Liberalism
There are so many things I’m coming to love about Eliot. Friends, colleagues loved them all along, but not me.
Take spoiled rotten Gwendolen Harleth. When we meet her in the BBC TV version she’s playing roulette, betting huge stacks of coin on red: until black comes up: then she bets on red again! Fine, she wants to throw money away fast and stupid, it’s OK by me. But then we see her demanding luxuries from her benefactors, those she’s dependant on: her mother, her uncle. Her uncle indulges her, says it’s a good “investment”. Ah, now we see what it’s all about: spoil her rotten, part of her packaging for the spoiled rotten privileged class marriage slave trade: her family will realize a profit. But then we see Gwen turning up her nose at the dumb roles demanded of females in that class. No, wait a minute, Girlie: be a philosopher with your own capital: follow Jesus, but follow Jesus (or Rousseau) humbly, in poverty. Let your family put itself in hock so you can be a dumb whore, then be a dumb whore, pay the dues. Don’t try to straddle existential fences.
I recognize from Middlemarch especially that Eliot regularly gives some liberal tendency to some character, but then also makes them a fool. (Bravo.)
I never read Eliot till graduate school. Hoped for, expected, an English Tolstoy: got damned long novels about fools. I read Mill on the Floss. Yawn. Middlemarch. Yawn. I know one thing that was wrong: grad school requires fast reading, I’m not a fast reader. Or rather I try to read at the pace appropriate for maximum nourishment.
Six months ago Jan and I watched a BBC Middlemarch: read selections simultaneously. Then we read chapter 1 of Silas Marner, slowly, aloud. Yai! Gee! I gotta go back and read that carefully, in its entirety. Great, great: Silas realizes he’s been screwed by his friend, by his girl, by his church, by its congregation, by his God! Wow.
Maybe I should read Middlemarch slowly, carefully. I needed a half-century warmup.
2014 08 06 I am reading Silas, slowly carefuly, in sequence. Man oh man: how could I have failed to appreciate Eliot sooner? I just read the passage where Silas’s neighbors, after he robbed of his miser’s haord under the floor, accept him as a neighbor, weirdness and all. One particularly generous but dull neighbor has her son sing him a Christmas carol: God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. She doesn’t know his history, is ignorant of his mimetic allergies: as ignorant as a doctor, as a priest: lifelong training in insensitivity. She’s telling the guy whose church has robbed him, to his face! whose God has set him up for a fool, to go to church, to trust God! Fabulous.
How come Eliot wasn’t burned at the stake? Because the 18th and 19thh centuries, with their rational deists and explorers, fumbling scientists, were far more liberal that the 20th and 21st centuries: certainly since 9/11.
What could be funnier than illiterate, mole-sighted Christians appropriating Jefferson, Franklin to their cults, dumbing down the universities, the networks … publidshing lies from the pulpits.
Jews Under Foot
The novel is titled Daniel Deronda. All right, why not? Daniel seems a decent young man, rather more decent than average. He is sponsored by Sir Hugh. He is said to be Sir Hugh’s illegitimate son. In my religion there is no legitimate or illegitimate; there’s possession or non-possession. Anyway, Daniel is supported, he himself supports a young painter. The novel is full of opinions as to whether A, B, C are artists: singers, painters, musicians … The novel is full of characters with certainties about who’s Christian, who’s legitimate … who’s an heir, who’s an earl … But then Daniel is rowing on the river. He skulls past a woman at the water’s edge, amid thick vegetation. All in green went my love drowning. Something is fishy. He about-oars. Just as she slips into the river. He weighs up and pulls her out. (Mill climaxed with a drowning in a river.) She recovers a bit, says “I’m a Jewess, now do you despise me?”
Daniel is taken aback! Hasn’t he heard about anti-Semistism? Doesn’t he know his Christian corruptions of the Bible? (Could Eliot have known how much of the Bible was lies, fraud?) (I don’t think so; but you could! read Bert Ehrman’s reports.) Doesn’t he know that the Jews, not the Romans! killed Jesus? Anyway, he shrugs her revelation off, takes her to his pet artist’s family, they shelter, and love her.
OK, now there’s a Jew right underfoot. But then it’s revealed that “Deronda” means “from the city of Ronda” and that “Ronda” is a Spanish city of Jews! So, if that’s true, then the novel has immersed us in Daniel’s Jewishness from the bookstall before we read sentence one!
Ah, but then Daniel wants to learn more about his Jewess. He meets Mordecai, and the Cohens. He learns that his Jewess, Mirah Lapidoth, is actually Mirah Cohen! Mordecai is actually her brother.
(Talk about Victorian coincidence!)
Then, at last, Daniel meets his own mother!
Like Gwen she is honest after a fashion, and oh so liberal: but forthrightly selfish: doesn’t pretend to love children, or sacrifice, or poverty … when she doesn’t. But, unlike Gwen, she’s not a fool.
And, like Mordecai, she’s dying.
Notice parallels between Eliot’s “gentleman” Daniel and Dickens’ “gentleman” Pip. Dickens first makes us love Pip, feel sorry for him, hope for the best for him … What he gets, to be a gentleman, is hardly good for him. Dickens deceives and then undeceives his audience, surfs their preexisting self-deception.
I suspect that Eliot was never deceived, though she knew full well that her readers were.
Please, I beg you, notice the parallels between the value system implicit in Deronda and my own Illich ethos: live simply, cooperate in so far as possible, be convivial, don’t coerce, don’t tolerate privilege. (And, as a group, so far as possible, mind your own damn business!) Illich! Jesus! Christianity (of a sort seldom found).
Don’t pay anything for wealth, get rid of it where possible; except where it accrues to the family, group, tribe.
Wait a minute, let’s step back from the novel. Let’s likewise step back from our societies, our societies’ securities. Before we address antiSemitism in or out of literature, let’s decide, decide responsibly, a few simple important questions:
Did the Jews kill Jesus, as accused?
Is the Jews’ proprietary attitude toward God justified?
Is the Christians’ proprietary attitude toward God justified?
Is God who or what we think he is?
Let’s say that the world does belong to God, that he is indeed its maker, owner. Let’s say that Jesus is his son, his only son. …
Before we humans do anything shouldn’t we be able to prove (oh, not to our little brother but to Newton) that it’s our business to do anything no matter what those answers are?
Do we have God’s confirmation that any part of the Bible is true, accurate, a responsible guide?
Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.
If that’s a true quote, endorsed by a God who’s somehow proved that he is indeed God, what follows? Why don’t we let God punish the Jews while we mind our own business?
Or what if God proves instead that the Jews are not God’s Chosen people? Lies, all lies. What if God proves that the real chosen people was some little group wiped out by the Jews way before David? What if God proves that Christians’ claims are twice stolen? Trice? One, two, three … infinity.
I also wanna ask: Is Eliot’s benign view of Jews justified? Should Zionism net the Jews real estate? a country? a nation?
Seems to me that nations are far more dangerous than landless ethnics. I see the difference between a Nazi and a Zionist Jew as being a difference of numbers, money, weaponry … opportunity … chutzpah.
Hey, these are all questions and comments from pk, the jailed, censored, sabotaged, misquoted inventor of the internet: disciple of Jesus; but what would I be like if in 1970 you had given me the resources I needed to build a convivial internet?
What would I be like if in 1963 my professors had actually read my papers, actually understood them? What if my reading of Shakespeare had been hailed as I was reading it? What if I’d been actually employed? actually given power?
Would you have a little Jesus? or another Nazi?
No, no. If my Shakespeare had been understood people might have figured a way to configure new institutions (using FLEX, of course) to be abuse-proof: human nature being what it seems to be.
Oh: I just reviewed with Jan: what does “gentleman” mean? Of course it’s a complex word, phrase, construct … But see at least two main lines of answer: the first complex, inexhaustible: well mannered, kind, not a bully, not loud, drunken, not a rapist … holds doors for women … etc. The second line is very simple, the meaning is almost verifiable, objective: a gentleman lives on his inherited investments: does not work for a living, does not engage in trade … plays tennis, polo … Meantime, he can betray people, deceive women …
I love this novel, movie … subject.
PS Top Hat, 1935, Astaire & Rogers, has a wonderful satire of the gentleman: room full of guys, all in evening dress, uncomfortable by definition, sitting around their club reading newspapers designed to be unwieldy, full sheet, impossibly folded while offsetting ink to the reader, endlessly, like devils in hell, scanning their Dow Jones. Fred is one of them, sort of, but he has his tongue in his cheek. He’s pretending to be a stiff so he can raise hell, tap dancing a triple paradiddle as he leaves. Harrumph, go the dandy demons.
Envying stuff-shirt gentlemen is like envying the Chinese princess with crippled feet or the Mandarin emperor whose finger nails prevent him from touching a boob or even his own dick.
Leavis in the above reminds me of another Englih honcho I despised in grad school, Marjory Nicholson. She wanted to improve on Milton’s Paradise Lost! As I’ve said since the early 1960s, I do not claim that the great poets etc are infallible; I do say that few academics are wise enough to know what to improve and what to leave alone. In any event I insist on distinguishing what can be known of Shakespeare’s text and what can prove to be an editor’s changes. Shakespeare in the Park can stage Hamlet as a transvestite: just don’t call it Shakespeare‘s Hamlet.
(At the same time, acknowledge that we don’t have any author-approved definitive Shakespeare! Same as we don’t have so much as one fragment of the Bible in God’s handwriting! not one definitive verse!)
2014 08 27 I launched this file after watching dramatizations of Eliot novels as movies, as TV serials. Then I sampled the books for the first time since the 1960s. Wow. Recently read Silas, again, carefully: then sampled Middlemarch, last night shook my head in awe over the first few chapters of Deronda. Here I redouble my above interpretation of English society as superficial, unsustainable. But most welcome is my love of the wise woman who’s narrating.