Daniel Deronda: A Weird Review
So I was reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Internets, as one does, and being simultaneously totally delighted with Eliot’s decision to make her romantic couple Jewish!!!! And her spiritual hero Jewish!!!! and the happy ending Zionist!!! and really frustrated with what the narrative eventually does with Gwendolen*.
Because the book makes it super clear that Gwen had absolutely no good choices, that anything she did was going to result in severe penalties to her person, and that is very unsatisfying to me!
Quick recap for those who haven’t read it:
Gwendolen: I kind of hate people.
The World: That’s a shame, because you’re a beautiful woman and you’ll therefore have to get married.
Gwendolen: Ugh, why? All I want to do is ride horses and do archery and flirt with guys and occasionally be nice to my mother. I sincerely don’t like people! Forcing me to be in close contact with one person forever is likely to go poorly. Also I just discovered that the one guy I thought I might have got along with okay in a marriage way actually has a mistress he’s had four kids with and never married despite his promises to do so. He’s clearly a bad dude!
The World: Well NOW you have to get married because your family has lost all its money.
Gwendolen: Holy crap. No, I can’t! Illegitimate kids! Bad dude!
The World: Well, you could be a governess.
Gwendolen: Nnnnnngh governessing is terrible work pretty much akin to indentured labour. I mean, I don’t read a lot, so I’ve never read the Brontes or Austen or anything but my sisters have a governess and she’s a pretty miserable person, soâ€¦ ew, god no.
But wait! There is hope!
Gwendolen: Hey, I’ve got an idea! I could go on the stage!
Herr Klesmer: You are not talented enough. And this is the Victorian era, so as a woman of gentle birth you have absolutely no training or useful education for being anything other than a wife. Or a governess.
Gwendolen: FML, seriously. Okay. I will marry Grandcourt, but only because he’s going to look after my mother and I erroneously believe that even if I don’t love him I might be okay. And I might be able to do something for these poor illegitimate kids.
Grandcourt: Yo, emotional abuse times!
Gwendolen: Seriously? SERIOUSLY?
Anyway, he torments her, they go yachting on the Mediterranean, he falls in to the water and she hesitates like a second before tossing a rope in after him and he drowns, whereupon she instantly enters a nervous breakdown, because was it her fault?
Gwennie, no! Only your fault if you’d pushed him, honey. And I wish you had.
Throughout the entire marriage she desperately needs help, but the only person who can offer any is Daniel Deronda. Who does help! But whereas today he’d be able to go “Holy crap, dump this asshole!” in Victorian times he had to be all “Internal perseverance! Suffering in beautiful, beautiful silence and taking what comfort you can from the noble fact of sufferance!”
And her eventual happy ending is that with her (relatively) small settlement from the will she nobly prepares to nobly look after her mother and sisters. And Daniel tells her to do this! That a life of service to others is clearly what she needs and she will learn to find it happy and good.
While, yes, Grandcourt being dead is certainly a happy ending and I’m not going to begrudge the delightful Mirah the equally adorable Daniel (and god, Gwen/Dan would have been a terrible couple), Gwendolen’s happy ending ought to be that she is financially secure and doesn’t have to marry anyone EVER AGAIN and recognizes that fact! That she can do archery and horse riding as much as she damn well pleases and doesn’t have to be a governess and basically gets to be a rad single lady slash widow.
So this is my head canon: About thirty minutes after the end of the book, Gwendolen realizes that her mother will die and her sisters will probably leave and get married and she needs to start preparing now for being a rad single lady slash widow. So she gets on her horse and heads to the archery range and pictures her awful dead husband’s face on the target, THE REAL END.
Also, I want the book about Daniel’s mother being amazing and self-centered and refusing every “womanly” feeling for the sake of her art, at which she triumphs magnificently. C’mon, George Eliot, rise from your grave and do this for me.
It’s only fair.
*I apologize for the punctuation in this sentence slash paragraph, but I’m not sorry enough to edit it.