My feelings about George Eliot’s last book are mixed. The story is captivating and very often I could not wait to pick it up again, but I also found myself skimming through several passages that were dreary and repetitive, and I was bored by the lack of dialogue. Pages-long, wordy paragraphs slowed the pace, especially when the narrative focused on Deronda. I much preferred to read about Gwendolen and her troubles, and looked forward to the chapters devoted to her.
Here is a woman whose moral compass is self-interest. Even her intentions to be good are motivated by her fascination for Deronda and her desire for his good opinion. Gwendolen is one of those people who always gets what she wants because of her “power of inspiring fear as to what she might say or do” if she were thwarted. Until the very end, I could see no redeeming quality in her, and even her love for her mother is a selfish, ungrateful kind of affection, at least in the beginning. She is an empty-headed, fussy woman whom I would probably dislike on sight, but to my surprise, her final defeat moved me and I felt sorry for her.
Deronda himself I found contradictory. He is morally upright, sincere, and kind. His feelings are deep and intense, but while he judges those around him, like Sir Hugo, Gwendolen and his own mother, he never judges Myrah or her attempted suicide. Tragic and heartbreaking as it is, her desire to drown herself is neither brave nor honorable. Maybe I judge her harshly, but her reasons didn’t seem convincing to me. I could not sympathize with her plight, and as a plot device, I think it’s weak. Myrah is the least appealing character, the bland one whose good fortune seems unearned.
Daniel’s sense of honor fails him where Gwendolen is concerned. His actions towards her were, in the end, unfeeling and unkind. She was indeed the victim of his happiness.
I wish Mrs. Glasher had made one last, triumphant appearance in the story. Her absence feels like unfinished business, a loose end sticking out. She is one bitter, vengeful woman, and the letter she writes to Gwendolen may be the most venomous thing I have ever read.
Reading this book was more disturbing than enjoyable. I got bored and impatient with the religious stuff, and I disagree with the idea that people should not marry outside of their race or their religion, which the book seems to espouse, and some rather prejudiced descriptions, particularly of the merchant Cohen family, I found offensive.
This is not a happy book, and I was in tears as I finished reading the last page.