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Long, long novel about Jewishness and other stuff in C19th England
on 2 February 2014
It seems odd to be writing a review of this - it's a classic after all, and hard to say much that hasn't already been said.
A few quick points though. There are two plots which converge, but the one with Gwendolyn Harcourt in it is much more enjoyable than the Deronda/Jews one. Gwendolyn is a spoiled bitch and a much more interesting character than Deronda, who is too good and noble to be at all interesting. Even though her moral dilemmas are not ours her capacity for self-deception and moral compromise are captivating. The book is at its best when she's around.
On the other hand the reader knows that Deronda is going to turn out to be Jewish for such a long time that it's really not much of a turn-up when he does indeed turn out to be. Mr Lush, another rancid spoiled character, is also much more interesting than the other 'good' characters - the insipid Mira, the saintly Mordecai/Ezra...
It's much too long for the narrative, and neither plot nor description justify the length. That's just how they liked them then, I suppose - very very long descriptions of how characters felt about every development in the story.
Proto-zionist, of course - the need for the Jews to re-establish themselves as a nation again is treated very sympathetically, though not so much as a solution to antisemitism as something that is needed for the Jews to overcome their own self-imposed disadvantages and deficits.
Elliot does depict the anti-semitism of the upper classes, though without any sense of criticism. We are used to negative depictions of 'zoological' Jew-hating, and we know how to feel about that. For me the mild, social anti-Jewish snobbery, and the suggestion that being Jewish is just a bad life choice, is much more uncomfortable' - the more so since it comes from characters who can be quite sympathetic to actual Jews.
Glad I read this, but won't be rushing to read anything else like it for a while.