Daniel Deronda – George Eliot, 1876

It’s no Middlemarch but I’m glad I read it. Opinions divided in the Great Books group about the first half, which focuses on Gwendolyn, versus the second half, which is more Daniel’s story. I found Gwendolyn tiresome, and her suitor/husband Grandcourt purely horrible – much more of a villain than anyone in Middlemarch. My favorite character is Princess Halm-Eberstein, who gives a powerful feminist speech near the end.

Short quotes

  • “Having always been the pet and pride of the household… she naturally found it difficult to think her own pleasure less important than others made it”
  • “Was there ever a young lady or gentleman not ready to give up an unspecified indulgence for the sake of the favorite one specified?”
  • “In the school-room her quick mind had taken readily that strong starch of unexplained rules and disconnected facts which saves ignorance from any painful sense of limpness”
  • “the sort of question which often comes without any other apparent reason than the faculty of speech and the not knowing what to do with it”
  • “Much quotation of any sort, even in English is bad. It tends to choke ordinary remark. One couldn’t carry on life comfortably without a little blindness to the fact that everything had been said better than we can put it ourselves.”
  • “sort of contemplative mood perhaps more common in the young men of our day—that of questioning whether it were worth while to take part in the battle of the world: I mean, of course, the young men in whom the unproductive labor of questioning is sustained by three or five per cent, on capital which somebody else has battled for.”
  • “authorship—a vocation which is understood to turn foolish thinking into funds”
  • “Their faces seemed full of speech, as if their minds had been shelled, after the manner of horse-chestnuts, and become brightly visible.”
  • “The days and months pace over us like restless little birds, and leave the marks of their feet backward and forward; especially when they are like birds with heavy hearts—then they tread heavily.”
  • “What should we all do without the calendar, when we want to put off a disagreeable duty? The admirable arrangements of the solar system, by which our time is measured, always supply us with a term before which it is hardly worth while to set about anything we are disinclined to.”
  • “I wonder why he fixed on me as the musical one? Was it because I have a bulging forehead, ma, and peep from under it like a newt from under a stone?”
  • “… pressing his lips together, rubbing his black head with both his hands and wrinkling his brow horizontally, with the expression of one who differs from every speaker, but does not think it worth while to say so. There is a sort of human paste that when it comes near the fire of enthusiasm is only baked into harder shape.”
  • “day followed day with that want of perceived leisure which belongs to lives where there is no work to mark off intervals”
  • “To have a pattern cut out—‘this is the Jewish woman; this is what you must be; this is what you are wanted for; a woman’s heart must be of such a size and no larger, else it must be pressed small, like Chinese feet; her happiness is to be made as cakes are, by a fixed receipt.’”
  • Quoting William Browne: “A wretch so empty that if e’er there be / In nature found the least vacuity / T’will be in him.”
  • “we were as different as the inside and the outside of the bowl”
  • Reading the lists of marriages in the newspaper gave Mrs. Meyrick “the pleasant sense of finishing the fashionable novels without having read them, and seeing the heroes and heroines happy without knowing what poor creatures they were.”
  • “Those who have been indulged by fortune and have always thought of calamity as what happens to others, feel a blind incredulous rage at the reversal of their lot, and half believe that their wild cries will alter the course of the storm.”
  • “What outpourer of his own affairs is not tempted to think any hint of his friend’s affairs is an egotistic irrelevance?”

In this book I learned about:

  • byssus: very fine cloth, or the attachment of mussels
  • scent of russia – ie Russian leather
  • making plates with playing cards – I can’t find specifics about this game. It sounds like they are tossed together? “The grandmother had a pack of cards before her and was making “plates” with the children. A plate had just been thrown down and kept itself whole. … The plate bore several tossings before it came to pieces.”
  • anecdote: “the dying Copernicus made to touch the first printed copy of his book when the sense of touch was gone, seeing it only as a dim object through the deepening dusk”
  • stiving: “to shut up in a warm close place”

Deronda on gambling – I have never thought about it from this angle, and it resonates:

I think it would be better for men not to gamble. It is a besotting kind of taste, likely to turn into a disease. And, besides, there is something revolting to me in raking a heap of money together, and internally chuckling over it, when others are feeling the loss of it. I should even call it base, if it were more than an exceptional lapse. There are enough inevitable turns of fortune which force us to see that our gain is another’s loss:—that is one of the ugly aspects of life. One would like to reduce it as much as one could, not get amusement out of exaggerating it.

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