Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, once remarked: "Until recently I thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman and George Eliot a man." If you too were under the impression that George Eliot was a man, then you might be surprised to learn her name was Mary Anne Evans (1819 - 1880). If you knew already, well, then you know that she was an English journalist, translator, and a preeminent novelist of the Victorian era. In her novel Daniel Deronda, Eliot undertook a bold literary endeavor: a story which addresses the newly forming Zionist movement in England. She captures the inherent anti-semitism of the time and wraps it in a story of a young gentile woman, Gwendolyn, who gets involved with the eponymous Deronda, who's Jewish.
The couple meets for the first time at a roulette table, where Daniel is captivated by Gwendolyn's blonde Anglo looks and her confidence. When she is forced to sell her necklace to pay her gambling debt, Daniel buys it back anonymously and has it returned to her. So begins their complex connection. While not considered as much a masterpiece as her book Middlemarch, in Daniel Deronda Eliot crafted a strong work of fiction which defied the literary world of her day. Its eyebrow raising portrayal was hot stuff back then, but the story itself is still excellent by today's standards. And it will be especially interesting for those curious about how Jews were perceived during the mid 1800s in Europe.
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April 06, 2014
This is a beautiful look at life in some parts of Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. But all is learned while being so wrapped in the passions, desires, trials, and tribulations of the various characters that the learning part is painless. Writing at this time in history tends to spend more words than we find necessary to write in the present century, and this is the only impediment to complete, full enjoyment of reading this story. But the effort to get through all the words to follow this story is well repaid.