Friday, November 25, 2011

Me on Leavis on Daniel Deronda

The great English critic F.R. Leavis, a high Anglican by the way, wrote a famously provocative essay on George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, itself controversial in its time—the eighteen seventies—for being the first overwhelmingly sympathetic work of English literature towards Jews.

Leavis’s argument, with which I agree just having finished the novel, is that:

1. the sections of the novel dealing with the Jewish story—Deronda’s journey to learning he’s a Jew, his evolving commitment to his Judaism and the blossoming of his relationship with the young Jewish girl he rescues from drowning herself—are bad art;

2. the sections dealing with the story of the other main character Gwendolen Harleth are the most superb in all of Eliot’s work, and particularly the presentation of her character, psychologically penetrating, complexly whole and utterly compelling in her vivacity and egotism; and

3. if the novel could excise the Jewish story save minimally to serve Gwen’ story , being titled Gwendolen Harleth instead of Daniel Deronda, it could lay claim to being a masterpiece of English literature.

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