I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;)
Well...I've let this one sit for weeks and can think of nothing to say, because the book already said everything. Except that my overwhelming impression of my first Eliot is that it is very, very feminist.
Plot details aside, this book made me think that one of the biggest obstacles women face is the complete inability of a society to imagine that they want more for themselves. The tragedy of marriage being a woman's only respectable option is felt most passionately through Gwendolen's and
thwarted ambition. Gwendolen is at the height of her spirited youth at the time of this book, but with the latter character, you can really see how the misogyny of a patriarchy unfolds itself over decades and it's nothing short of devastating.
Mr Grandcourt defied all expectations, for the main reason that his power struggle with Gwendolen was so pointed and personal. They are clearly emotional and intellectual equals in every way, but Grandcourt's position as her social superior turns their marriage into a speedy and crushing conquest. He does it just enough to leave Gwendolen with a flicker of defiance, for a master's satisfaction of squashing it all over again. As poignant as Gwendolen's sorrow is, this almost makes me think that Grandcourt deep down actually respects her, even if he doesn't hesitate to keep her in second-class status.
Deronda's plot thread was much more challenging, especially when he starts exploring Jewish culture with Mordecai. Sometimes those conversational passages would get so dense I'd put the book down for days before coming back to inch through one page at a time. I had a much easier time with his interactions with Mirah and the Meyricks, Sir Hugo Mallinger, and of course Gwendolen. Still, it's an involving story. The combination of his curiosity about his parents, his search for identity, and his tentative role as Gwendolen's first moral guide added a breath of worldliness for me. I was pretty intrigued by the structure of a double storyline in the first place, and the subtle ways they're linked thematically as well as physically lived up to those expectations.
I'm not sure what made me pick up this over Middlemarch as an Eliot starter. It could be I had a better idea of the plot beforehand. This book is also epic in scope, stretching over a lot of western Europe and even across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the States. And though I've heard that the "spoiled brat" is a common character in Eliot's works, I also wanted to see for once a sympathetic portrayal, not a sexist stereotype. I wasn't disappointed. I'm not sure the next time I'll be ready to dive into another equally deeply involving work of Eliot's, but when I do, I'll expect to be as moved by the humanity and uncompromising assertion of dignity as I was by DD.