Books I Read in January & February 2016

Auguste Toulmouche - Dans la BibliothèqueAs you can see, I’m posting this barely in time to not have to add “March” to the title.

In January I read:

The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain — I read this aloud to some of my younger siblings. They enjoyed it, as did I. The whole book was an interesting combination of humor, pungent observations, and pathos. It contained, perhaps, too many descriptive passages, and was surprisingly gruesome on occasion. It is historical fiction about the young King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.

Learning from the Atheists, by Michael Pearl — This is actually a 30-page pamphlet, not an entire book. According to the blurb about it on the author’s website, “Mike tackles the arguments for the faith by taking the atheists’ own logic to prove Jesus Christ is God.” I thought it was interesting and well-reasoned.

Sam the Sudden, by P.G. Wodehouse — I bought this and Hot Water by the same author over the internet and, so, when they arrived, I had to read one of them. It is one of my favorite Wodehouse books. It is also one of Wodehouse’s favorites of his books:

… But I am thinking more of the male codfish after his union has been blessed and he has become the father of three million little codfish, for when this happens he conscientiously resolves to love them all alike and have no favourites. And this ought to be the spirit in which an author regards his books.

It is, however, a counsel of perfection. There are few purveyors of wholesome fiction who have written as much as I have who can claim to have no special pet among their progeny. Much as I have tried not to, I find myself beaming on Sam the Sudden with a sunny approval lacking when I re-read some of the others. It was published first in 1925, and when nearly fifty years have elapsed since the publication of a book I maintain that it is not unallowable for its author to evaluate it … without false modesty or any of that rot. And evaluating it in this manner I give it as my considered opinion that Sam the Sudden is darned good.

— from the author’s Preface to Sam the Sudden

Piccadilly Jim, by P.G. Wodehouse — Apparently purchasing Wodehouse books is catching. This is one that my brother bought soon after I bought mine. The adults of the family read it aloud together in the evenings. The main character impersonates himself. What more needs to be said

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In February I read:

Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse — My sister was up for a week, so we read this one aloud with her, as well. It is one of Wodehouse’s Blandings novels. As the author explained:

A certain critic — for such men, I regret to say, do exist — made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

— from the author’s Preface to Summer Lightning

You have to admire an author who can write such a great preface.

How Children Fail, by John Holt — The first book written by this influential homeschooling (specifically, unschooling) advocate. If you plan on reading this book, make sure to find the revised edition. It was first published in 1964, but John Holt revised and expanded it in 1982, making corrections and additions from further experience. He writes of the effects of fear, stress, and boredom in school on children. His observations were gathered from his time spent in classrooms, but are, unfortunately, applicable to many homeschools, as well.

Another subject addressed is the purpose of school. Of what use is it to force children to “learn” something, if they aren’t really learning it. They must be able to use, or at least remember, the knowledge they gain, or it is of no value to them. What is the point of “cramming for an exam” when most of that information will be forgotten soon afterwards? Supposedly schools try to teach what they consider basic and necessary knowledge. The problem with that is what is useful knowledge to one person is completely superfluous to another. Besides which, there is wide disagreement on just what that basic and necessary body of knowledge consists of. John Holt concludes, “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” (page 291; New York: A Merloyd Lawrence Book, 1982). He reminds us to ask, What is the goal? and are the tactics being used really accomplishing it? Or, in his own words, “Where are we trying to get, and is this thing we are doing helping us to get there?” (p. 230).

You Vote in Your Own Election, by Ronald W. Fisher — Another pamphlet, which I read because it was lying around and had an intriguing title. It is not about politics, but the faults in Calvinistic doctrine. It puts some points against Calvinism clearly and quite bluntly. For example, when discussing “Total Depravity” (one of the five main doctrines of Calvinism, which states that man is so depraved that he cannot even choose to turn to God), the author observes, “Listeners of the gospel message are told to repent obediently (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Non-Jewish listeners are informed that during the gospel age God expects all men to repent (Acts 17:30). Redemption becomes a remarkable charade, indeed, with God sending out messengers to tell sinners to repent when all the while He knows they cannot. This would be a cruel hoax.” (Chapter 2, page 11).

Mr. Fisher is, however, mistaken about the gospel message (how to be born again), considering repenting from one’s sins as a condition to salvation (and, thus, continuing in willful sin as a way to lose one’s salvation). Because of this, the author’s arguments against “Perseverance of the Saints” (another of the five main doctrines of Calvinism) are faulty. Besides this more serious issue, the entire pamphlet is riddled with typos. It does get points, though, for a great title. In closing, here is an interesting reflection from the pamphlet:

“It is significant to note here that the basis of Augustinian predestinationism [sic] did not begin with apostolic Christianity as recorded in Acts or in any of the New Testament epistles. Nor did it spring forth as a delinquent doctrine in the latter part of the first century. It began historically more than three and one-half centuries after the birth of the Lord’s church and the inception of the proclamation of the pure gospel.” (Chapter 2, pages 8-9).

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Painting: Dans la Bibliothèque by Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890).

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Where Are You Trying to Get?

In his book How Children Fail (New York: A Merloyd Lawrence Book, 1982), John Holt recounted an incident from his time as a teacher. He was making a child recopy a page until it had three mistakes or fewer, but the mistakes were getting more numerous and the handwriting worse each time the child had to recopy it. They were both becoming increasingly frustrated. He wrote:

At that point Bill Hull asked me a question, one I should have asked myself, one we ought all to keep asking ourselves: “Where are you trying to get, and are you getting there?”

The question sticks like a burr. In schools—but where isn’t it so?—we so easily fall into the same trap: the means to an end becomes an end in itself. I had on my hands this three-mistake rule meant to serve the ends of careful work and neat compositions. By applying it rigidly was I getting more careful work and neater compositions? No; I was getting a child who was so worried about having to recopy her paper that she could not concentrate on doing it, and hence did it worse and worse, and would probably do the next papers badly as well.

We need to ask more often of everything we do in school, “Where are we trying to get, and is this thing we are doing helping us to get there?” Do we do something because we want to help the children and can see that what we are doing is helping them? Or do we do it because it is inexpensive or convenient for school, teachers, administrators? Or because everyone else does it? We must beware of making a virtue of necessity, and cooking up high-sounding educational reasons for doing what is done really for reasons of administrative economy or convenience. The still greater danger is that, having started to do something for good enough reasons, we may go on doing it stubbornly and blindly, as I did that day, unable or unwilling to see that we are doing more harm than good.

— pages 229-230

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Winter Book Sale

This month, I went to a book sale at the library. I got several books of art, a few children’s books, a dictionary, and some novels. My library’s book sales are almost certain to offer a few Webster’s dictionaries, which is good because the binding of the one I already had gave way. So I was able to pick up a replacement.

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Besides enjoying reading and collecting books, I also do a little quilt-making. I found an enormous, beautiful book of American quilts. The end papers show two quilts made from the same pattern, to entirely different effects — one of the things I love about quilts.

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I found a little, hardback copy of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. I learned of this book because it was quoted in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park — my favorite novel (I even have a blog dedicated to it). Maria Bertram was familiar enough with A Sentimental Journey to quote from it with great feeling.DSCF1173

“[T]here are situations in which very high spirits would denote insensibility. Your prospects, however, are too fair to justify want of spirits. You have a very smiling scene before you.”

“Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude. Yes, certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.” As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her. “Mr. Rushworth is so long fetching this key!”

— Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram in chapter 10 of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

DSCF1174And then there is my most exciting find. Strictly speaking, actually, it was my brother who found it, but, as he already has some of the books included, he graciously handed it over to me. It is a beautiful set of six Thomas Hardy novels.

I have read Under the Greenwood Tree, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. I prefer novels with happy endings, which Thomas Hardy is not known for, so I have avoided the more depressing of his stories. However, Under the Greenwood Tree, in particular, is a delightful story which I’d been hoping to find a copy of for some time. I had not heard of The Trumpet Major before, but it sounds interesting. It is Thomas Hardy’s only historical novel and has been noted for its historical accuracy. Like Far from the Madding Crowd, it has a heroine pursued by three suitors and, in the words of the Wikipedia article, “the ending is not entirely tragic”.

The set is beautiful. It was published by The Folio Society (London, 1991). Each book is a different color, hardbound, and with wood engravings by Peter Reddick. The tops of the pages even match the colors of the covers. It will look very handsome on a shelf — just as such a set ought to. And, as a final advantage, because it was a set, I got it for half price.

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For the rest, I got a book of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches, one of Queen Victoria’s sketches, and a book of paintings by Norman Rockwell. In the children’s section, I picked up prettily illustrated copies of Rumpelstiltskin, Further Adventures of Brer Rabbit, and The Story of Noah and the Ark, from the King James Bible. Finally, I managed to purchase a duplicate of The Age of Innocence, forgetting that I already had a copy. I remembered as soon as I got home. My new copy, however, is handsomely bound and a hardcover.

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Daniel Deronda: Revelations

This book starts out with some much needed explanation of why Daniel was willing to listen to Mordecai. Daniel is “dissatisfied with his neutral life” and wants a special duty or purpose. Into this vacuum comes Mordecai’s ardour and certainty. And then, there must be many people with ideas, “on the look-out for the man who must hear him”, immovable in the face of indifference or incredulity — “like Copernicus and Galileo”. In order to avoid rejecting good, “nothing will do but a capacity to understand the subject-matter on which the immovable man is convinced”. “[W]e are the beginning of the ages” which shall “try the spirits, and see what they are worth”. This line of thinking keeps Daniel from a “contemptuous prejudgment of Mordecai”, in addition to his natural sympathy with suffering and readiness to acknowledge any claim on himself. His contempt for “those who were deaf to Columbus” compels him “to see that I don’t adopt their mistake on a small scale”. On the other hand, Daniel does not want “his course determined by mere contagion, without consent of reason” (ch. 41).

In this frame of mind, Daniel fulfills his promise to visit Mordecai. Together they go to a club of which Mordecai is a member. These people assume that Daniel is familiar with “Mordecai’s way of thinking” and Daniel is “all ear” for any “hints of Mordecai’s opinion”. And it is here that Mordecai finally gives an idea of just what his “vision” is, giving Daniel a clearer picture of what he could be getting into. Mordecai is a Zionist. He has grand ideas of the good having a Jewish nation will do, not only the Jews, but the whole world. He says, “[T]he world will gain as Israel gains. For there will be a community in the van of the East which carries the culture and the sympathies of every great nation in its bosom: there will be a land set for a halting-place of enmities, a neutral ground for the East as Belgium is for the West.” (ch. 42). Obviously, Mordecai’s vision has not been wholly fulfilled. While the State of Israel was established in 1948 (about 70 years after the publication of Daniel Deronda), the idea of it as “a halting-place of enmities” or “a neutral ground for the East” is almost ludicrous nowadays. Daniel is moved by Mordecai’s passion and promises him, “Everything I can in conscience do to make your life effective I will do” (ch. 43).

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Mordecai’s vision was the first major revelation of book six. It leads to the second. From Mordecai’s story, Daniel learns that Mordecai is Mirah’s brother. After telling Mordecai about Mirah, Daniel persuades him to accept a new home closer to the Meyricks, with the view that Mirah will eventually wish to live with him. He leaves Mrs. Meyrick to tell Mirah of the discovery, as he wishes to avoid seeming to make himself important or giving himself the character of a benefactor. Mirah and Mordecai meet and, of course, love and properly appreciate each other.

Another revelation is Gwendolen’s discovery, which comes as a shock to her, that her husband knew that she had met Lydia and heard her story before they were engaged. Grandcourt makes no similar discovery about Gwendolen. He understands only part of her dread of him. He understands her pride, but not her remorse. He thinks she is only jealous of Lydia and cannot imagine her actual feelings.

Unlike Gwendolen, Grandcourt does not repent of his marriage. It has given him an aim in life and “new objects to exert his will upon” (ch. 48). He takes satisfaction in mastering her inward resistance. When he breaks his first promise to her by bringing Lush back, she dares not quarrel. He goes further, and requires her to hear from Lush the details of his will. “‘She is in a desperate rage,’ thought [Grandcourt]. But the rage was silent, and therefore not disagreeable to him. It followed that he turned her chin and kissed her” (ch. 48).

As Gwendolen grows more desperate, she turns again to Daniel and expresses to him her fears of becoming more wicked with hatred. Grandcourt interrupts them before Daniel, feeling helpless to save her, can speak his thought: “Confess everything to your husband; have nothing concealed” (ch. 48). Grandcourt decides to take Gwendolen away yachting in the Mediterranean. He would have denied that he was jealous of Gwendolen’s relation to Daniel, but he is determined not to be fooled.

ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre - Daniel Deronda

The book ends with one final revelation. Daniel receives a letter from his mother who now wishes to see him and he finally learns that Sir Hugo is not his father.

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This is part of the Eliot Project which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are doing. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the sixth book of Daniel Deronda here: “Revelations”.

Screencaps from the 2002 adaptation of Daniel Deronda with Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda, Daniel Evans as Mordecai, and Romola Garai as Gwendolen Harleth.

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Books I Read in November & December 2015

In November I read:

Perdita - Frederick SandysThe Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Ciaran Hinds as Leontes and Eileen Atkins as Paulina, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — “A sad tale’s best for winter.” But this one has a happy ending and, of course, lots of lovely poetry.

“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so,
And own no other function.” (Act 4, Scene 4)

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare — I listened to an audio recording of this in October, but read it in November, as well, as part of a Shakespeare class I am supervising. I had the pleasure of introducing two of my siblings (both in their teens) to this delightful play. They loved it! Benedick was a favorite character and the interactions between him and Beatrice thoroughly enjoyed.

King John, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Michael Feast as King John and Eileen Atkins as Constance, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — This play has lots of rousing war speeches. One interesting passage, not a war speech, occurs when King John wants to be crowned a second time. Pembroke argues that it is superfluous and Salisbury adds,

“Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” (Act 4, Scene2)

This speech is quoted in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. After Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre become engaged, Jane protests against him pouring jewels into her lap and crowning her with roses. She tells him, “[Y]ou might as well put a border of gold lace round that plain pocket handkerchief you have there.” He counters, “I might as well ‘gild refined gold.’  I know it” (chapter 24).

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In December I read:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Amanda Root as Hermia, David Harewood as Oberon, and Roy Hudd as Bottom, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — I listened to this with a group of my youngest siblings. They just finished memorizing four speeches from the play as part of our Shakespeare Class. Not surprisingly, Puck and Bottom were favorite characters.

Jessica - Luke FildesThe Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Trevor Peacock as Shylock, Bill Nighy as Antonio, and Hadyn Gwynne as Portia, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — My favorite scene is the one where Lorenzo and his new wife Jessica sit and talk together in the moonlight. It’s funny and romantic. It also contains the speech where Lorenzo declares that “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils … Let no such man be trusted” (Act 5, Scene 1). Wooster, with the help of Jeeves, quotes this (in an episode of the TV series ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ based on P.G. Wodehouse’s stories) when his neighbours raise objections to the “infernal din” that is his trombone playing.

Earlier in the play (in the first scene, in fact), Lorenzo teasingly complains that Gratiano is such a talker, he never lets him speak. Gratiano agrees: “Well, keep me company but two years more, Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue.” The Merchant of Venice is a mixture of humor, romance, and near-tragedy. It’s ambiguous portrayal of anti-Semitism and its serious story (despite its categorization as a romantic comedy) make The Merchant a bit of a “problem play” — but, of course, only make it more interesting.

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, read by Becky Miller — I started reading this to myself, but ended up listening to most of it via a LibriVox recording. Daniel Deronda is the last novel George Eliot wrote. It is thus the last book on my list to read for the Eliot Project!

Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Sophie Thompson as Imogen, Ben Porter as Posthumus, and Jack Shepherd as Cymbeline, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — Recently, I tried to list all of Shakespeare’s plays from memory. I failed because I forgot Cymbeline. The Arkangel recording is solid, as usual, but it turned Posthumus’s dream sequence (where he is visited by the ghosts of his father, mother, and two brothers and then by Jupiter) into a song. The singing made it take quite a long time and, as the tune wasn’t very interesting, I found it wearisome.

Emma, by Jane Austen — It has been a long time since I have read Emma, but I read it this month in celebration of the bicentennial of its publication. Emma turned 200 on the 23rd of December 2015!

Emma is a wonderful book. It never ceases to delight me. There are so many things I like about it, I will just note one amusing part I don’t think I had particularly noticed before. One day, Mr. Knightley comes to Hartfield on business with Mr. Woodehouse and begins to talk to Emma about the evening before: “‘A very pleasant evening,’ he began, as soon as Mr. Woodhouse had been talked into what was necessary, told that he understood, and the papers swept away …” (chapter 21). And that, I suppose, is how Mr. Woodhouse’s business is generally discharged!

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Looking over my reading list, I realize that, for the past three months, I have read nothing which I have not read before. It was all worth rereading, however.

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Paintings: Perdita by Frederick Sandys (circa 1866) and Jessica by Luke Fildes (1896).

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Emma’s Holiday Bicentennial

“[I]t was a very great event that Mr. Woodhouse should dine out,
on the 24th of December” (ch. 13).

Emma - Hugh Thomson - “Toss them up to the ceiling”On December 23, 1815, Jane Austen’s fourth novel, Emma, was published. Today is its two-hundredth birthday! It is appropriate that it was published during December, as events surrounding the Christmas season are an integral part of the story.

Mr. Elton’s unwelcome proposal to Emma takes place on Christmas Eve, resulting in Emma realizing the dangers of matchmaking. Emma’s sister, Isabella (Mrs. John Knightley), visits with her family over the season, and Emma enjoys being confined to the house with them because of some Christmas snow. Isabella’s husband gives his delightful tirade against holiday engagements on the way to a party at Randalls. When they were all returned safely to Hartfield, Mr. Wodehouse and Isabella enjoyed a bowl of gruel together.

Emma - C. E. Brock - “You and I will have  nice basin of gruel together”There could hardly be a happier creature in the world than Mrs. John Knightley, in this short visit to Hartfield, going about every morning among her old acquaintance with her five children, and talking over what she had done every evening with her father and sister. She had nothing to wish otherwise, but that the days did not pass so swiftly. It was a delightful visit;—perfect, in being much too short. (ch. 13)

So, here’s wishing everyone a delightful time visiting with family — sans traveling in bad weather or being subjected to bowls of gruel — and celebrating Emma’s bicentennial!

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Daniel Deronda: Mordecai

“Your doubts lie as light as dust on my belief.”
(Daniel Deronda, chapter 40)

The big events of book five are Daniel Deronda seeing Gwendolen after she is married and his meeting with Mordecai. Though Gwendolen is as much a major character as Daniel, it is appropriate that the book is named after the latter, as he is the central character, connecting the various storylines.

I was reminded of Will Ladislaw by some of the little details George Eliot gives about Daniel Deronda in this book. Daniel playing in the snow with the Mallinger girls during the Christmas holidays evokes the picture of Will Ladislaw putting on puppet shows for a troop of children in Middlemarch. Actions such as this and his love of boating are a good balance to all Daniel’s contemplativeness.

Daniel’s pity for and interest in Gwendolen only strengthen after her marriage. He is sorry for her, suspecting remorse and disillusionment to be the source of her unhappiness, and that she has little to combat them with: “[I]t seems to me that she has a dreary lack of the ideas that might help her” (ch. 35). Gwendolen feels this herself and turns to Daniel for help.

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After every humiliation, Gwendolen tried to regain her hold on “her old supports”: proud concealment, new excitements to keep her from thinking, trust that she could do some deed of reparation to quiet her self-blame and prevent punishment, becoming hardened so she will no longer feel her misery. To Daniel, however, she softens and from him she seeks a better way.

Daniel advises Gwendolen to cultivate affection and seek knowledge. He tells her that “affection is the broadest basis of good in life” (ch. 35). He says to “Try to care about something in this vast world besides the gratification of small selfish desires. Try to care for what is best in thought and action — something that is good apart from the accidents of your own lot” (ch. 36) — even if it is only for the sake of private joy. He concludes, “The refuge you are needing from personal trouble is the higher, the religious life, which holds an enthusiasm for something more than our own appetites and vanities. … the higher life must be a region in which the affections are clad with knowledge” (ch. 36).

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Daniel is educating Gwendolen, but the book also suggests that she will teach him something, as well. Despite the closeness of their ages, Gwendolen looks up to Daniel as if he were a priest and, “Those who trust us educate us. And perhaps in that ideal consecration of Gwendolen’s, some education was being prepared for Deronda” (ch. 35).

I wonder what Grandcourt and Gwendolen’s marriage would have been like if she had not known about Mrs. Glasher. His reason for marrying her was mainly the desire to completely master a proud, spirited woman “who would have liked to master him” (ch. 28). However willful Gwendolen was, though, she had underlying fears, causing her to be easily cowed. Her choice to break her promise to Lydia Glasher brought those fears to the front. Lydia wrote to her, “‘Will [Grandcourt] think you have any right to complain when he has made you miserable? You took him with your eyes open. The willing wrong you have done me will be your curse.’ … With the reading of that letter had begun her husband’s empire of fear” (ch. 35). Gwendolen’s guilt was her husband’s major hold over her — that and her pride, wishing for concealment. In a very real sense, Lydia was the grave in which Gwendolen’s happiness was buried. I do wonder how Grandcourt would have subdued Gwendolen if it had not been for her foreknowledge of Lydia.

In the last book, it was stated that, “Persons attracted [Deronda] … in proportion to the possibility of his defending them, rescuing them, telling upon their lives with some sort of redeeming influence” (ch. 28). It is in this way that he befriends Hans, rescues Mirah, interests himself in Gwendolen, and, now, is intrigued by the sickly, intense Mordecai.

Mordecai is certainly not shy about making claims on strangers. Mordecai is dying without being able to fulfill his lofty ambitions. He has longed for someone to take over his vision. His picture of the ideal man became more and more distinct and, when he meets Daniel, he thinks it is realized. The third time he sees Daniel, he tells him, “I have been waiting for you these five years” (ch. 40). He calls him, “my new life — my new self — who will live when this breath is all breathed out.” He tells Daniel that he has written much, but that it is all in Hebrew and he is too weak now to translate it. Daniel offers to help him publish his work. “That is not enough,” Mordecai tells him. “You must be not only a hand to me, but a soul — believing my belief — being moved by my reasons — hoping my hope — seeing the vision I point to — beholding a glory where I behold it! … You have come in time, … you will take the sacred inheritance of the Jew.”

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When Daniel reminds him that he is not Jewish, Mordecai is not shaken. He is certain that it will be revealed that Daniel is Jewish. Daniel doesn’t want to give Mordecai what it is obvious would be a severe blow, but, on the other hand, doesn’t want to feed hopes that would only make the blow more severe later. He gently tries to make Mordecai understand that he may be under an illusion, but Mordecai’s confidence in him is not shaken, “So it might be with my trust, if you would make it an illusion. But you will not.” (ch. 40). In all this, Mordecai never even tells Daniel just what his “vision” is, or what he wants from him.

Of course, the fact that Daniel does not conclude that Mordecai is raving needs explanation: “His nature was too large, too ready to conceive regions beyond his own experience, to rest at once in the easy explanation, “madness,” whenever a consciousness showed some fullness and conviction where his own was blank. It accorded with his habitual disposition that he should meet rather than resist any claim on him in the shape of another’s need” (ch. 40). So Daniel agrees to meet again with Mordecai and hopes to be as much help and comfort as possible, despite being careful not to bind himself to what he may not be able to fulfill.

Mordecai comes into Daniel’s life at a time when Daniel is feeling exasperated by the general assumption that, because he thinks so much of others, he wants nothing for himself. This is especially frustrating to him when he discovers that his friend Hans is in love with Mirah, and doesn’t in the least consider Daniel a rival. “It is one thing to be resolute in placing one’s self out of the question, and another to endure that others should perform that exclusion for us” (ch. 37). And, then, he has no one to confide in. “He had always been leaned on instead of being invited to lean. Sometimes he had longed for the sort of friend to whom he might possibly unfold his experience … he had found it impossible to reciprocate confidences with one who looked up to him. But he had no expectation of meeting the friend he imagined”. I think the visionary Mordecai may, in time, at least partly fulfill this desire of Daniel’s.

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This is part of the Eliot Project which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are doing. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the fifth book of Daniel Deronda here: “Mordecai”.

Screencap from the 2002 adaptation of Daniel Deronda with Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda, Romola Garai as Gwendolen Harleth, and Daniel Evans as Mordecai.

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