November 2011, Part 2
5 – Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment also has a flood in it. Appropriately, though, it's mainly a flood in someone's mind.
Svidrigailov, one of Raskolnikov's tormentors, has exhausted his last reserves of sanity and will soon kill himself. The night before he commits suicide, he stands at a window in a Petersburg hotel room (this is the Constance Garnett translation):
Now drops of rain flew in at the window from the trees and bushes; it was dark as in a cellar, so that he could only just make out some dark blurs of objects. Svidrigailov, bending down with elbows on thewindow-sill, gazed for five minutes into the darkness; the boom of a cannon, followed by a second one, resounded in the darkness of the night. "Ah, the signal! The river is overflowing," he thought. "By morning it will be swirling down the street in the lower parts, flooding the basements and cellars. The cellar rats will swim out, and men will curse in the rain and wind as they drag their rubbish to their upperstoreys..."
Given Svidrigailov's situation, his vision of the overflowing river inevitably recalls Pushkin's Bronze Horseman. The poem, revered by Russians, describes a man driven insane when he's caught in a Petersburg flood. Even after the flood is over, the storm rages in his head. He believes he can always hear the wild winds and rising waters of the Neva. Finally he's possessed by a hallucination involving the bronze horseman, the giant equestrian statue of Peter the Great. He imagines the statue coming to life. It starts to chase him, forces him into total madness. The poem closes with his dead body found in a hut that's been floating on the water since the time of the flood.
The poem's central narrative -- a flood leading to madness and death -- feeds directly into Svidrigailov's mind. He doesn't see the flooding here, only anticipates it. He then decides to stay awake till dawn. Earlier that night, he has sunk into drowsiness, has imagined the corpse of a girl who has drowned. The drowned corpse foretells or partly generates his thoughts of the flood. Now he dreams while thinking he's still awake. Like Pushkin's character, Svidrigailov has begun to take illusions for reality. He bends down in the dark, finds a child hiding by the hotel room's cupboard. She has "the shameless face of a French harlot."
At five in the morning he goes outside. He can see almost nothing. The city is covered in a thick mist. Yet this doesn't stop him from continuing to imagine the flood:
Svidrigailov walked along the slippery dirty wooden pavement towards the Little Neva. He was picturing the waters of the Little Neva swollen in the night, Petrovsky Island, the wet paths, the wet grass, the wet trees and bushes...
Svidrigailov is trapped in his brain. The imagined flood is all around him. His thoughts have driven out his experiences. He hasn't dissolved into complete fantasy, but his inner obsessions are more vivid for him than the city's mist. His only escape will be to shoot himself with the gun he carries.
He's a feverish, haunted character. In the novel's storyline, he seems almost to have sprung directly from Ralskonikov's hysteria and distress.
Raskolnikov, even before he kills the pawnbroker, is already "violently agitated." In his hyped-up state, he overhears some "ordinary youthful talk" between a student and an officer. They speculate on the good that would come if the old woman were murdered. The student says:
"Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? For one life thousands would be saved from corruption and decay. One death, and a hundred lives in exchange -- it's simple arithmetic!"
Raskolnikov wonders "why he had happened to hear such a discussion and such ideas at the very moment when his own brain was just conceiving... the very same ideas." We wonder too. We wonder so much that we might think Raskolnikov's mind, like Svidrigailov's, is distorting his impressions of the events around him the way a black hole distorts everything within the pull of its mass.
The spikes and troughs of Raskolnikov's agitation and disconnectedness fluctuate throughout the novel but seldom disappear. When he approaches the old woman's door to kill her, his single moment of clarity stands out for him because "his mind was as it were clouded" and "he was almost unconscious of his body." Swinging the axe at her, he is "scarcely conscious of himself." Back in his room, he remains incapable of steady reasoning: "Scraps and shreds of thoughts were simply swarming in his brain, but he could not catch at one, he could not rest on one, in spite of all his efforts." In part two, he falls ill: "he was in a feverish state, sometimes delirious, sometimes half-conscious." When his health improves, he walks the streets. He's still incapable of any clear reckoning of what he's done: "He did not know and did not think where he was going... He drove thought away; thought tortured him."
He confesses the murders to Zametov. Embarrassed, Zametov doesn't believe him. Raskolnikov then leaves, "trembling all over from a sort of wild hysterical sensation, in which there was an element of insufferable rapture." At the same time, he is "gloomy and terribly tired."
Rapturous hysteria coupled with grim exhaustion: this is Raskolnikov's reward for becoming a murderer. The combination is a good match for Dostoevsky's literary skills. It releases his genius for dramatizing thoughts and emotions as they flux and buckle under the strain of actual experience. We might or might not be impressed by Raskolnikov's thoughts on Napoleon. We might or might not find Sonia's Christian viewpoint appealing. Dostoevsky hated Raskolnikov's Napoleon worship, believed fervently in Sonia's suffering-drenched Christianity. But the novel doesn't depend on our agreement with one perspective or the other. Emotionally, psychologically, Raskolnikov's college-boy philosophical conceits are totally convincing. At the same time, so are his guilt and his convoluted procession toward a new, largely reactionary viewpoint.
Dostoevsky takes ideas seriously. He's ready to make a fool out of himself over them. You can tell he cares about Raskolnikov's theories. Because of this, he makes us believe that Raskolnikov and the other characters are acting in powerful tension with their convictions, have worked their convictions into their lives.
This can make Dostoevsky seem naive, especially since he doesn't merely present his theories but takes clear sides, as in his preference for Sonia's beliefs over Raskolnikov's. Writers who outclass Dostoevsky in certain forms of craft and worldliness can be withering toward him. Hemingway said you couldn't reread any of the Dostoevsky novels. He felt they didn't stand up to close scrutiny. Nabokov mocked Dostoevsky's reliance on the conventions of Gothic and Romantic literature: the cat-and-mouse detective games, the melodramatic sentimentality, the hyperactive plot twists, the stagey entrances and exits of the characters.
These complaints have some truth to them. They're also unimportant. Since Dostoevsky is one of the first serious novelists many of us read, and since we might react to his ideas with an enthusiasm that embarrasses us later, we're maybe in danger of undervaluing him when we become adults. Stripped of his Great Ideas glamour, Dostoevsky can feel a bit silly. We start to see what Hemingway and Nabokov saw: the sloppy writing, the sensationalism, the wholesale borrowings from Hugo and other authors. Then there's the further difficulty when we find out more about him as a propagandist and a bigot, information that can and should make us ask whether we really want to have anything to do with him.
Still, I just read Crime and Punishment again to prepare for this piece and I couldn't believe how terrific it is. Yes, it has flaws, but they're not so different from the flaws in Shakespeare. If Dostoevsky relies on clichés, he turns that reliance to his advantage, just as Hamlet uses and transcends the clichés of the revenge tragedy. If Sonia is that lamest of stock figures, a noble prostitute, she has a fully imagined mind and personality, qualities that drive her off the usual track of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold. And if the entire Dostoevskyan artistic method is grandiosely theatrical, well, I can't see anything fatally wrong in a theatricality that releases the voices of so many astonishing characters.
With Raskolnikov, the theatricality is built into his situation. He's theatrical because he has made himself theatrical. He has cast himself in a flashy part he lacks the monstrosity to play, feels depressed because he's not single-minded enough to incarnate the epic evil he thinks he admires. He's an intellectual, but he discovers what so many of Dostoevsky's characters learn: ideas can be a form of madness, unpredictable and dangerous in their interaction with everything we feel and do.
This brings us to a key Dostoevskyan suspicion about our nature. George Eliot assumes a certain degree of rationality in most of us. Dostoevsky assumes a certain degree of irrationality. One character says to Raskolnikov: "In that sense we are certainly all not infrequently like madmen, but with the slight difference that the deranged are somewhat madder, for we must draw a line. A normal man, it is true, hardly exists. Among dozens -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- hardly one is to be met with."
Whatever the soundness of this as a general proposition, it's true for most of the characters in Dostoevsky's novels. It's particularly true for Raskolnikov. Young readers can nearly always relate to him. That's part of the secret of the book's popularity with teens and tweens. His mix of self-aggrandizing ideology and a wildly romanticized taste for violence is a brand of madness so common to us when we're young that it can hardly be dismissed as strange or unexpected. Rationality -- the Eliot angle -- tempts us to say that in real life Raskolnikov would think about murder but never act on it. Yet by now we've endured enough schoolyard shootings and campus killings to know that young people can indeed talk themselves into bloodshed for no very good reason. Maybe all of us have the potential, in the wrong circumstances, to think our way into committing murder as long as our feelings (of inadequacy, ambition, self-pity) create a receptive enough soil for the notion.
Raskolnikov is a supremely usual young man. His murders are acts of madness, but not, by Dostoevsky's lights, acts that divorce him from our understanding. We're never allowed to distance ourselves from him simply by saying he's insane. Instead, we're encouraged to see just how much of his craziness we have inside us, how much he resembles us. Murder hasn't made him a stranger to us. He has merely brought our common potential for violence and megalomania out into the open.
Dostoevsky makes much finer distinctions in deranged behavior than most writers would ever think to notice. This is where Svidrigailov comes in. His madness puts Raskolnikov's in clearer perspective. Since the murder,Raskolnikov has been beset by irrationality: all of that trembling and feverishness and delirious hysteria, as well as his stretches of exaggerated indifference and paralyzing gloom. Since his intellectual views are described to us in such detail, the novel can show us what happens to those views when they're breaking down, attacked by guilt and doubt. Dostoevsky's interest in ideas always includes an interest in the illogical twists and backtrackings and dissolutions of our opinions. Inside Raskolnikov's mind, the rational and the irrational turn around each other and mingle until it's hard to tell which is which.
Svidrigailov appears at the end of part three. Raskolnikov has just finished a partly coherent, partly disjointed soliloquy unpacking his increasingly frantic interpretations and sentiments. He loses consciousness. Then he finds himself on the street even though he doesn't remember how he got there. He is "distinctly aware of having come out with a purpose, of having to do something in a hurry, but what it was he had forgotten." A man beckons him. Raskolnikov follows. The situation grows more bizarre. Then Raskolnikov wakes up. A stranger is in his room. Raskolnikov wonders if he's still dreaming, wonders if the stranger is another illusion brought forth by his delirium. Then the stranger introduces himself as Svidrigailov.
He's interested in Raskolnikov's sister, Dounia. Not long ago, Svidrigailov had tried to seduce Dounia when she was the governess in his home. His background is violent. He is rumored to have killed his wife. He's also rumored to have beaten her brutally. He denies her murder but wonders aloud if he didn't contribute to it. He then says he only beat her twice but also mentions "a third time of a very ambiguous character." Nothing that he expresses is quite straightforward: it all has a dark, mocking undertone. He claims his wife's ghost has visited him. Then he draws Raskolnikov into one of those flamboyantly absurd conversations at which Dostoevsky excels:
"Didn't I say that there was something in common between us, eh?"
"You never said so!" Raskolnikov cried sharply and with heat.
"I thought I did. When I came in and saw you lying with your eyes shut, pretending, I said to myself at once, 'here's the man.'"
"What do you mean by 'the man'? What are you talking about?" cried Raskolnikov.
"What do I mean? I really don't know," Svidrigailov muttered ingenuously, as though he, too, were puzzled.
At first Raskolnikov worries less about Svidrigailov than about the creepy lawyer Luzhin and the inspector Porfiry Petrovitch. Luzhin is engaged to Dounia and resents Raskolnikov's opposition to the marriage. PorfiryPetrovitch, a Russian Javert, spars with Raskolnikov and pressures him to confess to the murders. The inspector's manipulations are another cliché, but Dostoevsky carries them off with great skill and humor.
Svidrigailov swells in importance to the novel's plot because of Raskolnikov's confession to Sonia. The confession is a superb chapter. Raskolnikov pursues different rationalizations, abandons them, repents his crimes, calls himself a louse. Then he rises up with renewed arrogance: "Perhaps I've been unfair to myself... perhaps after all I am a man and not a louse and I've been in too great a hurry to condemn myself." Sonia is horrified. Her mingled sensations of pity and disgust are some of the most convincing reactions in the novel. She's the only major character who truly cares about the deaths of Lizaveta and the old woman. She treats the deaths not as philosophical abstractions or legal issues but as the brutal destruction of individual lives. A social outcast, Sonia has an immediate visceral abhorrence for any view that suggests some lives are less valuable than others, some murders less objectionable. Yet it's also believable that she would want to stand by Raskolnikov as she urges him to go to the police and admit his crimes. Desperate for support in her own difficulties, she's passionately willing to support Raskolnikov in his.
Unfortunately, Svidrigailov has overheard the confession. He tells this to Raskolnikov just after giving money and assistance to Sonia's family. Raskolnikov becomes even more unhinged:
From the time of Svidrigailov's too menacing and unmistakable words in Sonia's room at the moment of Katerina Ivanovna's death, the normal working of his mind seemed to break down. But although this new fact caused him extreme uneasiness, Raskolnikov was in no hurry for an explanation of it. At times, finding himself in a solitary and remote part of town, in some wretched eating-house, sitting alone lost in thought, hardly knowing how he had come there, he suddenly thought of Svidrigailov. He recognized suddenly, clearly, and with dismay that he ought at once to come to an understanding with that man and to make what terms he could. Walking outside the city gates, he positively fancied that they had fixed a meeting there, that he was waiting for Svidrigailov. Another time he woke up before daybreak lying on the ground under some bushes and could not at first understand how he had come there.
It's Raskolnikov who is here drifting into the hallucinatory madness of The Bronze Horseman. He doesn't see it yet, but he's gliding toward the phantasmagoric state in which Svidrigailov has become imprisoned, the claustrophobic, self-destructive imagination of the uncaught murderer. Svidrigailov is, after all, a killer and wife-beater who faces no danger of being arrested: he has apparently been cleared of any responsibility for the wife's death or earlier injuries.
After another mentally bruising discussion with the police inspector, Raskolnikov goes to see Svidrigailov. He warns Svidrigailov to abandon any designs on Dounia. Svidrigailov describes his marriage to his dead wife, and his old attempt to seduce Dounia. He denies, in his double-edged way, that he will do anything to Dounia now, deflects the suggestion that he might expose Raskolnikov's crimes.
Svidrigailov then rushes off to talk with Dounia directly. He tells her about Raskolnikov's confession. Interestingly, he does his best to justify the killings in the same philosophical terms Raskolnikov has used for them. "And as for the murder," Svidrigailov says, "he will do all kinds of good deeds yet, to atone for it... He may become a great man yet." Then Svidrigailov tells Dounia she must sleep with him or he'll turn Raskolnikov over to the police. She takes out a gun. He dares her to shoot him. She does. The shot grazes his temple. She throws the gun aside. He picks it up.
This is the gun he brings with him to the hotel the night of his vision of the flood. He has made up his mind to kill himself. The guilt and self-destructiveness that press him toward his death are the same guilt and self-destructiveness that afflict Raskolnikov. Svidrigailov is what Raskolnikov might become if he were to succeed in evading punishment, if he were to refuse Sonia's command to give himself up.
In his final moments, as he walks through the Petersburg mist and pictures the flood he can't see, Svidrigailov engages in one more mischievous prank, one more mingling of fantasy and fact. He talks to a soldier on the street, a man in a copper Achilles helmet. During their conversation, Svidrigailov implicitly equates death with America. Dostoevsky considered America a mock-paradise, at least as bad as Europe, or possibly worse since so many Russians thought they could start over there:
"I'm going to foreign parts, brother."
"To foreign parts?"
Svidrigailov took out the revolver and cocked it. Achilles raised his eyebrows.
"I say, this is not the place for such jokes!"
"Why shouldn't it be the place?"
"Because it isn't."
"Well, brother, I don't mind that. It's a good place. When you are asked, you just say he was going, he said, to America."
He put the revolver to his right temple.
"You can't do it here, it's not the right place," cried Achilles, rousing himself, his eyes growing bigger and bigger.
Svidrigailov pulled the trigger.
6 – Middlemarch and Late Dostoevsky
The two long novels Dostoevsky wrote while abroad with Anna Grigoryevna were The Idiot and The Possessed. During these same years, between 1867 and 1871, Eliot published Felix Holt and started onMiddlemarch.
Felix Holt and The Possessed share a general subject: political reform with a violent edge. I've never made it past the first few pages of Felix Holt, which are mind-bogglingly dull. The Possessed, on the other hand, is the first Dostoevsky novel I ever read, and I can still remember how much it excited me. It's a misshapen, explosive book, bulging with chaotic characters and even more chaotic activities. The Idiot, in contrast, is more neatly and efficiently organized. Myshkin grows from page to page and ripens into Dostoevksy's single most intriguing figure: a moving and perplexing combination of Christ and Quixote.
Middlemarch, serialized in 1871-72, is a lot like The Mill on the Floss, only better. It has the same psychological sophistication, only more of it, with greater depth across a greater range of characters in a greater variety of settings. It has the same humor, with funnier jokes, and the same structural and thematic balance, on a larger scale and with more satisfying symmetry. I've never met anyone who read Middlemarch to the end and didn't admire it. As my father used to say about the '55 Chevy, his favorite classic car: "What's not to like?" Eliot masters her material so completely and pleasurably that we might take her a bit for granted. You see something similar, I think, in our almost bland acceptance of the astonishing greatness of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky's final novel, from 1880. Many authors dream of producing one great climactic work containing everything that's best about their earlier writing, yet few novelists succeed in bringing it off. Middlemarch and Karamazov have a special serenity about them, the unrushed grandeur of books where the author has much to show us and has found all the right ways to do it. This is especially surprising with Dostoevsky. Who would have thought that, after his career of churning out prose as frenzied as his characters' actions, he would produce this stately dissection of three brothers and a murder trial, with all the power of Crime and Punishment but with much less sloppiness and dramatic overkill? As for Middlemarch, the young medical reformer Lydgate and the idealistic Dorothea Brooke are two of my favorite characters. The shrewd, heartbreaking humor of Eliot's scrutiny reveals the splendor inside both of them, the flawed yet genuine majesty that nobody around them can quite see. The celebrated closing sentences give Dorothea her proper due and tie together the entire vast story:
Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
7 – Daniel Deronda and Dostoevsky's Anti-Semitism
Dostoevsky's anti-Semitism is clear from the novels, but even if it weren't, the Diary takes aggressive measures to remove any doubt.
The March 1877 section asserts, with blithe malice, that "Jewry thrives in places where the people are still ignorant or not free or economically backward -- that's where they're in clover!" The local Jewish communities, Dostoevsky claims, do their best to exploit these places, and have always abused any rights they've been given:
And instead of using their influence to raise the level of development, to encourage knowledge, to give rise to economic competence among the native population -- instead of this, the Jew, wherever he has settled, has humbled and corrupted the people even more; humaneness in such places declined even further; the level of education fell still lower; hopeless, inhuman poverty spread even more abominably, and with it, despair. Ask the native population in our border areas: what is it that drives the Jew and what is it that has driven him for so many centuries? You will always get the same answer: mercilessness. "They've been driven for so many centuries by their mercilessness to us, solely by their thirst for our sweat and our blood." And, in truth, the entire activity of the Jews in these border areas of ours has consisted only in making the native population as hopelessly dependent on them as possible by taking advantage of the local laws. [Emphasis in original.]
Dostoevsky adds that the Jewish attitude "is imbued with precisely this merciless spirit toward everyone who is not a Jew, a disrespect for every tribe and nation and for every human creature that is not a Jew." In Europe, he says, Jews are already supreme, and their rise is part of the collapse of the Christian virtues that used to moderate Europe's worst tendencies:
But mercilessness to the lower masses, the decline of brotherhood, the exploitation of the poor by the rich -- oh, of course, all these things existed before as well, and they always did, but -- but they were not elevated to the level of higher truth and science; they were condemned by Christianity, while now, on the contrary, they are elevated to a virtue. And so it is not without significance that the Jews reign over all the stock exchanges there; it is not without significance that they control the credit, and not without significance, I repeat, that they are the ones who control the whole of international politics as well; and what will happen hereafter is, of course, known to the Jews themselves: their reign, their complete reign, is drawing nigh!
Dostoevsky then demonstrates his eagerness to uphold his bigotry no matter how ludicrous his stance becomes:
Our opponents will point out that Jews, on the contrary, are impoverished, impoverished everywhere, even, and in Russia particularly; that only the very top level of the Jews are wealthy -- the bankers and the kings of the stock market -- while almost nine-tenths of the rest of the Jews are, literally, beggars who rush about looking for a crust of bread, offering their services as middlemen, looking for a place to pick up a kopeck for bread. Yes, that's true, it seems, but what does it signify? Does this not mean precisely that in the very work of the Jews (I mean in the work of the overwhelming majority of them, at least), in their very exploitation, there is something wrong, abnormal, something unnatural that bears its own punishment within it?... The Jew keeps shouting that there are good people among them as well. Oh, heavens! Is that really the point? We aren't even talking about good or bad people now... We are talking about the whole and its idea; we are talking about Yiddism and about the idea of the Yids, which is creeping over the whole world in place of "unsuccessful" Christianity...
And so on, for many pages. Dostoevsky's ravings are so overwrought they seem to have been written by a madman: it's no wonder the author of the Diary could accept Raskolnikov's craziness as something ordinary and relatively restrained. It's also important to remember that Dostoevsky was addressing an audience likely to be inflamed by his statements, and to act on its bigotry with violence. The Diary was one of his most popular works. Moreover, its public installments appeared only a few years after the Odessa pogroms of 1871, and only a few years before the particularly widespread and destructive period of pogroms starting in 1881.
While Dostoevsky was working on the Diary, Eliot was working on Daniel Deronda. Like Romola, her remarkable evocation of Renaissance Florence, Daniel Deronda carries Eliot far away from the provincial English towns of Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss. It reproduces some of the restless elements of the cosmopolitan and international life she led after moving to London. Always a diligent researcher, she takes on the massive topics of Anglo-Jewish society and of contemporary Zionism, alongside the more traditional novelistic topics of English high society and the Wessex gentry. Daniel is our guide to the Jewish lines of the novel. On the way to discovering his personal Jewish lineage, he comes to know the young singer Mirah and her older brother, Mordecai. Withered and suffering from tuberculosis, Mordecai is a Zionist, and remains to this day the novel's most controversial character. (Edward Said, examining the Zionist themes in Daniel Deronda, has written perceptively about Eliot's unconscious blindness and condescension in her conception of "the peoples of the East.") Running beside Daniel's story is the story of Gwendolen Harleth. Gwendolen's marriage to the manipulative Grandcourt serves as the pivot for Eliot's satire of modern England. The Gwendolen plotline also throws into relief the novel's much more sympathetic presentation of its Jewish characters.
Daniel Deronda is one of those novels you love because you know the author was aware of the impossibility of what she was attempting and yet went ahead with it anyway. The novel is torn apart by the tension between Eliot's desire to create positive images of Jewish culture and her desire to deploy her usual gifts of satire and psychological criticism. She doesn't want to make Daniel impossibly good but she also doesn't want to play into any of the ugly stereotypes that Dostoevsky perpetuated. I think she generally succeeds in striking a credible balance, but the strain of the effort is constantly apparent, and Daniel Deronda is much more self-conscious and faltering than her other novels. The tradeoff is that this is her only book to have some of the extreme contradictions that quicken Dostoevsky's writing, the thrilling turmoil of work in endlessly roiling conflict with itself.
In George Eliot: The Critical Heritage, David Carroll has gathered many of the reviews that came out with the publication of each of Eliot's books. The volume includes the piece Henry James wrote on Daniel Derondafor the Atlantic Monthly in 1876. James envisions a conversation among three readers. Pulcheria hates Daniel Deronda. Theodora loves it. Constantius likes some things about it but not others. Together, they hold a discussion that captures the mixed reactions most of us have to the novel, the ebb and flow that Eliot has set loose in our imagination:
Theodora. A book like Daniel Deronda becomes part of one's life; one lives in it or alongside of it. I don't hesitate to say that I have been living in this one for the last eight months. It is such a complete world George Eliot builds up; it is so vast, so much-embracing! It has such firm earth and such an ethereal sky. You can turn into it and lose yourself in it.
Pulcheria. Oh, easily, and die of cold and starvation!
Theodora. I have been very near to poor Gwendolen and very near to dear little Mirah. And the dear little Meyricks, also; I know them intimately well.
Pulcheria. The Meyricks, I grant you, are the best thing in the book.
Theodora. They are a delicious family; I wish they lived in Boston. I consider Herr Klesmer almost Shakesperian, and his wife is almost as good. I have been near to poor, grand Mordecai—
Pulcheria. Oh, reflect, my dear, not too near.
Theodora. And as for Deronda himself, I freely confess that I am consumed with a hopeless passion for him. He is the most irresistible man in the literature of fiction.
Pulcheria. He is not a man at all!
The discussion of the relationship between Daniel and Gwendolen shows the three readers in fruitful disagreement:
Theodoria. And the advice he gives Gwendolyn, the things he says to her, they are the very essence of wisdom, of warm human wisdom, knowing life and feeling it. 'Keep your fear as a safeguard, it may make consequences passionately present to you.' What can be better than that?
Pulcheria. Nothing, perhaps. But what can be drearier than a novel in which the function of the hero -- young, handsome, and brilliant -- is to give didactic advice, in a proverbial form, to the young, beautiful, and brilliant heroine?
Constantius. That is not putting it quite fairly. The function of Deronda is to have Gwendolen fall in love with him, to say nothing of falling in love himself with Mirah.
Pulcheria. Yes, the less said about her the better. All we know about Mirah is that she has delicate rings of hair, sits with her feet crossed, and talks like a book.
Constantius gives us the most substantial evaluation of Daniel Deronda. His conclusion is the one that might best serve as the final word on the novel:
Constantius. Yes, I think there is little art in Deronda, but I think there is a vast amount of life. In life without art you can find your account; but art without life is a poor affair. The book is full of the world.