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Constantius. Say then I take it the wrong way;
that is why it has never made my fortune. But I
do try to understand ; it is my my (He pauses.)

Theodora. I know what you want to say. Your
strong side.

Pulcheria. And what is his weak side ?

Theodora. He writes novels.

Constantius. I have written one. You can't call
that a side. It's a little facet, at the most.

Pulcheria. You talk as if you were a diamond.
I should like to read it not aloud !

Constantius. You can't read it softly enough.
But you, Theodora, you didn't find our book too
" protracted " ?

Theodora. I should have liked it to continue in-
definitely, to keep coming out always, to be one of
the regular things of life.

Pulcheria. Oh, come here, little dog ! To think
that Daniel Deronda might be perpetual when you,
little short-nosed darling, can't last at the most more
than nine or ten years !


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 a firm earth and such
an ethereal sky. You can turn into it and lose your-
self in it.

PulcJieria. Oh, easily, and die of cold and star-
vation !

Theodora. I have been very near to poor Gwen
dolen and very near to that sweet Mirah. And the
dear little Meyricks also; I know them intimately

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 Shakespearean, 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.

Theodora. I remember nothing more beautiful than
the description of his childhood, and that picture of
his lying on the grass in the abbey cloister, a beau-
tiful seraph-faced boy, with a lovely voice, reading


history and asking his Scotch tutor why the Popes
had so many nephews. He must have been de-
lightfully handsome.

Pulcheria. Never, my dear, with that nose ! I
am sure he had a nose, and I hold that the author
has shown great pusillanimity in her treatment
of it. She has quite shirked it. The picture you
speak of is very pretty, but a picture is not a
person. And why is he always grasping his
coat-collar, as if he wished to hang himself up?
The author had an uncomfortable feeling that she
must make him do something real, something visible
and sensible, and she hit upon that clumsy figure.
I don't see what you mean by saying you have been
near those people ; that is just what one is not.
They produce no illusion. They are described and
analysed to death, but we don't see them nor hear
them nor touch them. Deronda clutches his coat-
collar, Mirah crosses her feet, Mordecai talks like
the Bible ; but that doesn't make real figures of
them. They have no existence outside of the
author's study.

Theodora. If you mean that they are nobly im-
aginative I quite agree with you ; and if they say
nothing to your own imagination the fault is yours,
not theirs.

Pulcheria. Pray don't say they are Shakespearean
again. Shakespeare went to work another way.

Constantius. I think you are both in a measure
right ; there is a distinction to be drawn. There


are in Daniel Deronda the figures based upon obser-
vation and the figures based upon invention. This
distinction, I know, is rather a rough one. There
are no figures in any novel that are pure observation,
and none that are pure invention. But either ele-
ment may preponderate, and in those cases in which
invention has preponderated George Eliot seems to
me to have achieved at the best but so many brilliant

Theodora. And are you turning severe ? I thought
you admired her so much.

Constantius. I defy any one to admire her more,
but one must discriminate. Speaking brutally, I
consider Daniel Deronda the weakest of her books.
It strikes me as very sensibly inferior to Middle-
march. I have an immense opinion of Middlemarch.

Pulcheria. Not having been obliged by circum-
stances to read Middlemarch to other people, I didn't
read it at all. I couldn't read it to myself. I tried,
but I broke down. I appreciated Eosamond, but I
couldn't believe in Dorothea.

Theodora (very gravely). So much the worse for
you, Pulcheria. I have enjoyed Daniel Deronda
because I had enjoyed Middlemarch. Why should
you throw Middlemarch up against her ? It seems
to me that if a book is fine it is fine. I have en-
joyed Deronda deeply, from beginning to end.

Constantiiis. I assure you, so have I. I can read
nothing of George Eliot's without enjoyment. I
even enjoy her poetry, though I don't approve of it.


In whatever she writes I enjoy her intelligence ; it
has space and air, like a fine landscape. The intel-
lectual brilliancy of Daniel Deronda strikes me as very
great, in excess of anything the author has done. In
the first couple of numbers of the book this ravished
me. I delighted in its deep, rich English tone, in
which so many notes seemed melted together.

Pukheria. The tone is not English, it is German.

Constantius. I understand that if Theodora will
allow me to say so. Little by little I began to feel
that I cared less for certain notes than for others. I
say it under my breath I began to feel an occa-
sional temptation to skip. Roughly speaking, all
the Jewish burden of the story tended to weary me ;
it is this part that produces the poor illusion which
I agree with Pulcheria in finding. Gwendolen and
Grandcourt are admirable Gwendolen is a master-
piece. She is known, felt and presented, psycho-
logically, altogether in the grand manner. Beside
her and beside her husband a consummate picture
of English brutality refined and distilled (for Grand-
court is before all things brutal), Deronda, Mordecai
and Mirah are hardly more than shadows. They
and their fortunes are all improvisation. I don't
say anything against improvisation. When it suc-
ceeds it has a surpassing charm. But it must suc-
ceed. With George Eliot it seems to me to succeed,
but a little less than one would expect of her talent.
The story of Deronda's life, his mother's story,
Mirah's story, are quite the sort of thing one finds


in George Sand. But they are really not so good as
they would be in George Sand. George Sand would
have carried it off with a lighter hand.

Theodora,. Oh, Constantius, how can you compare
George Eliot's novels to that woman's ? It is sun-
light and moonshine.

Pulcheria. I really think the two writers are very
much alike. They are both very voluble, both
addicted to moralising and philosophising a tout bout
de champ, both inartistic.

Constantius. I see what you mean. But George
Eliot is solid, and George Sand is liquid. When
occasionally George Eliot liquefies as in the history
of Deronda's birth, and in that of Mirah it is not
to so crystalline a clearness as the author of Consuelo
and Andr6. Take Mirah's long narrative of her
adventures, when she unfolds them to Mrs. Meyrick.
It is arranged, it is artificial, ancien jeu, quite in
the George Sand manner. But George Sand would
have done it better. The false tone would have
remained, but it would have been more persuasive.
It would have been a fib, but the fib would have
been neater.

Theodora. I don't think fibbing neatly a merit,
and I don't see what is to be gained by such com-
parisons. George Eliot is pure and George Sand is
impure ; how can you compare them ? As for the
Jewish element in Deronda, I think it a very fine
idea ; it's a noble subject. Wilkie Collins and Miss
Braddon would not have thought of it, but that does


not condemn it. It shows a large conception of
what one may do in a novel. I heard you say,
the other day, that most novels were so trivial
that they had no general ideas. Here is a general
idea, the idea interpreted by Deronda. I have never
disliked the Jews as some people do ; I am not like
Pulcheria, who sees a Jew in every bush. I wish
there were one; I would cultivate shrubbery. I
have known too many clever and charming Jews ; I
have known none that were not clever.

Pulcheria. Clever, but not charming.

Constantius. I quite agree with you as to Deronda's
going in for the Jews and turning out a Jew himself
being a fine subject, and this quite apart from the
fact of whether such a thing as a Jewish revival be
at all a possibility. If it be a possibility, so much
the better so much the better for the subject, I

Pulcheria. A la bonne heure !

Constantius. I rather suspect it is not a possibility ;
that the Jews in general take themselves much less
seriously than that. They have other fish to fry.
George Eliot takes them as a person outside of
Judaism aesthetically. I don't believe that is the
way they take themselves.

Pulcheria. They have the less excuse then for
keeping themselves so dirty.

Theodora. George Eliot must have known some
delightful Jews.

Constantius. Very likely ; but I shouldn't wonder


if the most delightful of them had smiled a trifle,
here and there, over her book. But that makes
nothing, as Herr Klesmer would say. The subject
is a noble one. The idea of depicting a nature able
to feel and worthy to feel the sort of inspiration that
takes possession of Deronda, of depicting it sym-
pathetically, minutely and intimately such an idea
has great elevation. There is something very fasci-
nating in the mission that Deronda takes upon him-
self. I don't quite know what it means, I don't
understand more than half of Mordecai's rhapsodies,
and I don't perceive exactly what practical steps
could be taken. Deronda could go about and talk
with clever Jews not an unpleasant life.

Pulcheria. All that seems to me so unreal that when
at the end the author finds herself confronted with
the necessity of making him start for the East by
the train, and announces that Sir Hugo and Lady
Mallinger have given his wife "a complete Eastern
outfit," I descend to the ground with a ludicrous

Constantius. Unreal, if you please ; that is no ob-
jection to it ; it greatly tickles my imagination. I
like extremely the idea of Mordecai believing, with-
out ground of belief, that if he only wait, a young
man on whom nature and society have centred all
their gifts will come to him and receive from his
hands the precious vessel of his hopes. It is romantic,
but it is not vulgar romance ; it is finely romantic.
And there is something very fine in the author's


own feeling about Deronda. He is a very -liberal
creation. He is, I think, a failure a brilliant fail-
ure ; if he had been a success I should call him a
splendid creation. The author meant to do things
very handsomely for him ; she meant apparently to
make a faultless human being.

Pulcheria. She made a dreadful prig.

Constantius. He is rather priggish, and one wonders
that so clever a woman as George Eliot shouldn't
see it.

Pulcheria. He has no blood in his body. His
attitude at moments is like that of a high-priest in
a tableau vivant.

Theodora. Pulcheria likes the little gentlemen in
the French novels who take good care of their
attitudes, which are always the same attitude, the
attitude of "conquest" of a conquest that tickles
their vanity. Deronda has a contour that cuts
straight through the middle of all that. He
is made of a stuff that isn't dreamt of in their

Pulcheria. Pulcheria likes very much a novel which
she read three or four years ago, but which she has
not forgotten. It was by Ivan Turg6nieff, and it was
called On the Eve. Theodora has read it, I know,
because she admires Turge"nieff, and Constantius has
read it, I suppose, because he has read everything.

Constantius. If I had no reason but that for my
reading, it would be small. But Turge"nieff is my man.

Pulcheria. You were just now praising George


Eliot's - general ideas. The tale of which I speak
contains in the portrait of the hero very much such
a general idea as you find in the portrait of Deronda.
Don't you remember the young Bulgarian student,
Inssaroff, who gives himself the mission of rescuing
his country from its subjection to the Turks 1 Poor
man, if he had foreseen the horrible summer of
1876 ! His character is the picture of a race-passion,
of patriotic hopes and dreams. But what a difference
in the vividness of the two figures. Inssaroff is a
man ; he stands up on his feet ; we see him, hear
him, touch him. And it has taken the author but a
couple of hundred pages not eight volumes to
do it.

Theodora. I don't remember Inssaroff at all, but I
perfectly remember the heroine, Helena. She is cer-
tainly most remarkable, but, remarkable as she is,
I should never dream of calling her as wonderful as

Constantius. Turgenieff is a magician, which I don't
think I should call George Eliot. One is a poet, the
other is a philosopher. One cares for the aspect of
things and the other cares for the reason of things.
George Eliot, in embarking with Deronda, took
aboard, as it were, a far heavier cargo than Tur-
genieff with his Inssaroff. She proposed, consciously,
to strike more notes.

Pulclwria. Oh, consciously, yes !

Constantius. George Eliot wished to show the
possible picturesqueness the romance, as it were


of a high moral tone. Deronda is a moralist, a
moralist with a rich complexion.

Theodora. It is a most beautiful nature. I don't
know anywhere a more complete, a more deeply
analysed portrait of a great nature. We praise
novelists for wandering and creeping so into the
small corners of the mind. That is what we praise
Balzac for when he gets down upon all fours to
crawl through Le Pere Goriot or Les Parents Pauvres.
But I must say I think it a finer thing to unlock
with as firm a hand as George Eliot some of the
greater chambers of human character. Deronda is
in a manner an ideal character, if you will, but he
seems to me triumphantly married to reality. There
are some admirable things said about him ; nothing
can be finer than those pages of description of his
moral temperament in the fourth book his elevated
way of looking at things, his impartiality, his uni-
versal sympathy, and at the same time his fear of
their turning into mere irresponsible indifference.
I remember some of it verbally : " He was ceasing to
care for knowledge he had no ambition for practice
unless they could be gathered up into one current
with his emotions."

Pukheria. Oh, there is plenty about his emotions.
Everything about him is " emotive." That bad word
occurs on every fifth page.

Theodora. I don't see that it is a bad word.

Pulclieria. It may be good German, but it is poor


Theodora. It is not German at all ; it is Latin.
So, my dear !

Pulcheria. As I say, then, it is not English.

Theodora. This is the first time I ever heard that
George Eliot's style was bad !

Constantius. It is admirable ; it has the most
delightful and the most intellectually comfortable
suggestions. But it is occasionally a little too long-
sleeved, as I may say. It is sometimes too loose a
fit for the thought, a little baggy.

Theodora. And the advice he gives Gwendolen, 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 1

Constantius. That is not putting it quite fairly.
The function of Deronda is to make Gwendolen fall
in love with him, to say nothing of falling in love
himself with Mirah.

Pulcheria. Yes, the less said about that the better.
All we know about Mirah is that she has delicate
rings of hair, sits with her feet crossed, and talks like
an article in a new magazine.

Constantius. Deronda's function of adviser to


Gwendolen does not strike me as so ridiculous. He
is not nearly so ridiculous as if he were lovesick. It
is a very interesting situation that of a man with
whom a beautiful woman in trouble falls in love and
yet whose affections are so preoccupied that the most
he can do for her in return is to enter kindly and
sympathetically into her position, pity her and talk
to her. George Eliot always gives us something
that is strikingly and ironically characteristic of
human life ; and what savours more of the essential
crookedness of our fate than the sad cross-purposes
of these two young people ? Poor Gwendolen's
falling in love with Deronda is part of her own
luckless history, not of his.

Theodora. I do think he takes it to himself rather
too little. No man had ever so little vanity.

Pvlcheria. It is very inconsistent, therefore, as
well as being extremely impertinent and ill-mannered,
his buying back and sending to her her necklace at

Constantius. Oh, you must concede that ; without
it there would have been no story. A man writing
of him, however, would certainly have made him
more peccable. As George Eliot lets herself go, in
that quarter, she becomes delightfully, almost touch-
ingly, feminine. It is like her making Eomola go to
housekeeping with Tessa, after Tito Melema's death ;
like her making Dorothea marry Will Ladislaw. If
Dorothea had married any one after her misadventure
with Casaubon, she would have married a trooper.


Theodora. Perhaps some day Gwendolen will
marry Rex.

Pukheria. Pray, who is Rex 1

Theodora. Why, Pulcheria, how can you forget 1

Pukheria. Nay, how can I remember? But I
recall such a name in the dim antiquity of the first
or second book. Yes, and then he is pushed to the
front again at the last, just in time not to miss the
falling of the curtain. Gwendolen will certainly not
have the audacity to marry any one we know so
little about.

Constantius. I have been wanting to say that
there seems to me to be two very distinct elements
in George Eliot a spontaneous one and an artificial
one. There is what she is by inspiration and what
she is because it is expected of her. These two
heads have been very perceptible in her recent
writings ; they are much less noticeable in her early

Theodora. You mean that she is too scientific?
So long as she remains the great literary genius that
she is, how can she be too scientific ? She is simply
permeated with the highest culture of the age.

Pukheria. She talks too much about the "dyna-
mic quality " of people's eyes. When she uses such
a phrase as that in the first sentence in her book she
is not a great literary genius, because she shows a
want of tact. There can't be a worse limitation.

Constantius. The " dynamic quality " of Gwen-
dolen's glance has made the tour of the world.


Theodora. It shows a very low level of culture on
the world's part to be agitated by a term perfectly
familiar to all decently-educated people.

Pvlcheria. I don't pretend to be decently educated ;
pray tell me what it means.

Constantius (promptly). I think Pulcheria has hit
it in speaking of a want of tact In the manner of
the book, throughout, there is something that one
may call a want of tact. The epigraphs in verse are
a want of tact ; they are sometimes, I think, a trifle
more pretentious than really pregnant ; the impor-
tunity of the moral reflections is a want of tact the
very diffuseness is a want of tact. But it comes
back to what I said just now about one's sense of
the author writing under a sort of external pressure.
I began to notice it in Felix Holt ; I don't think I
had before. She strikes me as a person who certainly
has naturally a taste for general considerations, but
who has fallen upon an age and a circle which have
compelled her to give them an exaggerated attention.
She does not strike me as naturally a critic, less still
as naturally a sceptic ; her spontaneous part is to
observe life and to feel it, to feel it with admirable
depth. Contemplation, sympathy and faith some-
thing like that, I should say, would have been her
natural scale. If she had fallen upon an age of
enthusiastic assent to old articles of faith, it seems to
me possible that she would have had a more perfect,
a more consistent and graceful development, than
she has actually had. If she had cast herself into


such a current her genius being equal it might
have carried her to splendid distances. But she has
chosen to go into criticism, and to the critics she
addresses her work ; I mean the critics of the uni-
verse. Instead of feeling life itself, it is "views"
upon life that she tries to feel.

Pulcheria. She is the victim of a first-class educa-
tion. I am so glad !

Constantius. Thanks to her admirable intellect she
philosophises very sufficiently ; but meanwhile she
has given a chill to her genius. She has come near
spoiling an artist.

Pulcheria. She has quite spoiled one. Or rather
I shouldn't say that, because there was no artist to
spoil. I maintain that she is not an artist. An
artist could never have put a story together so
monstrously ill. She has no sense of form.

Theodora. Pray, what could be more artistic than
the way that Deronda's paternity is concealed till
almost the end, and the way we are made to suppose
Sir Hugo is his father ?

Pulcheria. And Mirah his sister. How does that
fit together? I was as little made to suppose he
was not a Jew as I cared when I found out he was.
And his mother popping up through a trap-door and
popping down again, at the last, in that scrambling
fashion ! His mother is very bad.

Constantius. I think Deronda's mother is one of the
unvivified characters ; she belongs to the cold half of
the book. All the Jewish part is at bottom cold ;


that is my only objection. I have enjoyed it because
my fancy often warms cold things ; but beside Gwen-
dolen's history it is like the empty half of the lunar
disk beside the full one. It is admirably studied, it
is imagined, it is understood, but it is not embodied.
One feels this strongly in just those scenes between
Deronda and his mother; one feels that one has
been appealed to on rather an artificial ground of
interest. To make Deronda's reversion to his native
faith more dramatic and profound, the author has
given him a mother who on very arbitrary grounds,
apparently, has separated herself from this same faith
and who has been kept waiting in the wing, as it
were, for many acts, to come on and make her speech
and say so. This moral situation of hers we are
invited retrospectively to appreciate. But we hardly
care to do so.

Pukheria. I don't see the princess, in spite of
her flame-coloured robe. Why should an actress
and prima- donna care so much about religious
matters ?

Theodora. It was not only that ; it was the Jewish
race she hated, Jewish manners and looks. You, my
dear, ought to understand that.

Pukheria. I do, but I am not a Jewish actress of
genius ; I am not what Rachel was. If I were I
should have other things to think about.

Constantius. Think now a little about poor Gwen-

Pukheria. I don't care to think about her. She


was a second-rate English girl who got into a flutter
about a lord.

Theodora. I don't see that she is worse than if she
were a first-rate American girl who should get into
exactly the same flutter.

Pulcheria. It wouldn't be the same flutter at all ;
it wouldn't be any flutter. She wouldn't be afraid
of the lord, though she might be amused at him.

Theodora. I am sure I don't perceive whom Gwen-
dolen was afraid of. She was afraid of her misdeed
her broken promise after she had committed it,

Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 5 of 24)