A Novel

eBook - 2015
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Marrying a wealthy aristocrat when her family loses their fortune, a 19th-century Englishwoman reflects on her decision years later when she discovers a love letter she wrote but did not send to the man she really loved, in a story inspired by George Eliot's Daniel Deronda.
Publisher: New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2015
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781627793414
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: Eliot, George 1819-1880 Daniel Deronda

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FindingJane Mar 13, 2016

“Daniel Deronda” is not one of my favorite novels. The titular character comes off as too saintly and characters like that are awfully dull to read. They should never be made the central figures in books unless we see their progression from soiled and difficult human beings like the rest of us towards spiritual or mental elevation.

So Ms. Souhami gives us a different slant on the character by taking us deep into the mind and realm of Gwendolen Harleth, the woman who touches Deronda’s life but whom he can’t bring himself to love or marry. Her charm, beauty and presence are heavily emphasized even as Gwendolen herself comes to the gradual realization that such attributes will buy her little in life except a rich husband if she is lucky (and desperate enough) to snare one.

The book reveals a young girl, initially of no deep thought and only vaguely realized aspirations. Any artistic bent she has is ruthlessly squashed by one Mr. Klesmer, who gives her blunt criticism that doesn’t sugarcoat her mediocrity, worth only as an ornament and inability to endure the years of disappointment, hard work and single-minded devotion that is necessary to achieve any kind of success in the arts. His character, as well as others, comes to make us realize how much of an insult it can be to state of a woman merely that she is “beautiful”.

This novel then gives us an in-depth look into a woman who will never be a heroine, artist, proper wife or gracious hostess. With all the wealth that she possesses, she has no desire to host a salon for poor artists, give to charity or feed the poor. The author manages to make us sympathize with Gwendolen nonetheless. She is a woman who is first a victim of her time—constrained by her social status and upbringing—who then becomes a powerful human being in her own right. She throws off the desire to be defined by others, to live according to the dictates of society. She turns into a person we can respect and admire.

The novel is excellently written with impeccable detail to surroundings, characters, social gatherings and Gwendolen’s own inner thoughts. Even though it remains a vast love letter to a man who will never receive it, it is ultimately Gwendolen’s story and hers alone and thus a fascinating, scintillating vision of a woman who finds her inner strength and accepts her place in the world.


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