Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (Books 2023, 9) 📚

    I mentioned in May, that I had been reading this. It’s taken me till now to finish it.

    In another sense it’s taken me a lot longer: I first started reading it in 2004. Back then I was doing an Open University literature course. In one module an extract from Daniel Deronda was one of the options for us to write about. I think I must have chosen it, because my tutor sung its praises, saying it was a great one to read over Christmas, ‘curled up next to the fire.’

    So I bought it and started it at the time. I can be fairly sure of this, as the bookmarks I found in it, when I picked it up back in May, were a pair of old-school paper train tickets from 2004. Two markers, of course, because this is a classics edition with comprehensive endnotes.

    The main bookmark was around page 200, so I got a decent way into it. Except this is a book of over 800 pages, so actually not that far. I don’t know why I stopped. Probably just got distracted by other books and petered out. I started from the beginning again this time, and found I remembered almost nothing of what I read nearly 20 years ago.

    But enough meta story about my history with the book. What of the book itself?

    It’s really two main interwoven stories. The title character appears briefly, wordlessly, in the first scene, and then is not seen again for the whole of the first book (it was originally published serially, and is internally divided into eight books). First we get the start of the story of Gwendolen Harleth, a young woman of fair but limited means, who might expect to marry well. Until her family falls into poverty.

    Her story at times feels like it’s going to be a conventional, Austenesque romance. It is not, of course: it’s much more complex than that.

    The other story is about how Daniel Deronda rescues a young Jewish woman from self-inflicted drowning, and finds her a home, and what follows from that. This section is largely about the way Jews were treated at the time (the 1870s), and the idea that they might seek a homeland. The start of Zionism, in effect. Deronda is sympathetic to the plight of the Jews generally, as he is to Mirah, the woman he rescued. But then, he’s synmpathetic to just about everyone.

    The darkest part of this story shows us how terrifyingly restricted, locked down, controlled, a married woman could be in those times. the husband in question is not physically violent, he simply controls all aspects of their lives, and hence her life. She has no hope of escape. It’s powerfully understated, and all the more chilling for that.

    Some sentences are overly long by modern standards, and some of the language is complex or old-fashioned enough to be confusing, but it usually becomes clear with careful reading. And it doesn’t detract from the power of the storytelling.

    The Luxury of Outrage

    The Doctor is a burning sun of outrage, but claims never to have had time for it. Season 10, episode 3, “Thin Ice,” sends him and Bill into London’s past, to 1814, and the last great frost fair on the frozen Thames.

    There is a beast below the ice1 There is a racist lord. There are cute dirty-faced urchins, and acrobats, and a fleeting glimpse of an elephant.

    I loved almost everything about this episode. In fact the only negative point to me was the use of the old diving suits. You need someone onshore, operating an air pump, to use those, and there was no evidence of such a thing. It’s one of those things that Doctor Who is prone to. Not a big deal in this case, but it wouldn’t have hard to have included a few words about The Doctor modifying them with a compact air supply, or something.

    No matter, as I say, it was an almost perfect episode. And we got back to The Doctor’s office at the end, where Nardole was making the tea (with added coffee for flavour).

    And who or what is in the mysterious vault? The knocking of course echo’s “He will knock four times,” at the end of Tennant’s run, and that was The Master. And we know that The Master — or at least John Simm — as well as Missy, is gong to be in this season.

    But it would be very strange if it were him in the vault.

    1. I’m sure you saw what I did there. ↩︎

    Book Notes 16: The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle, by Catherine Webb

    Catherine Webb is only 19; she had her first novel published at 14. It makes you sick; though it shouldn’t.

    Horatio Lyle is a scientist and investigator in Victorian times. He has a dog called Tate, but there’s a lot more to this book than bad sugar-manufacturer-related jokes. The blurb describes it as “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Thomas Edison as written by Terry Pratchett”, and that’s not a bad assessment; though it’s not as funny as Pratchett. I read it with my nine-year-old son, and he thoroughly enjoyed it: though not so much the descriptive passages, and he was disappointed by the ending.

    I thought the descriptive passages were very well written and incredibly evocative, but there were rather too many of them; and while I enjoyed it at the time, actually the action was on the weak side, and she didn’t make as much of the plot as she could have.

    And that ending: what a letdown. See, the story is that this ancient plate of great cultural significance has been stolen from the Bank of England, and various groups are trying to get it back.

    It turns out that one of the groups consists of some sort of supernatural beings. They are a bit vampirish, but they have the traditional fear of, and vulnerability to, iron, of Faerie. They believe the plate has great power.

    There are investigations and plots; but not really very many of them. It’s very well written, as I say, but kind of lightweight.

    I see that there’s a sequel out already, so in time we might see whether her plotting skills have got any stronger.