A Newberry Library Adult Education Seminar
George Eliot’s final novel is ambitious, challenging, and astonishingly multi-dimensional. With Daniel Deronda, Eliot blends a provocative examination of marriage and personal aspiration with a meditation on Jewish identity in Victorian Britain. This seminar invites participants to immerse themselves in the world of the novel by reading and discussing it in consecutive parts, as originally published. Sessions will focus on elements of art, music, religion, philosophy, and history as they arise in the novel. Nine sessions.
Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot. Penguin Classics edition, 1996. ISBN: 9780140 434279. Other materials will be made available online and brought to the seminar sessions.
For the first session, please read only Chapter One (pages 7-14). Because of spoilers, do not read the book’s introduction.
George Eliot’s final novel is a fascinating meditation on the symbiotic relationship between everyday lives and historical narratives. This was George Eliot’s only novel set in the era of its composition, and it challenged contemporary readers to understand their values, traditions, and even desires in the context of historical circumstances too often marginalized as beyond the concern of day-to-day lives.
The novel’s plot revolves around the fates of the young and beautiful Gwendolen Harleth and the young and sympathetic Daniel Deronda, and it is complicated by Victorian notions of national identity, Jewishness, and evolution. The resulting network of events, references, and thematic investigation makes this novel particularly suited to serial reading.
Daniel Deronda was first published from February through September of 1876, in monthly installments of approximately 110 pages each. Victorian readers enjoyed and absorbed the novel one portion at a time, discussing the story’s gradual unfolding with friends and family and anticipating the turns each new installment would take. Eliot’s original installments will therefore serve as the framework of our seminar readings. At each of the weekly sessions (beginning with the second), we will focus our discussion on the features, plot developments, and specific themes of the installment (or “book”) at hand. We will also consider many of the paintings, musical pieces, and historical figures as they arise in the novel, as well as specific aspects of the 2002 BBC television adaptation.
In this way, seminar participants will build an ongoing dialogue with a tremendous amount of material regarding Eliot’s novel and Victorian culture. Serial reading invites more consideration and commentary on specific issues, recurring images, and opinions that evolve over the course of reading. Moreover, since all good novels actually teach readers how to read them, installments allow readers to benefit from this process right away, and make use the teaching when it counts—over the course of reading the novel.
Week 1: Chapter One (to be read ahead of time)Please do not read the book’s introduction.
Week 2: Book One
Week 3: Book Two
Theme: Novels and Romances
Week 4: Book Three
Theme: Some discussion of George Eliot’s own life
Week 5: Book Four
Theme: Jewishness and the Victorian Era
Week 6: Book Five
Theme: Music and Structure
Week 7: Book Six
Theme: Philosophy and Zionism
Week 8: Book Seven
Theme: Inheritance and Evolution
Week 9: Book Eight
Theme: Concluding Critical Assessments
Image: Detail from The Fair Toxophilites by Willian Powell Frith.