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Daniel Deronda

George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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"But you have not wronged any one, or spoiled their lives," said Gwendolen, hastily. "It is only others who have wronged you."

Deronda colored slightly, but said immediately--"I suppose our keen feeling for ourselves might end in giving us a keen feeling for others, if, when we are suffering acutely, we were to consider that others go through the same sharp experience. That is a sort of remorse before commission. Can't you understand that?"

"I think I do--now," said Gwendolen. "But you were right--I am selfish. I have never thought much of any one's feelings, except my mother's. I have not been fond of people. But what can I do?" she went on, more quickly. "I must get up in the morning and do what every one else does. It is all like a dance set beforehand. I seem to see all that can be--and I am tired and sick of it. And the world is all confusion to me"--she made a gesture of disgust. "You say I am ignorant. But what is the good of trying to know more, unless life were worth more?"

"This good," said Deronda promptly, with a touch of indignant severity, which he was inclined to encourage as his own safeguard; "life would be worth more to you: some real knowledge would give you an interest in the world beyond the small drama of personal desires. It is the curse of your life--forgive me--of so many lives, that all passion is spent in that narrow round, for want of ideas and sympathies to make a larger home for it. Is there any single occupation of mind that you care about with passionate delight or even independent interest?"

Deronda paused, but Gwendolen, looking startled and thrilled as by an electric shock, said nothing, and he went on more insistently--

"I take what you said of music for a small example--it answers for all larger things--you will not cultivate it for the sake of a private joy in it. What sort of earth or heaven would hold any spiritual wealth in it for souls pauperized by inaction? If one firmament has no stimulus for our attention and awe, I don't see how four would have it. We should stamp every possible world with the flatness of our own inanity--which is necessarily impious, without faith or fellowship. The refuge you are needing from personal trouble is the higher, the religious life, which holds an enthusiasm for something more than our own appetites and vanities. The few may find themselves in it simply by an elevation of feeling; but for us who have to struggle for our wisdom, the higher life must be a region in which the affections are clad with knowledge."

The half-indignant remonstrance that vibrated in Deronda's voice came, as often happens, from the habit of inward argument with himself rather than from severity toward Gwendolen: but it had a more beneficial effect on her than any soothings. Nothing is feebler than the indolent rebellion of complaint; and to be roused into self-judgment is comparative activity. For the moment she felt like a shaken child--shaken out of its wailing into awe, and she said humbly--

"I will try. I will think."

They both stood silent for a minute, as if some third presence had arrested them,--for Deronda, too, was under that sense of pressure which is apt to come when our own winged words seem to be hovering around us, --till Gwendolen began again--

"You said affection was the best thing, and I have hardly any--none about me. If I could, I would have mamma; but that is impossible. Things have changed to me so--in such a short time. What I used not to like I long for now. I think I am almost getting fond of the old things now they are gone." Her lip trembled.

"Take the present suffering as a painful letting in of light," said Deronda, more gently. "You are conscious of more beyond the round of your own inclinations--you know more of the way in which your life presses on others, and their life on yours. I don't think you could have escaped the painful process in some form or other."

"But it is a very cruel form," said Gwendolen, beating her foot on the ground with returning agitation. "I am frightened at everything. I am frightened at myself. When my blood is fired I can do daring things--take any leap; but that makes me frightened at myself." She was looking at nothing outside her; but her eyes were directed toward the window, away from Deronda, who, with quick comprehension said--

"Turn your fear into a safeguard. Keep your dread fixed on the idea of increasing that remorse which is so bitter to you. Fixed meditation may do a great deal toward defining our longing or dread. We are not always in a state of strong emotion, and when we are calm we can use our memories and gradually change the bias of our fear, as we do our tastes. Take your fear as a safeguard. It is like quickness of hearing. It may make consequences passionately present to you. Try to take hold of your sensibility, and use it as if it were a faculty, like vision." Deronda uttered each sentence more urgently; he felt as if he were seizing a faint chance of rescuing her from some indefinite danger.

"Yes, I know; I understand what you mean," said Gwendolen in her loud whisper, not turning her eyes, but lifting up her small gloved hand and waving it in deprecation of the notion that it was easy to obey that advice. "But if feelings rose--there are some feelings--hatred and anger-- how can I be good when they keep rising? And if there came a moment when I felt stifled and could bear it no longer----" She broke off, and with agitated lips looked at Deronda, but the expression on his face pierced her with an entirely new feeling. He was under the baffling difficulty of discerning, that what he had been urging on her was thrown into the pallid distance of mere thought before the outburst of her habitual emotion. It was as if he saw her drowning while his limbs were bound. The pained compassion which was spread over his features as he watched her, affected her with a compunction unlike any she had felt before, and in a changed and imploring tone she said--

"I am grieving you. I am ungrateful. You can help me. I will think of everything. I will try. Tell me--it will not be a pain to you that I have dared to speak of my trouble to you? You began it, you know, when you rebuked me." There was a melancholy smile on her lips as she said that, but she added more entreatingly, "It will not be a pain to you?"

"Not if it does anything to save you from an evil to come," said Deronda, with strong emphasis; "otherwise, it will be a lasting pain."

"No--no--it shall not be. It may be--it shall be better with me because I have known you." She turned immediately, and quitted the room.

When she was on the first landing of the staircase, Sir Hugo passed across the hall on his way to the library, and saw her. Grandcourt was not with him.

Deronda, when the baronet entered, was standing in his ordinary attitude, grasping his coat-collar, with his back to the table, and with that indefinable expression by which we judge that a man is still in the shadow of a scene which he has just gone through. He moved, however, and began to arrange the letters.

"Has Mrs. Grandcourt been in here?" said Sir Hugo.

"Yes, she has."

"Where are the others?"

"I believe she left them somewhere in the grounds."

After a moment's silence, in which Sir Hugo looked at a letter without reading it, he said "I hope you are not playing with fire, Dan--you understand me?"

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