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Daniel Deronda

George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

Daniel_Deronda MAIN

"I am twenty-one," said Gwendolen, a slight fear rising in her. "Do you think I am too old?"

Klesmer pouted his under lip and shook his long fingers upward in a manner totally enigmatic.

"Many persons begin later than others," said Gwendolen, betrayed by her habitual consciousness of having valuable information to bestow.

Klesmer took no notice, but said with more studied gentleness than ever, "You have probably not thought of an artistic career until now: you did not entertain the notion, the longing--what shall I say?--you did not wish yourself an actress, or anything of that sort, till the present trouble?"

"Not exactly: but I was fond of acting. I have acted; you saw me, if you remember--you saw me here in charades, and as Hermione," said Gwendolen, really fearing that Klesmer had forgotten.

"Yes, yes," he answered quickly, "I remember--I remember perfectly," and again walked to the other end of the room, It was difficult for him to refrain from this kind of movement when he was in any argument either audible or silent.

Gwendolen felt that she was being weighed. The delay was unpleasant. But she did not yet conceive that the scale could dip on the wrong side, and it seemed to her only graceful to say, "I shall be very much obliged to you for taking the trouble to give me your advice, whatever it maybe."

"Miss Harleth," said Klesmer, turning toward her and speaking with a slight increase of accent, "I will veil nothing from you in this matter. I should reckon myself guilty if I put a false visage on things--made them too black or too white. The gods have a curse for him who willingly tells another the wrong road. And if I misled one who is so young, so beautiful --who, I trust, will find her happiness along the right road, I should regard myself as a--Boesewicht." In the last word Klesmer's voice had dropped to a loud whisper.

Gwendolen felt a sinking of heart under this unexpected solemnity, and kept a sort of fascinated gaze on Klesmer's face, as he went on.

"You are a beautiful young lady--you have been brought up in ease--you have done what you would--you have not said to yourself, 'I must know this exactly,' 'I must understand this exactly,' 'I must do this exactly,'"--in uttering these three terrible musts, Klesmer lifted up three long fingers in succession. "In sum, you have not been called upon to be anything but a charming young lady, whom it is an impoliteness to find fault with."

He paused an instant; then resting his fingers on his hips again, and thrusting out his powerful chin, he said--

"Well, then, with that preparation, you wish to try the life of an artist; you wish to try a life of arduous, unceasing work, and--uncertain praise. Your praise would have to be earned, like your bread; and both would come slowly, scantily--what do I say?--they may hardly come at all."

This tone of discouragement, which Klesmer had hoped might suffice without anything more unpleasant, roused some resistance in Gwendolen. With a slight turn of her head away from him, and an air of pique, she said--

"I thought that you, being an artist, would consider the life one of the most honorable and delightful. And if I can do nothing better?--I suppose I can put up with the same risks as other people do."

"Do nothing better?" said Klesmer, a little fired. "No, my dear Miss Harleth, you could do nothing better--neither man nor woman could do anything better--if you could do what was best or good of its kind. I am not decrying the life of the true artist. I am exalting it. I say, it is out of the reach of any but choice organizations--natures framed to love perfection and to labor for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she--Art, my mistress--is worthy, and I will live to merit her. An honorable life? Yes. But the honor comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honor in donning the life as a livery."

Some excitement of yesterday had revived in Klesmer and hurried him into speech a little aloof from his immediate friendly purpose. He had wished as delicately as possible to rouse in Gwendolen a sense of her unfitness for a perilous, difficult course; but it was his wont to be angry with the pretensions of incompetence, and he was in danger of getting chafed. Conscious of this, he paused suddenly. But Gwendolen's chief impression was that he had not yet denied her the power of doing what would be good of its kind. Klesmer's fervor seemed to be a sort of glamor such as he was prone to throw over things in general; and what she desired to assure him of was that she was not afraid of some preliminary hardships. The belief that to present herself in public on the stage must produce an effect such as she had been used to feel certain of in private life; was like a bit of her flesh--it was not to be peeled off readily, but must come with blood and pain. She said, in a tone of some insistance--

"I am quite prepared to bear hardships at first. Of course no one can become celebrated all at once. And it is not necessary that every one should be first-rate--either actresses or singers. If you would be so kind as to tell me what steps I should take, I shall have the courage to take them. I don't mind going up hill. It will be easier than the dead level of being a governess. I will take any steps you recommend."

Klesmer was convinced now that he must speak plainly.

"I will tell you the steps, not that I recommend, but that will be forced upon you. It is all one, so far, what your goal will be--excellence, celebrity, second, third rateness--it is all one. You must go to town under the protection of your mother. You must put yourself under training --musical, dramatic, theatrical:--whatever you desire to do you have to learn"--here Gwendolen looked as if she were going to speak, but Klesmer lifted up his hand and said, decisively, "I know. You have exercised your talents--you recite--you sing--from the drawing-room standpunkt. My dear Fraeulein, you must unlearn all that. You have not yet conceived what excellence is: you must unlearn your mistaken admirations. You must know what you have to strive for, and then you must subdue your mind and body to unbroken discipline. Your mind, I say. For you must not be thinking of celebrity: put that candle out of your eyes, and look only at excellence. You would of course earn nothing--you could get no engagement for a long while. You would need money for yourself and your family. But that," here Klesmer frowned and shook his fingers as if to dismiss a triviality, "that could perhaps be found."

Gwendolen turned pink and pale during this speech. Her pride had felt a terrible knife-edge, and the last sentence only made the smart keener. She was conscious of appearing moved, and tried to escape from her weakness by suddenly walking to a seat and pointing out a chair to Klesmer. He did not take it, but turned a little in order to face her and leaned against the piano. At that moment she wished that she had not sent for him: this first experience of being taken on some other ground than that of her social rank and her beauty was becoming bitter to her. Klesmer, preoccupied with a serious purpose, went on without change of tone.

"Now, what sort of issue might be fairly expected from all this self- denial? You would ask that. It is right that your eyes should be open to it. I will tell you truthfully. This issue would be uncertain, and, most probably, would not be worth much."

At these relentless words Klesmer put out his lip and looked through his spectacles with the air of a monster impenetrable by beauty.

Gwendolen's eyes began to burn, but the dread of showing weakness urged her to added self-control. She compelled herself to say, in a hard tone--

"You think I want talent, or am too old to begin."

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