Friday, 22 March 2019

The Growth of a Soul: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876)

Daniel Deronda was George Eliot’s final novel and her most controversial work.
The book contains a double plot, which was quite common with Victorian novelists such as Charles Dickens and William Thackeray, but Eliot took an unusual direction in this novel by introducing a Jewish theme. Between 1860 and 1874, the idea of re-establishing a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel was the focus of a group of men who came to be known as the Proto-Zionists, or the fore-runners of Zionism and Eliot's story revolves around this.

Daniel Deronda is a comfortably off young man who has no knowledge of his origins and thinks he is the illegitimate son of his benefactor. By dint of circumstance he becomes involved with Mordecai, a young Jewish man dying of consumption, who believes that Deronda has been sent to him so that he may pass on to him his knowledge and vision.

Before he encounters Mordecai, Deronda meets Gwendolen Harleth, a beautiful but self-centred and vain young woman who ends up ‘marrying money.’
Her husband, Henleigh Grandcourt, is decadent, controlling, callous, and extremely wealthy.
Throughout the novel the lives of Deronda and Gwendolen criss-cross and Gwendolen sees him as her saviour in some ways, turning to him for guidance as her husband’s domination and control begins to crush her.

This is a large-scale novel with many twisted strands and each of the chapters tend to alternately focus on specific characters which makes for dense reading at times.

I found the relationship between Gwendolen and her husband compelling reading and when the narrative changed to focus on what was going on in Deronda's life, I felt irritated me at times because I was anxious to see how the couple’s relationship would work out.

Reading about Gwendolen was like watching the slow growth of a soul and it was one of my favourite parts of the book.

Eliot was well-read and intellectual - you don’t have to read for too long to realise that the themes she explores in this novel were assiduously researched. Excerpts, quotations or mentions of art, economics, literature, history, and music plus 683 explanatory notes in my copy of the book (!! and of course, I had to read them all) attest to that. This book is quite different to her other books, especially Adam Bede (which was delightful) and Silas Marner (which I also enjoyed).
Daniel Deronda requires a real commitment to get through, but it’s worth it.

I’ll get back to Gwendolen’s soul journey shortly, but first I have to say that there were some minor characters that were just delightful.

Mrs Meyrick was one of them. She and her daughters lived in a house that looked very shabby from the outside but was, in reality, a place of beauty and culture...

‘...their minds being like mediaeval houses with unexpected recesses and openings from this into that, flights of steps and sudden outlooks.’

She was a kind, motherly woman with much wisdom:

'Don’t be forecasting evil, dear child, unless it is what you can guard against. Anxiety is good for nothing if we can’t turn it into a defence. But there’s no defence against all the things that might be.'

Herr Klesmer was another gem. A first-rate Jewish musician engaged by the wealthy Arrowpoint family to teach Catherine, their only daughter and heiress to the family fortune, a handsome catch for anyone after a fortune, but Klesmer was a proud and honourable man. It was inconceivable that Catherine would consider an attachment to Klesmer...

But along came Mr Bult, a political man of a good family, a ‘new pretender to her hand,’ and Herr Klesmer spoke up...

' are to me the chief woman in the world - the throned lady whose colours I carry between my heart and my once said it was your doom to suspect every man who courted you of being an adventurer, and what made you angriest was men’s imputing to you the folly of not believing that they courted you for your own sake...

It was a bitter word. Well, at least one man who has seen women as plenty as flowers in May has lingered about you for your own sake. And since he is one whom you can never marry, you will believe him...don’t give yourself for a meal to a Minotaur like Bult...'

'Why should I not marry the man who loves me, if I love him?' said Catherine. To her the effort was something like the leap of a woman from the deck into the lifeboat.

'It would be too hard - impossible- you could not carry it through. I am not worth what you would have to encounter. I will not accept the sacrifice. It would be thought a m├ęsalliance for you, and I should be liable o the worst accusations.'

'Is it the accusations you are afraid of? I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together.'

This was one of my favourite scenes. They both had to face her parents who were totally astonished and absolutely furious but Catherine had a will of her own and Klesmer didn't care about the fortune.

Now back to Gwendolen.

Gwendolen was self-absorbed. ‘Always she was the princess in exile,’ and was a person who had a ‘strong determination to have what was pleasant, with a total fearlessness in making themselves disagreeable or dangerous when they did not get it.’

But she had one redeeming quality. She loved her mother, although she didn’t really express that very well at times. In fact it was mostly out of fear of her mother being forced to live in poverty that she married Grandcourt.
Grandcourt did provide for her mother after they were married but he shunned any contact with both  the mother and uncle, whose family had been so good to her and this was very painful to Gwendolen.

Eliot’s characterisation of Grandcourt is chilling:

‘...his negative mind was as diffusive as fog, clinging to all objects, and spoiling all contact.

...quarrelling with Grancourt was impossible: she might as well have made angry remarks to a dangerous serpent coiled in her cabin without invitation.

Grandcourt had an intense satisfaction in leading his wife captive after this fashion: it gave their life on a small scale a royal representation and publicity in which everything familiar was got rid of and everybody must do what was expected of them whatever might be their private protest - the protest (kept strictly private) adding to the piquancy of despotism.

The beings closest to us, whether in love or hate, are often virtually our interpreters of the world...may be acting as a melancholy theory of life in the minds of those who live with them...'

The neutral loftiness of her husband chilled Gwendolen but unconsciously she began to appreciate people she had previously held in contempt. In her talks with Deronda he had encouraged her to find some mental enlargement by reading difficult authors so she took to reading Descartes, Bacon, Locke, and others. However, they didn’t blend with her daily agitations and instead she discovered this ‘mental enlargement’ when she reflected upon her family and especially the kindness shown to her and them by her uncle in the past.
She began to see others through a different lens.

'She, whose unquestioning habitat had been to take the best that came to her for less than her own claim, had now to see the position which tempted her in a new light, as a hard, unfair exclusion of others.'

She had married Grandcourt with the idea that she could conquer him as she had done with others but she had not considered that 'the desire to conquer is itself a sort of subjection.' Grandcourt proved to be unconquerable and Gwendolen's humiliation gave her eyes to see others more kindly.

'She was experiencing some of that peaceful melancholy which comes from the renunciation of demands for self, and from taking the ordinary good of existence, and especially kindness, even from a dog, as a gift above expectation.'

Daniel Deronda is really a story of redemption. I haven’t said very much at all about the eponymous hero because Gwendolen’s journey of the soul was the most interesting part of the book for me. He,  too, had a journey of the soul, but I'll leave it at that.

I read this with my book club and it was interesting to hear how differently we engaged with this novel. If you enjoy History there are some very interesting aspects Eliot covers and perhaps if I read the book again I’d concentrate on those more but I found the author’s exploration of character, choice, and growth through suffering full of depth and insight.

Linking to - Back to the Classics 2019: Very Long Novel and The Classics Club

Free Kindle version here.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

A Charlotte Mason Education: Our Week #1

Last week we finished our first week of Year 9 using mostly the Ambleside Online suggestions for this year but with some Australian substitutes and a couple of science additions. Each time we've gone through this AO year we've done things a bit differently.
This time around I have a few other commitments, including having a day with my two grandchildren when Moozle practices her Aunty skills and not a lot of our regular work gets done.
We also have a lot more outside commitments than we've ever had before because I'm only teaching one. This has been a stretch for my less than stellar organization abilities and that is reflected in my plans for the year...I haven't fully decided what we will be using in a couple of subjects at this point.
Anyhow, I thought I'd do a little post on our first week, so here we go:


Captain Cook by Alistair Maclean. This is a substitute for one of the American biographies AO schedule and I've scheduled it for Term 1.

Two more books I'll be including are My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill, which sounds like something from Mills & Boon, but is a superb account of the life of Matthew Flinders, and Currency Lass by Margaret Reason, which is set in the early days of Sydney Town - lots of local history in this, especially of the Parramatta area.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Age of Revolution by Winston Churchill

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - I'm reading this aloud as part of Science this year and editing where necessary. We're only one chapter in but it generated some great discussion!

The study of Architecture continues and this week Moozle read about Michelangelo in a chapter from 50 Architects You Should Know.

Men, Microscopes & Living Things by Katherine B. Shippen is a Newbery Honor book I've added in for science as we skipped a couple of books from Year 8. I bought the guide to this book from Sabbath Mood Homeschool. It's well done and would be suitable to use with a range of ages. The author includes 'Special Studies' and gives guidelines on how to go about them, which I find helpful as I tend to neglect this after a while.
We only did half of Napoleon's Buttons last year so it continues this year. I'm surprised she likes this book as much as she does because of all the organic chemistry details it includes. We had a home ed high school chemistry workshop a few weeks ago (which she loved) and that was a great way to boost her understanding.
Phineas Gage is another book we didn't get to last year so we're doing it now.

The Arts by Van Loon - one of the AO options for this year. We've previously used the Janson book of Painting which is a bit dry whereas Van Loon's book is more engaging, I think.

I bought this Art School Watercolour course during the Black Friday sales last year & Moozle started it this week. So far it looks good & I'll post some more details after she's used it for a while.

John Everett Millais is our current artist. I get Moozle to observe the painting for a week or two and then she writes a description from memory into her notebook.

* Did some hand quilting on her patchwork quilt project while I read aloud - it's getting there bit by bit.

* Orchestra Rehearsal - once a week; preparation for a Musicianship exam and cello practice.

* Commonplace Book - chose a quote from her reading & wrote in in her book

Free Reading

Emma by Jane Austen (re-read)

The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini (re-read) Free for Kindle here. Sabatini is one of her favourite authors.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (re-read)


We started using The Art of Poetry from Classical Academic Press about a month ago. I'll be writing a review shortly.


I'm taking advantage of these free edX courses: Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced Italian. They each run for 12 weeks and may be accessed until 2020.
I'm really thrilled about these being available because Italian would have been my first choice as a foreign language as my Dad's mother was from Molise in Southern Italy although she spent most of her life in Scotland and we were surrounded by Italian speakers when I was growing up.
Due to the lack of resources, especially for younger children, when we first started home educating, we opted for French instead.
The plan was that we'd work through the lessons together but my daughter has left me for dead...I can get the accent easily enough but trying to learn vocabulary when your brain appears to have the dimensions of a pea is very difficult. I have progressed very slightly. She said to me, "I think because I'm young it's easier for me." Never a truer word was spoken.


I read a few of Elizabeth George's books some years ago & liked them and this one, Life Management for Busy Women called out to me from the bookshelf so I thought it was probably time that I read it again.

I've been working on my Christian Greats Challenge. If you have a blog or a Goodreads account feel free to link up with us. Details here.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

In This House of Brede is a quiet sort of book; reflective and introspective but lively and interesting at the same time.

Philippa Talbot is a successful career woman who joins an order of contemplative Benedictine nuns at the age of forty-two.
Self-possessed, capable, used to giving orders and making decisions, she enters her new life as a postulant with women half her age and finds that it is not a place where she can hide and shut herself off. In this closed community she embarks on a new beginning, comes face to face with the pain of her past, and discovers that others, too, have their frailties and struggles, from the Abbess to the novices.
Phillipa's initial struggles come from unexpected quarters:

'Thank God I shall never gave to give orders again...’ None of the things she had anticipated as being hard, were hard; not the cold, nor the long hours of prayer. It was the little things that were Philippa’s danger; things so little they made her ashamed...the habits of success were fast in Philippa; indulgences that had become habits. Other postulants and novices were not old enough to have them as embedded but for Philippa, in those first months at Brede, they were like hooks being torn out of her flesh.

The daily rubbing of different personalities draws out the little annoyances and personality quirks. One of the Benedictine vows was that of 'conversion of manners,' which involves 'an entirely different way of thinking from the world’s...self-effacement instead of self-aggrandizement: listening instead of talking...being willing to empty yourself...'

'If there is any instability, religious life will make it worse.'

The Benedictine postulants needed to know that there were no compensations to this chosen way of life. A young nun renounces love, marriage, and the gift of children, knowing that ‘the lack of these things will gnaw at her all her life, leave holes in her, yet she must be just as warm, as self-denying and hard working as any wife or mother, and just as loving, without anyone to hold to.’

Somehow most of them did it, as did Sister Cecily whose young man turned up at the Abbey to beg her to leave and marry him.
Oh my! That was difficult to read. I really thought she should leave, marry, and have kids, but maybe that just reflects what I would have done in those circumstances.

An order whose purpose it is to care for the sick or to engage in teaching is understandable to those on the outside, but Brede, being a contemplative order whose main work is prayer, is less inclined to be understood:

'Nowadays there’s a tendency to make everything utilitarian - even the things of the spirit,' said Dame Clare. ‘Beware of this,’ and ‘That wasn’t the way of the saints,’ said Dame Ursula. ‘They didn’t set out to be of use.'

Rumer Godden set her book in the mid 1950’s and mentions the death of Pope Pius XII. the election of his successor, Cardinal Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) and subsequent changes in church structure. New recommendations for the nuns’ habit were adopted by some of the Abbeys, which was applauded by some but others said that it was casting away tradition.

There is a sense throughout the story of the anticipation of some major event or great drama about to occur but then it passes and life goes on. Not a great deal happens outside of the internal crises of the various characters in the 500 plus pages of this book, but Godden’s writing is compelling. I just wanted to keep reading and was surprised it was so hard to put down.

Philippa stays the course and learns that, ‘Nothing less than the whole is good enough for God.’

In This House of Brede is like a tapestry showing the complexities and flaws behind a work in progress, but it also displays the grace that brings about true transformation and growth that makes for something beautiful and whole. It is a great choice if you're looking for a literary book with a Lenten theme.

‘We have chosen a stillness more powerful than all activity.’

Linking to Christian Greats Challenge, No 7 Seasonal Book and Back to the Classics 2019: 20th Century Novel