'Daniel Deronda': New Elements and Long Familiar Types

P.D. Edwards


My title, "new elements and long familiar types," comes from a letter from George Eliot to her publisher John Blackwood. It is part of a passage in which, almost for the first time, she acknowledges her doubts as to how the Jewish scenes in Daniel Deronda would go down with the public. The acknowledgment was prompted by a mere hint of misgiving from Blackwood. He had delayed expressing any opinion of Book 5 of the novel - of which the revise had just been sent to George Eliot - because he had felt it would be "presumptuous" to speak of Mordecai until he had seen more of him, but also because he had been "puzzling and thinking over that phase of the Tale." Eliot's reply makes it clear that his puzzlement didn't surprise her:

I thought it likely that your impressions about Mordecai would be doubtful. Perhaps when the work is finished you will see its bearings better. The effect that one strives after is an outline as strong as that of Balfour of Burley for a much more complex character and a higher strain of ideas. But such an effect is just the most difficult thing in art - to give new elements - i.e. elements not already used up - in forms as vivid as those of long familiar types. Doubtless the wider public of novel-readers must feel more interest in Sidonia than in Mordecai. But then, I was not born to paint Sidonia.

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