“Marriage is what brings us together today”

George Eliot presents a bleak view of marriage in Daniel Deronda. Clearly, we are not in the world of wedding blogs and Pinterest boards anymore. It seems very easy to read the novel through a Marxist lens in which one can constrict agency to the socioeconomic sphere. While the influence of social rank and family obligation cannot be denied, there is room to judge the characters.

Gwendolen is self-consumed and views marriage as restrictive; she denounces its “domestic fetters” (30).  Her mother had been a widow when she married Captain Davilow, Gwendolen’s “unlovable” step-father (18).  Gwendolen asks her mother: “Why did you marry again, mamma? It would have been nicer if you had not” (18). Gwendolen shows her insensitivity and ignorance in the face of her mother’s hardship.

Although her character is maddening, one can be sympathetic towards Gwendolen’s fundamental desire for happiness. Her strong will, her refusal to be swept away by the wind is admirable. She is the poster-child feminist, determined to assert her independence and not be tied down by the bonds of marriage and family. When her mother tells her that “marriage is the only happy state for a woman…,” she fiercely replies: “I will not put up with it if it is not a happy state. I am determined to be happy….” (22). And yet, she is not happy. Gwendolen speaks of her envy towards Miss Arrowpoint’s “contended” nature (96). Gwendolen cannot find fulfillment merely through looking inward. I am reminded of Pope John Paul II’s words: “Freedom exists for the sake of love” (135). With a strong material emphasis present in marriages of the day, it is not surprising that Gwendolen possesses such a dreary view of marriage, disconnected from love. However, Gwendolen’s defiant pride makes it questionable that she would be open to a marriage based on mutual love. Rex showers her with affection and tells her “You might do just as you liked if you married a man who loved you more dearly than anything else in the world” (57). He presents an ideal vision of marriage: husband and wife finding freedom through the bonds of sacrificial love. Gwendolen is flattered by Rex’s devotion, but has very little regard for him or anyone other than herself.

Gwendolen’s uncle tells her: “Marriage is the only true and satisfactory sphere of a woman….you will have probably an increasing power, both of rank and wealth, which may be used for the benefit of others. These considerations are something higher than romance” (119). This statement echoes W.R. Greg’s sentiment that a woman’s fundamental identity is tied to being a wife and mother. While some may object to his claim, Mr. Gascoigne is correct to acknowledge the gravity of marriage within the social order.

Gwendolen’s marriage ultimately comes from her desire to not work. She promises not to marry Mr. Grandcourt because of Lydia and her children. Of course, she cannot bear the idea of working and marries him for financial security. In comparison, Catherine and Klesmer, while sincere in their love, are unable to marry because of his low social class. Eliot does not shy away from portraying marriage as a imperfect social institution.

Elliot, George. Daniel Deronda. 2011. Kindle.

Poovey, Mary. “The Ideological Work of Gender.” Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Print.

Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility. London: Williams, Collins, Sons, 1981. Print.

 

 

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