THE MOVIE: Daniel Deronda
THE PAIRING: Daniel (Hugh Dancy) and Gwendolen (Romola Garai)
THE MOMENT: When Gwendolen puts the necklace on her wrist to show Daniel that she loves him.
THE BUILD UP – DANIEL AND GWENDOLEN
While they are definitely not the pairing people think of when they hear Daniel Deronda, I have chosen to highlight Daniel Deronda and Gwendolen Harleth as a couple this week. I would argue that Daniel and Gwendolen should have ended up together in the first place instead of him and Mirah Lapidoth. In all honesty, I can’t stand the pairing of Daniel and Mirah.
In fact, I don’t much like Mirah at all. I think she is a weak-willed character who is either crying or looking pitiful. She gains the sympathy of men and then they feel obligated towards her, as Daniel feels. I don’t think Daniel feels any grand passion for Mirah, but rather a responsibility towards her and the Jewish people living in England. I believe this and his desire to get back to his Jewish roots are his reason for marrying Mirah rather than staying and fighting for Gwendolen as he should have done.
Gwendolen, on the other hand, is a much stronger character than Mirah. Even after all of the abuse she endures during her marriage to Henleigh Grandcourt she still survives and her spirit is not broken. Mirah gives up from the very beginning, as when we first see her she is trying to commit suicide. She claims to be faithful to her God but after life’s challenges is so weak as to go against his very wishes and try to snuff out the life He gave her. That doesn’t sound like devotion to one’s religion to me. Gwendolen never breaks under the weight of her circumstances and weakens to the point where she is willing to kill herself.
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I think Gwendolen has gotten a bad rap, being defined wholly by her selfish side. But she is much more than that. Yes, she is a bit spoiled, but then again a lot of people are. Can you claim to be completely perfect and giving? She is also spirited and firm in her beliefs, never backing down. I also don’t think that she marries Grandcourt because she is spoiled and doesn’t want to be a governess. I think she was cruelly manipulated by both her family and Grandcourt into marrying him.
Gwendolen is constantly being judged only by her looks. Men see her as nothing but a pretty face. She hates men, as is evident by her extremely harsh reaction when any man tries to touch her. When Grandcourt and other men kiss her hand you can see the disgust on her face. I think that clearly speaks to some kind of abuse in her life.
Amber, one of our administrators, is the one who could write a book on the possibility that Gwendolen was abused by her stepfather (and maybe she will at a future date), but I tend to agree with her. She shows too many signs of being afraid of men. She panics when one young gentleman tries to hold her hand and draws away very abruptly. Then later in the scene, she says to her mother, “I can’t love people. I only hate them.”
This is directly after she has been asked if she returns the love of that particular gentleman. She has clearly been extremely upset by the encounter. Gwendolen also refuses to dance the waltz, claiming, “It’s too…” as she looks at the closely dancing couples. I believe she is afraid of how closely the couples must touch in the dance and refuses it because she could not bear to be touched for that long and that closely by man.
When her family is ruined, Gwendolen at first refuses to be a governess, but after a while, she accepts her lot in life and agrees to take the position. When Grandcourt comes to call on her and ask for her hand in marriage she first says before she goes in to see him that she will refuse him. That without a doubt clears her of the charge that she is marrying him because she doesn’t want to be a governess. She would have refused him, but in the very next scene she is intimidated and manipulated by Grandcourt to accept his hand in marriage.
When he asks her and she does not immediately reply in the affirmative, he begins to walk closer and closer, causing Gwendolen to back up. In a very real sense, he has her cornered. He then continues to say over and over again as he is approaching this woman who is afraid of men, “You accept me. You accept me as your husband.” If that isn’t pure intimidation, I don’t know what is. He basically forces her into accepting his proposal.
I would also like to remind everyone that Gwendolen met Grandcourt first and that she didn’t meet Daniel until after she was engaged to Grandcourt. That makes the question of whether she should have chosen him a moot point. She was already promised to another very powerful man; there was no choice in the matter at that point. She couldn’t have chosen Daniel even if she had wanted to.
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It is unfortunate that she didn’t meet Daniel first and had developed a relationship with him earlier on. I think they are the stronger pairing in this story. Gwendolen likes and is not afraid of Daniel. He is unlike all of the men who are only interested in her looks. He is wholesome, a breed of a man she is completely unfamiliar with. I think if they had met first, they would have ended up together rather than Gwendolen ending up with Grandcourt and Daniel with Mirah.
Gwendolen is able to come to love Daniel, something that I think would have been impossible for her to do with any other man. Daniel is good and kind and makes her feel safe. He should have stayed and fought to get Gwendolen out of her horrendous marriage rather than go off with Mirah. So, here I am pretending that that was the real outcome and presenting to you the pairing of Daniel and Gwendolen.
THE ROMANTIC MOMENT – DANIEL AND GWENDOLEN
And now we come to our romantic moment between Daniel and Gwendolen. I’ve chosen the moment when Gwendolen shows Daniel the necklace around her wrist that he returned to her when they first saw each other.
I think I shall be damned for what I have done.
Daniel and Gwendolen are both at a party and decide to go out to the cloisters to escape the crowded ballroom after Daniel noticed the necklace on her while they both danced with others. While they are strolling along the hallway, Gwendolen looks down at her wrist, showing Daniel her necklace wrapped around it (which I must note she put on her wrist after her husband refused to let her wear it on her neck). She says to him:
“ I wore it for you. Do you remember?”
“Of course I remember.”
Gwendolen smiles wryly and asks:
“Then do you still think badly of me?”
“I never thought badly of you, “ Daniel exclaims, looking at her. “Not then. Not now. I did think you might be throwing your life away.”
Gwendolen smiles and replies:
“Oh, I wasn’t throwing my life away then. That was just a few francs.”
Gwendolen turns serious and continues:
“If you knew what my life is now…and I brought it all on myself.” She turns towards him, pleading, “But I had to do something to help my family. Don’t you see?”
Her face becomes disgusted and they continue the conversation:
“No that’s not true. I married him because I couldn’t bear to be a governess. There, do you despise me now?”
Gwendolen then turns and walks away towards one of the windows, but Daniel follows her.
“How could I despise you?” He says.
She turns back towards him and says:
“You would if you knew everything. I think I shall be damned for what I have done.”
Daniel steps closer to Gwendolen and says passionately,
“No, not you.”
For a moment the two look as if they are about to kiss, but then Gwendolen turns from Daniel and walks to one of the windows.
She begins to plead with him to help her, that she doesn’t know what to do about her life.
Finally, she asks,
“But you do care something for me?”
Daniel looks intensely at her and replies,
I care very much about you.
“I care very much about you.”
Gwendolen looks hopefully at Daniel.
“Then we can see each other again. You will let me come and see you sometimes and talk to you.”
Daniel looks at Gwendolen with a somewhat puzzled air about him.
“Gladly, if it will help you.”
Gwendolen replies with a wistful sigh,
Then the two turn to see Grandcourt watching them from the entrance to the cloisters and the moment dissipates into thin air.
I love this scene. For a moment you can believe that Daniel and Gwendolen might actually end up together, perhaps run off into the sunset. Then Grandcourt steps in like a dark cloud to blot out Gwendolen’s happiness. But there you have it. One moment in which Daniel and Gwendolen reveal their feelings to each other. There are a few other moments in the movie, but this one is my favorite. I think the symbolism of the necklace that Daniel retrieved and saved for Gwendolen is beautiful. It echoes the way Gwendolen wants to be saved by Daniel. If only George Eliot had been so kind…
Do you think Daniel should be with Mirah or Gwendolen? Do you love this scene between Daniel and Gwendolen? Sound off below…