Segments in this Video

Introduction: Theme of Beauty and Goodness (03:12)


Hear Professor Ruth Wisse’s career highlights. She will present an eight part series on George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda," exploring nationalism, liberalism, family, social life, and early Zionism. Episode 1 themes include beauty versus virtue, forbidden love, and changes in British society.

George Eliot Overview (04:27)

Wisse discusses the author's genius against the backdrop of a literary Victorian society and increasing opportunities for women. Eliot was primarily a philosopher, and became a novelist to better promote her ideas. Queen Victoria was an early fan.

George Eliot's Paradoxes and Thoughts on Nationalism (04:43)

Mary Anne Evans rejected her Christian faith at age 22, edited the "Westminster Review," championed morality, and had an affair with George Lewes. Wisse discusses the "good novel" phenomenon and Eliot's promotion of Jewish nationalism in “Daniel Deronda.”

Beauty vs. Virtue (04:23)

Wisse quotes a paragraph from Chapter 1 describing a man and woman mutually attracted across a room. "Beautiful" describes fairy tale heroines; romantic heroines combine physical and moral perfection. In Daniel's perspective, beauty's value is subordinated to that of goodness.

Deathless Perfection (03:21)

Many romantics believed refining taste would refine morality. Wisse reads from Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" linking beauty with truth. Eliot's opening of "Daniel Deronda" flouts this idea by linking beauty to virtue.

Staving off Mediocrity (03:24)

Reacting to the bourgeoisie, aestheticists like Walter Pater believed life should imitate art, a view shared by Gwendolen in "Daniel Deronda." Eliot disagreed with Pater's work and believed art should improve life; morality should be cultivated through moral behavior.

Forbidden Love (04:52)

Wisse discusses how the opening paragraph in Chapter 1 challenges romantic love. Forbidden love is Hollywood's treatment of Jewish intermarriage—ending in happiness or death. Daniel seeks coherence, rather than romance.

Novel as Moral Teacher (05:24)

Wisse argues that Eliot reorients the reader's expectation of romantic love by framing the attraction between Daniel and Gwendolen in moral terms. Rather than following a religious authority, Eliot believed fiction could influence society.

Changes in British Society (04:14)

Gwendolen is intrigued by Daniel at a fictional German gambling resort attracting English tourists; they do not meet again until Chapter 29. These circumstances show English society's increasing instability.

Human "Equality" (04:02)

Wisse discusses European culture's destabilizing effects on British society, as demonstrated by English tourists of diverse social classes intermingling in Germany. She argues that Eliot is skeptical of internationalism; the gambling table constitutes democracy.

Socially Adrift (03:48)

Gwendolen and Daniel were invited to Leubronn by aristocrats, but have no independent financial standing. Their futures are uncertain; capitalism and modernity feature opportunity and risk. Eliot's novel views progress with skepticism.

Jewish People and English People (03:57)

German-Jewish scholar David Kaufmann appreciated that Daniel and Gwendolen do not marry. Many readers did not understand how the two plots fit together. Wisse argues that Eliot used the two groups to explore ideas of nationalism and individual freedom.

Liberalism (03:52)

Wisse explores how Eliot's novel looked at contradictions within liberal democracy, such as a failing to understand why the Jewish community remained separate. The opening chapter asks how Gwendolen and Daniel's romance will develop.

Credits: The Theme of Beauty and Goodness (00:07)

Credits: The Theme of Beauty and Goodness

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The Theme of Beauty and Goodness

Part of the Series : Ruth Wisse Teaches Daniel Deronda
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



In the first of an eight part lecture series, Professor Ruth Wisse introduces George Eliot, the author of Daniel Deronda, and her character Gwendolen Harleth. An expert on Yiddish and Jewish literature and winner of the National Humanities Medal, Wisse explores the opening paragraph of Chapter 1, in which Daniel and Gwendolen are attracted to one another at a casino in Germany. Through the relationship between these characters and their parallel plots, she explores themes of nationalism, liberalism, changes in British society, forbidden love, and the concept of moral virtue eclipsing physical beauty.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: BVL133162

ISBN: 978-1-64023-757-5

Copyright date: ©2017

Closed Captioned

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