Segments in this Video

Introduction: Theme of Evil (03:43)


In this lecture, Ruth Wisse will explore three kinds of evil: Henleigh Grandcourt's character in Gwendolen Harleth's story, Mirah Lapidoth's father, and evil in British society. Wisse performs a parody of melodrama sensationalizing evil.

Threat from the Inside (04:49)

The villains have familial connections to Gwendolen and Mirah, and are associated with both English and Jewish wrongdoing. Wisse reads a passage placing the British class system in the context of the American Civil War.

Marrying Up (04:21)

Gwendolen's family aims to elevate their social status through her marriage to Grandcourt. She assumes he is a gentleman. Wisse discusses Irving Howe's idea that Grandcourt represents sadistic evil.

Gwendolen's Conscience (03:19)

Grandcourt's victims plot against Gwendolen, who believes she is doing Lydia wrong. She is confident she can exercise power over Grandcourt, but the opposite occurs.

A Useless Aristocrat (04:18)

Despite his title, Grandcourt does not contribute to society. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche's ideas about the will to power as a supreme human impulse are negatively manifested in him. Howe argues that he represents the evils of British imperialism and foreshadows fascism.

Domestic Evil (04:36)

Lapidoth takes Mirah from her mother, exploits her loyalty, and tries to sell her in marriage when her singing career falters. Eliot develops his character from "evil Jew" literary models; Wisse speculates that she hoped to reverse the stereotype.

Anti-Jewish Prejudice (05:10)

Wisse quotes instances in which non-Jewish characters exhibited ignorance towards Jewish characters—viewed by Eliot as the dark side of British nationalism. Wisse clarifies that the term anti-Semitism was coined in Germany as a political ideology.

"The Modern Hep, Hep!" (04:07)

In Germany, anti-Semitism forged an alliance between anti-liberal forces. In an essay, Eliot revived a crusader term meaning "Jerusalem is lost to the Jews." Wisse reads an excerpt describing British fear of their political and economic power within a liberal society.

"Daniel Deronda" as a Moral Guide (06:14)

Eliot was concerned that anti-Jewish prejudice deflected issues of aristocracy, universal alienism, and insecurity. Learning to appreciate the Jews would save England from following Germany, she believed. Daniel's desire to help others counters Grandcourt's sadism and Lapidoth's exploitation of Mirah's loyalty.

Credits: The Theme of Evil (00:07)

Credits: The Theme of Evil

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The Theme of Evil

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



In the fourth part of an eight part lecture series on “Daniel Deronda,” Professor Ruth Wisse examines evilness in Henleigh Grandcourt and Mr. Lapidoth. An expert on Yiddish and Jewish literature and winner of the National Humanities Medal, Wisse discusses how Grandcourt symbolizes an aristocracy that loses its purpose before losing financial power. Bored, he exercises power over Gwendolen, who does not suspect his sadism. Mr. Lapidoth exploits Mirah’s loyalty to her father while fulfilling a negative Jewish stereotype. Wisse also identifies a third type of evil, that of anti-Jewish prejudice in British society that developed in response to internal problems such as universal alienism and insecurity. Through the novel, Eliot hoped to save England from adopting Germany’s anti-Semitism ideology.

Length: 41 minutes

Item#: BVL133165

ISBN: 978-1-64023-760-5

Copyright date: ©2017

Closed Captioned

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