Segments in this Video

Introduction: How Fiction Differs from Philosophy (04:25)


In this lecture, Professor Ruth Wisse will look at Daniel's mother, a character standing against the novel's ideas. William Blake believed John Milton's "Paradise Lost" subconsciously sided with the devil. Some critics find Daniel's character more boring than Gwendolen's character.

Princess Leonora Halm-Eberstein (04:07)

Wisse finds Daniel's mother among the most vivid characters in literature and compares her life to Eliot's own. When they meet, she dashes his hopes of a family reunion and disproves the idea that women have an essential maternal nature.

Antithesis of Jewish Motherhood (05:36)

Leonora rejects both her son and her Jewish identity, a recurring theme in Jewish and Yiddish literature. Wisse reads a passage in which Leonora speaks bitterly about her father's expectations and expresses desire for freedom to live as she chooses.

Bound by a Familial Religion (05:05)

As philosophers present an intellectual argument against Jewish national self-liberation, Leonora presents an emotional case against Judaism without acknowledging its contribution to her talents. She believes it is her individual right to escape her father and control her destiny.

Exploring the Modern Woman (04:20)

Leonora's anti-Jewish arguments are similar to Pash and Gideon's objections to recovering Zion. Like Gwendolen, she craves independence; unlike Gwendolen, she has achieved wealth, social standing, and domestic power, and does not regret giving up Daniel.

Matrilineal Transmission (04:05)

A friend of Daniel’s grandfather seeks out Leonora in Russia. Dying, she agrees to grant Daniel his Jewish birthright. The novel warns against modern women wanting freedom from family and nation, but accepts that society will change.

Change vs. Progress (04:21)

Eliot cautions against social movements claiming to improve a nation. These include German Reform attempts to strip Judaism of national political aspects, and the women's liberation movement. Eliot believed women should be nurturers of family and society.

Subordinating Individual Needs for National Continuity (05:43)

The Cohen family demonstrates a wholesome and interconnected Jewish way of life. None of Eliot's characters are flawless; Leonora and Gwendolen are problematic but lively women. Leonora's argument for freedom counters constrictive aspects of Jewish nationalism.

Credits: How Fiction Differs from Philosophy (00:07)

Credits: How Fiction Differs from Philosophy

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How Fiction Differs from Philosophy

Part of the Series : Ruth Wisse Teaches Daniel Deronda
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In the seventh part of an eight part lecture series on “Daniel Deronda,” Professor Ruth Wisse examines George Eliot’s decision to present social and political ideas in fictional form. An expert on Yiddish and Jewish literature and winner of the National Humanities Medal, Wisse focuses on the Princess Leonora Halm-Eberstein, whose lively character contrasts her rejection of Judaism and of her son Daniel. She and Gwendolen Harleth desire freedom from family constraints; Eliot uses their actions as a warning of the women’s liberation movement's potentially detrimental impacts on society—ironically, Eliot was a modern woman herself. An antithesis of Jewish motherhood, Leonora complicates the novel’s otherwise strong support of Jewish nationalism.

Length: 38 minutes

Item#: BVL133168

ISBN: 978-1-64023-763-6

Copyright date: ©2017

Closed Captioned

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