by George Eliot
Gwendolen Harleth Grandcourt
Is she beautiful, or isn't she? This question starts off our first encounter with Gwendolen. It sets her up as a sort of walking contradiction – is she one thing, or is she its complete opposite? From that point, we're forced to look at Gwendolen from multiple perspectives. Sometimes we look down on her. Other times, we sympathize with her. Sometimes we think that Gwendolen is the worst, most selfish woman we've ever seen. Other times, we see that she's truly trying to be good.
While we try to figure out all of the crazy contradictions in Gwendolen's character, it seems that one of the biggest questions that comes up about Gwendolen isn't about whether she's good or bad, but rather whether she's powerful or powerless. When we meet Gwendolen, we figure out pretty quickly that she's the kind of girl who likes to be in charge. She seems to be able to control the people around her without breaking a sweat. Her family fawns over her, even when she's treating them like the mud on her shoe. Men drop at her feet. She doesn't usually think twice about whether or not she's hurting other people.
But then two different men enter Gwendolen's life, and both of them affect her deeply. On one hand, there's Grandcourt, whom Gwendolen eventually marries. Gwendolen doesn't want to have to go to work when she finds out that her family has lost everything. She figures that, by marrying Grandcourt, she'll gain financial freedom, influence in society, and absolute control over one man. Things don't go as planned, and instead Grandcourt assumes total control over Gwendolen. Oops.
Gwendolen's relationship with Daniel is also pretty interesting. He doesn't intentionally control her in any way, but in some ways he makes her feel sort of powerless. Daniel makes Gwendolen reflect on her actions, something that she's definitely not used to doing. She worries that he disapproves of her actions, from gambling in the casino to marrying Grandcourt. Gwendolen finds someone to look up to in Daniel. At the end of the novel, we see a totally different Gwendolen than the one we met on the first page. She's no longer as in control of herself as she once was, but she understands herself more – which makes you wonder whether she was really all that in control of herself in the first place, or if she just thought she did.Timeline