Study Guide

Daniel Deronda Choices

By George Eliot

Choices

Even in Gwendolen's mind that result was one of two likelihoods that presented themselves alternately, one of two decisions towards which she was being precipitated, as if they were two sides of a boundary-line, and she did not know on which she should fall. (13.53)

To marry Grandcourt or not to marry Grandcourt? That is the question.

The prospect of marrying Grandcourt really seemed more attractive to her than she had believed beforehand that any marriage could be: the dignities, the luxuries, the power of doing a great deal of what she liked to do, which had now come close to her, and within her choice to secure or to lose, took hold of her nature as if it had been the strong odour of what she had only imagined and longed for before. (13.53)

Gwendolen has a lot of ambitions to be in control not only of herself, but also of others. She's not totally into the idea of marrying Grandcourt, but she knows she has a choice to make: between getting everything she wants in terms of material possessions and financial security, or not marrying him.

"Do be serious with me for a moment, dear. Am I to understand that you mean to accept him?"

"Oh pray, mamma, leave me to myself," said Gwendolen, with a pettish distress in her voice. (13.75-76)

Haven't we all been in this situation – you think you know what you want, and then you second-guess your choice? Gwendolen thought she wasn't going to accept Grandcourt, but now she's not so sure.

"Then, my dear Gwendolen, I have nothing further to say than this: you hold your fortune in your own hands—a fortune such as rarely happens to a girl in your circumstances—a fortune in fact which almost takes the question out of the range of mere personal feeling, and makes your acceptance of it a duty. If Providence offers you power and position—especially when unclogged by any conditions that are repugnant to you—your course is one of responsibility, into which caprice must not enter. […] And I must point out to you that in case Mr. Grandcourt were repelled without your having refused him—without your having intended ultimately to refuse him—without your having intended ultimately to refuse him, your situation would be a humiliating and painful one. I, for my part, should regard you with severe disapprobation, as the victim of nothing else than your own coquetry and folly." (13.97)

Well, that's helpful. Gwendolen's uncle is like, "Hey, it's up to you, but I'll think you're stupid and ungrateful if you don't make what I think is the right decision."

"I am very sorry to cause you annoyance, mamma, dear, but I can't help it," said Gwendolen, with still harder resistance in her tone. "Whatever you or my uncle may think or do, I shall not alter my resolve, and I shall not tell my reason. I don't care what comes of it. I don't care if I never marry any one. There is nothing worth caring for. I believe all men are bad, and I hate them."

"But need you set off in this way, Gwendolen?" said Mrs. Davilow, miserable and helpless.

"Now, mamma, don't interfere with me. If you have ever had any trouble in your own life, remember it and don't interfere with me. If I am to be miserable, let it be by my own choice." (14.76-78)

Gwendolen pretty much spells it out for her mom: she doesn't want to marry Grandcourt, no matter what anyone says. If she's unhappy, at least it was her own choice.

"Now, now now!—don't cry"—Gwendolen, holding her mamma's head with both hands, kissed the trembling eyelids. "But mind you don't contradict me or put hindrances in my way. I must decide for myself. I cannot be dictated to by my uncle or any one else. My life is my own affair. And I think"—here her tone took on an edge of scorn—"I think I can do better for you than let you live in Sawyer's Cottage." (21.51)

Here's another example of Gwendolen's great back-and-forth debate over what to do. Just as she said it was up to her whether or not to marry Grandcourt, she also realizes that she has a choice as to whether or not her family should live in poverty. (Of course, getting out of poverty means marrying Grandcourt. Decisions, decisions…)

Gwendolen felt a contradictory desire to be hastened: hurry would save her from deliberate choice.

"I did not mean him to wait long enough for that needlework to be finished," she said, lifting her hands to stroke the backward curves of her hair, while she rose from her seat and stood still.

"But if you don't feel able to decide?" said Mrs. Davilow, sympathisingly.

"I must decide," said Gwendolen, walking to the writing-table and seating herself. All the while there was a busy undercurrent in her, like the thought of a man who keeps up a dialogue while he is considering how he can slip away. (26.30-33)

Gwendolen knows she has a choice to make – whether or not to accept Grandcourt's proposal and save her family from poverty. Here, she shows us a side of decision-making that we can totally relate to: sometimes it's harder to make a choice when you have time to think about it. Gwendolen would prefer to be rushed just so she can get the process over with.

Since the early days when [Daniel] had tried to construct the hidden story of his own birth, his mind had perhaps never been so active in weaving probabilities about any private affair as it had now begun to be about Gwendolen's marriage. This unavowed relation of Grandcourt's—could she have gained some knowledge of it, which caused her to shrink from the match—a shrinking finally overcome by the urgence of poverty? He could recall almost every word she had said to him, and in certain of these words he seemed to discern that she was conscious of having done some wrong—inflicted some injury. (36.24)

Daniel wonders if Gwendolen knew about Lydia Glasher – Grandcourt's "unavowed relation" – before deciding to marry him. If so, her choice to go ahead and marry him could definitely be responsible for her visible feelings of guilt.

"I hope you don't expect that I am going to be rich and grand, mamma," said Gwendolen, not long after the Rector's communication; "perhaps I shall have nothing at all."

She was drest, and had been sitting long in quiet meditation. Mrs. Davilow was startled, but said, after a moment's reflection—

"Oh yes, dear, you will have something. Sir Hugo knows all about the will."

"That will not decide," said Gwendolen, abruptly.

"Surely, dear: Sir Hugo says you are to have two thousand a-year and the house at Gadsmere."

"What I have will depend on what I accept," said Gwendolen. (64.26-31)

After Grandcourt dies, we find out that he has left the bulk of his estate to his son by Lydia Glasher, but he has also left some money and a house to Gwendolen. What is interesting here is that she views this inheritance as another choice for her to make: she can choose whether or not to even accept it. As usual, she finds it necessary to think about it long and hard.

"I think it is not your duty to fix a limit in that way," said Deronda. "You would be making a painful enigma for Mrs. Davilow; an income from which you shut yourself out must be embittered to her. And your own course would become too difficult. We agreed at Genoa that the burthen on your conscience is what no one ought to be admitted to the knowledge of. The future beneficence of your life will be best furthered by your saving all others from the pain of that knowledge. In my opinion you ought simply to abide by the provisions of your husband's will, and let your remorse tell only on the use that you will make of your monetary independence." (65.13)

Gwendolen has been trying to decide whether or not to accept the terms of Grandcourt's will at all. Daniel provides her with a different set of choices to make: she shouldn't decide whether or not to accept the money; instead, she should accept it, but then decide how to use it.