Sunday, November 30, 2008

Daniel Deronda & The House of Mirth

It's amusing when almost exactly the same scene occurs in two works of literature. In The House of Mirth:
    "Ah, don't say that -- don't say that what you have told me has made no difference. It seems to shut me out -- to leave me all alone with the other people." She had risen and stood before him, once more completely mastered by the inner urgency of the moment. The consciousness of his half-divined reluctance had vanished. Whether he wished it or not, he must see her wholly for once before they parted.

    Her voice had gathered strength, and she looked him gravely in the eyes as she continued. "Once -- twice -- you gave me the chance to escape from my life, and I refused it: refused it because I was a coward. Afterward I saw my mistake -- I saw I could never be happy with what had contented me before. But it was too late: you had judged me -- I understood. It was too late for happiness -- but not too late to be helped by the thought of what I had missed. That is all I have lived on -- don't take it from me now! Even in my worst moments it has been like a little light in the darkness. Some women are strong enough to be good by themselves, but I needed the help of your belief in me. Perhaps I might have resisted a great temptation, but the little ones would have pulled me down. And then I remembered -- I remembered your saying that such a life could never satisfy me; and I was ashamed to admit to myself that it could. That is what you did for me -- that is what I wanted to thank you for. I wanted to tell you that I have always remembered; and that I have tried -- tried hard . . ."

    She broke off suddenly. Her tears had risen again, and in drawing out her handkerchief her fingers touched the packet in the folds of her dress. A wave of colour suffused her, and the words died on her lips. Then she lifted her eyes to his and went on in an altered voice.

    "I have tried hard -- but life is difficult, and I am a very useless person. I can hardly be said to have an independent existence. I was just a screw or a cog in the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else. What can one do when one finds that one only fits into one hole? One must get back to it or be thrown out into the rubbish heap -- and you don't know what it's like in the rubbish heap!"

    Her lips wavered into a smile -- she had been distracted by the whimsical remembrance of the confidences she had made to him, two years earlier, in that very room. Then she had been planning to marry Percy Gryce -- what was it she was planning now?

    The blood had risen strongly under Selden's dark skin, but his emotion showed itself only in an added seriousness of manner.

    "You have something to tell me -- do you mean to marry?" he said abruptly.

    Lily's eyes did not falter, but a look of wonder, of puzzled self-interrogation, formed itself slowly in their depths. In the light of his question, she had paused to ask herself if her decision had really been taken when she entered the room.

    "You always told me I should have to come to it sooner or later!" she said with a faint smile.

    "And you have come to it now?"

    "I shall have to come to it -- presently. But there is something else I must come to first." She paused again, trying to transmit to her voice the steadiness of her recovered smile. "There is some one I must say goodbye to. Oh, not YOU -- we are sure to see each other again -- but the Lily Bart you knew. I have kept her with me all this time, but now we are going to part, and I have brought her back to you -- I am going to leave her here. When I go out presently she will not go with me. I shall like to think that she has stayed with you -- and she'll be no trouble, she'll take up no room."

    She went toward him, and put out her hand, still smiling. "Will you let her stay with you?" she asked.

    He caught her hand, and she felt in his the vibration of feeling that had not yet risen to his lips. "Lily -- can't I help you?" he exclaimed.

    She looked at him gently. "Do you remember what you said to me once? That you could help me only by loving me? Well -- you did love me for a moment; and it helped me. It has always helped me. But the moment is gone -- it was I who let it go. And one must go on living. Goodbye."

    She laid her other hand on his, and they looked at each other with a kind of solemnity, as though they stood in the presence of death. Something in truth lay dead between them -- the love she had killed in him and could no longer call to life. But something lived between them also, and leaped up in her like an imperishable flame: it was the love his love had kindled, the passion of her soul for his.

    In its light everything else dwindled and fell away from her. She understood now that she could not go forth and leave her old self with him: that self must indeed live on in his presence, but it must still continue to be hers.

    Selden had retained her hand, and continued to scrutinize her with a strange sense of foreboding. The external aspect of the situation had vanished for him as completely as for her: he felt it only as one of those rare moments which lift the veil from their faces as they pass.

    "Lily," he said in a low voice, "you mustn't speak in this way. I can't let you go without knowing what you mean to do. Things may change -- but they don't pass. You can never go out of my life."

    She met his eyes with an illumined look. "No," she said. "I see that now. Let us always be friends. Then I shall feel safe, whatever happens."
And almost the same exact scene occurs within Daniel Deronda, the first time here, and the second time, here:
    "I said--I said--it should be better--better with me--for having known you."

    His eyes too were larger with tears. She wrested one of her hands from his, and returned his action, pressing his tears away.

    "We shall not be quite parted," he said. "I will write to you always, when I can, and you will answer?"

    He waited till she said in a whisper, "I will try."

    "I shall be more with you than I used to be," Deronda said with gentle urgency, releasing her hands and rising from his kneeling posture. "If we had been much together before, we should have felt our differences more, and seemed to get farther apart. Now we can perhaps never see each other again. But our minds may get nearer."

    Gwendolen said nothing, but rose too, automatically. Her withered look of grief, such as the sun often shines on when the blinds are drawn up after the burial of life's joy, made him hate his own words: they seemed to have the hardness of easy consolation in them. She felt that he was going, and that nothing could hinder it. The sense of it was like a dreadful whisper in her ear, which dulled all other consciousness; and she had not known that she was rising.

    Deronda could not speak again. He thought that they must part in silence, but it was difficult to move toward the parting, till she looked at him with a sort of intention in her eyes, which helped him. He advanced to put out his hand silently, and when she had placed hers within it, she said what her mind had been laboring with--

    "You have been very good to me. I have deserved nothing. I will try--try to live. I shall think of you. What good have I been? Only harm. Don't let me be harm to you. It shall be the better for me--"

    She could not finish. It was not that she was sobbing, but that the intense effort with which she spoke made her too tremulous. The burden of that difficult rectitude toward him was a weight her frame tottered under.

    She bent forward to kiss his cheek, and he kissed hers. Then they looked at each other for an instant with clasped hands, and he turned away.
All these unfortunate women who abuse themselves, their ignorance and their lack of understanding while adoring the brilliant men who welcome them to a world of ideas which they have not been privy to before's amusing in a somewhat disturbing way.

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