Gambling is a major issue in Daniel Deronda (1876), and it mediates a major conflict in George Eliot's system of belief. When the wayward Gwendolen gambles at roulette and marriage, she is made to suffer a heavy penance; yet when the author's darling Deronda risks his whole English inheritance for a visionary ideal, he is blessed. Gwendolen inhabits a deterministic world in which effect follows cause with relentless insistence, while Deronda, the flawless hero, inhabits one largely ruled by miracle and coincidence. These two gamblers receive very different treatment, and I probe this ambiguity under the rubrics of chance, play, and egotism. Eliot condemns chance because it substitutes luck for responsibility, yet she grants Deronda all the luck of a fixed game. He is her new savior, of a new faith at deep odds with any "religion of humanity." Play, gambling's other name, is Gwendolen's "doing as one likes" until, with Deronda teaching, she learns "duty." But on examination, this duty seems to include laundering the winnings of her marriage "gamble." Egotism, a bad word for Eliot, is Gwendolen's affliction in what we would now call narcissism. The gambler's character, experts agree, is self-centered, narcissistic, even solipsistic. Gwendolen is cured of her disease, but no cure is implied for the gambling age in which she lives, an age in which speculation and investment are increasingly hard to distinguish-and one in which Eliot, now rich, is deeply implicated. Gwendolen's deliverance promises no deliverance for that unregenerate society, and Deronda's New Jerusalem offers only a visionary, and essentially escapist, remedy. As George Eliot's last will and testament, this novel is a most troubled bequest.
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