Deconstruction and Reading: Daniel Deronda

  • Derek Alsop
  • Chris Walsh


For good and for ill, the fortunes of deconstruction from the late 1980s through the 1990s were mixed. Certainly, by 1989, when revelations about the late Paul de Man’s allegedly pro-Nazi past broke upon the critical scene, the concept had already been under attack from two opposite, if not equal, camps. On the one hand, entrenched conservatives continued to pour scorn on what they considered to be an absurd, self-refuting, even nihilistic approach to reading and criticism.1 On the other hand, born-again historicists and cultural materialists were beginning to react vigorously against the emergence of what they saw as a disturbingly ahistorical, apolitical critical wisdom.2 The rearguard actions fought since then by some of deconstruction’s proponents and exemplars, however, have varied enormously in terms of their effectiveness, ranging from the embarrassingly inept to the impressively astute.3 And battle is still joined, despite apocalyptic predictions of literary theory’s imminent demise.4 Reports of the death of deconstruction, at any rate, would appear to have been somewhat exaggerated.


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  1. 4.
    See Raymond Tallis’s essay, ‘The Survival of Theory: (1) “He Never Said That”’, in Poetry Nation Review, Vol. 20, No. 6 (July–August, 1994), pp. 61–4.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad (Harmondsworth, 1993), p. 97. Leavis reprints Henry James’s piece of 1876, ‘Daniel Deronda: A Conversation’ in the Appendix to The Great Tradition (pp. 284–304). See also: U. C. Knoepflmacher, Religious Humanism and the Victorian Novel: George Eliot, Walter Pater, and Samuel Butler (Princeton, NJ, 1965), Ch. IV (‘Daniel Deronda: Tradition as Synthesis and Salvation’); and Sally Shuttleworth, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning (Cambridge, 1984), Ch. 8 (‘Daniel Deronda: Fragmentation and Organic Union’). For a different perspective consult David Carroll, ‘The Unity of Daniel Deronda’, Essays in Criticism, Vol. 9 (1959), pp. 369–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 16.
    Barbara Johnson, ‘Nothing Fails like Success’, Deconstructive Criticism: Directions: SCE Reports, Vol. 8 (Fall, 1980), pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    See Cynthia Chase, ‘The Decomposition of the Elephants: Double-Reading Daniel Deronda’, PMLA, Vol. 93 (1978), pp. 215–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© D. K. Alsop and C. J. Walsh 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Alsop
  • Chris Walsh

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