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Gwendolen    by Diana Souhami order for
by Diana Souhami
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Gwendolen is a beautiful young woman who lives in England during the mid-nineteenth century. Her mother has been twice widowed and left with little money, her four daughters are her only children, and the best hope for the family would be for Gwendolen, who is the eldest, to marry a wealthy man.

At the beginning of the novel, twenty-year-old Gwendolen has run away from home to join friends who are vacationing at a German resort, where she is gambling wildly, hoping to win enough money to help her family and avoid the necessity of marriage to a man she doesn't love. At first she wins, but when she notices Daniel Deronda staring at her, her luck changes and she begins to lose. She feels drawn to him in a strange way and falls instantly in love with him. After he returns a necklace to her that she had pawned, she believes that he is equally attracted to her.

Gwendolen is written as though it is a letter from her to Daniel. She marries a wealthy man to help her family and suffers because of this dreadful marriage, but she believes that her feelings for Daniel help her to remain a good person. The stories of Gwendolen and Daniel were previously told in the last book by George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, written in 1875. This novel tells more of the details of Gwendolen's life after her marriage, and Daniel remains a lesser character and the object of her obsessive love.

Gwendolen is not a particularly likeable character. Even though she relents and marries to save her family, her reasons for doing so, just as importantly, include saving herself from the horrors of becoming a governess. She has been spoiled by her mother and is extremely self-centered at the beginning of the story. She believes that she will be able to manipulate her husband and thinks that because he seems cold and unfeeling before the wedding, he will not be romantically inclined.

When she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who is bent on destroying her spirit, she maintains her sanity by thinking of Daniel and what he would want her to do. I found the style of this book, written as though it were a letter to Daniel Deronda, to be annoying and unpleasant, and even though Gwendolen changes during the book, she continues to seem shallow and selfish.

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