An arrow to the heart for leap year day: Daniel Deronda

the book:

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

published 1876     Chapter 10 and chapter 22

[An archery contest for the gentry, including Gwendolen Harleth and Catherine Arrowpoint. Gwendolen is speaking:]

“How remarkably well Miss Arrowpoint looks to-day! She would make quite a fine picture in that gold-colored dress."

"Too splendid, don't you think?"

"Well, perhaps a little too symbolical—too much like the figure of Wealth in an allegory."

This speech of Gwendolen's had rather a malicious sound, but it was not really more than a bubble of fun…

[the spectators discuss the contest] "It seems to me that Miss Harleth is likely to win the gold arrow."

"Gad, I think she will, if she carries it on! Catherine is not up to her usual mark," continued his lordship, turning to the heiress's mother who sat near. "But she got the gold arrow last time.”

‘Catherine will be very glad for others to win,’ said Mrs. Arrowpoint, ‘she is so magnanimous. It was entirely her considerateness that made us bring Herr Klesmer instead of Canon Stopley, who had expressed a wish to come…’


Later in the book Herr Klesmer tells Catherine he must go away because of his feelings for her.]

“…I shall go now and pack. I shall make my excuses to Mrs. Arrowpoint." Klesmer rose as he ended, and walked quickly toward the door…

"Why should I not marry the man who loves me, if I love him?" said Catherine. To her the effort was something like the leap of a woman from the deck into the lifeboat.

"It would be too hard—impossible—you could not carry it through. I am not worth what you would have to encounter. I will not accept the sacrifice. It would be thought a mésalliance for you and I should be liable to the worst accusations."

"Is it the accusations you are afraid of? I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together."

The decisive word had been spoken: there was no doubt concerning the end willed by each: there only remained the way of arriving at it, and Catherine determined to take the straightest possible. She went to her father and mother in the library, and told them that she had promised to marry Klesmer.


Today is Leap Year Day, when traditionally women can ask men to marry them. Catherine is called Arrowpoint, and she’s good at archery. Cupid’s arrows seem as though they might be rather below George Eliot’s notice, but the symbolism does shout out. The future husbands of both young women are at the archery contest. Catherine loses the contest, but the marriage stakes are something else…

Gwendolen and Catherine: something like Wings of the Dove, blog entry here, one is poor and the other rich, and at first they are set up to be in competition. Gwendolen needs a rich husband, Catherine doesn’t. What Gwendolen wants from Herr Klesmer is his good opinion, not his love: and she is shown up as a talented amateur rather than a real musician.

When Catherine thinks the love of her life might hold back, she bravely tells him what she wants from him. Her family will be outraged, but she will go ahead, though she is rather lost from the book from then on.

The photograph is from the Library of Congress, and is featured on Flickr.