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Novel to Film | Daniel meets the Contessa

Novel | Script | Film


The Novel

Daniel meets the Contessa
From Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
Book Seven: The Mother And The Son, Chapter 51

...When Deronda presented himself at the door of his mother's apartment in the Italia, he felt some revival of his boyhood with its premature agitations. The two servants in the antechamber looked at him markedly, a little surprised that the doctor their lady had come to consult was this striking young gentleman whose appearance gave even the severe lines of an evening dress the credit of adornment. But Deronda could notice nothing until, the second door being opened, he found himself in the presence of a figure, which at the other end of the large room stood awaiting his approach.

She was covered, except as to her face and part of her arms, with black lace hanging loosely from the summit of her whitening hair to the long train stretching from her tall figure. Her arms, naked from the elbow, except for some rich bracelets, were folded before her, and the fine poise of her head made it look handsomer than it really was. But Deronda felt no interval of observation before he was close in front of her, holding the hand she had put out and then raising it to his lips. She still kept her hand in his and looked at him examiningly; while his chief consciousness was that her eyes were piercing and her face so mobile that the next moment she might look like a different person. For even while she was examining him there was a play of the brow and nostril, which made a tacit language. Deronda dared no movement, not able to conceive what sort of manifestation her feeling demanded; but he felt himself changing colour like a girl, and yet wondering at his own lack of emotion: he had lived through so many ideal meetings with his mother, and they had seemed more real than this! He could not even conjecture in what language she would speak to him. He imagined it would not be English. Suddenly, she let fall his hand, and placed both hers on his shoulders, while her face gave out a flash of admiration in which every worn line disappeared and seemed to leave a restored youth.

'You are a beautiful creature!" she said, in a low melodious voice, with syllables, which had what might be called a foreign but agreeable outline. 'I knew you would be." Then she kissed him on each cheek, and he returned her kisses. But it was something like a greeting between royalties.

She paused a moment, while the lines were coming back into her face, and then said in a colder tone, "I am your mother. But you can have no love for me."

"I have thought of you more than of any other being in the world," said Deronda, his voice trembling nervously.

"I am not like what you thought I was," said the mother, decisively, withdrawing her hands from his shoulders and folding her arms as before, looking at him as if she invited him to observe her. He had often pictured her face in his imagination as one, which had a likeness to his own: he saw some of the likeness now, but amidst more striking differences. She was a remarkable-looking being. What was it that gave her son a painful sense of aloofness? Her worn beauty had a strangeness in it as if she were not quite a human mother, but a Melusina, who had ties with some world which is independent of ours.

"I used to think that you might be suffering," said Deronda, anxious above all not to wound her. "I used to wish that I could be a comfort to you."

"I am suffering. But with a suffering that you can't comfort," said the Princess, in a harder voice than before, moving to a sofa where cushions had been carefully arranged for her.

"Sit down." She pointed to a seat near her; and then discerning some distress in Deronda's face, she added, more gently, "I am not suffering at this moment. I am at ease now. I am able to talk."

Deronda seated himself and waited for her to speak again. It seemed as if he were in the presence of a mysterious Fate rather than of the longed-for mother. He was beginning to watch her with wonder, from the spiritual distance to which she had thrown him.

"No," she began, "I did not send for you to comfort me. I could not know beforehand I don't know now -- what you will feel towards me. I have not the foolish notion that you can love me merely because I am your mother, when you have never seen or heard of me all your life. But I thought I chose something better for you than being with me. I did not think that I deprived you of anything worth having."

"You cannot wish me to believe that your affection would not have been worth having," said Deronda, finding that she paused as if she expected him to make some answer.

"I don't mean to speak ill of myself," said the Princess, with proud impetuosity, 'but I had not much affection to give you. I did not want affection. I had been stifled with it. I wanted to live out the life that was in me, and not to be hampered with other lives. You wonder what I was. I was no princess then." She rose with a sudden movement, and stood as she had done before. Deronda immediately rose too; he felt breathless.

"No princess in this tame life that I live in now. I was a great singer, and I acted as well as I sang. All the rest were poor beside me. Men followed me from one country to another. I was living a myriad lives in one. I did not want a child.'

There was a passionate self-defense in her tone. She had cast all precedent out of her mind. Precedent had no excuse for her, and she could only seek a justification in the intensest words she could find for her experience. She seemed to fling out the last words against some possible reproach in the mind of her son, who had to stand and hear them -- clutching his coat-collar as if he were keeping himself above water by it, and feeling his blood in the sort of commotion that might have been excited if he had seen her going through some strange rite of a religion which gave a sacredness to crime. What else had she to tell him? She went on with the same intensity and a sort of pale illumination in her face.

"I did not want to marry. I was forced into marrying your father -- forced, I mean, by my father's wishes and commands; and besides, it was my best way of getting some freedom. I could rule my husband, but not my father. I had a right to be free. I had a right to seek my freedom from a bondage that I hated. "

She seated herself again, while there was that subtle movement in her eyes and closed lips which is like the suppressed continuation of speech. Deronda continued standing, and after a moment or two she looked up at him with a less defiant pleading as she said, "And the bondage I hated for myself I wanted to keep you from. What better could the most loving mother have done? I relieved you from the bondage of having been born a Jew."

"Then I am a Jew?" Deronda burst out with a deep-voiced energy that made his mother shrink a little backward against her cushions. "My father was a Jew, and you are a Jewess? "

"Yes, your father was my cousin," said the mother, watching him with a change in her look, as if she saw something that she might have to be afraid of.

"I am glad of it," said Deronda, impetuously, in the veiled voice of passion. He could not have imagined beforehand how he would come to say that which he had never hitherto admitted. He could not have dreamed that it would be in impulsive opposition to his mother. He was shaken by a mixed anger which no reflection could come soon enough to check, against this mother who it seemed had borne him unwillingly, had willingly made herself a stranger to him, and -- perhaps -- was now making herself known unwillingly. This last suspicion seemed to flash some explanation over her speech.

But the mother was equally shaken by an anger differently mixed, and her frame was less equal to any repression. The shaking with her was visibly physical, and her eyes looked the larger for her pallid excitement as she said violently, "Why do you say you are glad? You are an English gentleman. I secured you that."

"You did not know what you secured me. How could you choose my birthright for me?" said Deronda, throwing himself sideways into his chair again, almost unconsciously, and leaning his arm over the back while he looked away from his mother.

He was fired with an intolerance that seemed foreign to him. But he was now trying hard to master himself and keep silence. A horror had swept in upon his anger lest he should say something too hard in this moment, which made an epoch never to be recalled. There was a pause before his mother spoke again, and when she spoke her voice had become more firmly resistant in its finely varied tones:

"I chose for you what I would have chosen for myself. How could I know that you would have the spirit of my father in you? How could I know that you would love what I hated? If you really love to be a Jew." The last words had such bitterness in them that any one overhearing might have supposed some hatred had arisen between the mother and son.

But Deronda had recovered his fuller self. He was recalling his sensibilities to what life had been and actually was for her whose best years were gone, and who with the signs of suffering in her frame was now exerting herself to tell him of a past which was not his alone but also hers. His habitual shame at the acceptance of events as if they were his only, helped him even here. As he looked at his mother silently after her last words, his face regained some of its penetrative calm; yet it seemed to have a strangely agitating influence over her: her eyes were fixed on him with a sort of fascination, but not with any repose of maternal delight.

"Forgive me if I speak hastily," he said, with diffident gravity. "Why have you resolved now on disclosing to me what you took care to have me brought up in ignorance of? Why, since you seem angry that I should be glad?"

...."Mother, take comfort!"

She did not seem inclined to repulse him now, but looked down at him and let him take both her hands to fold between his. Gradually tears gathered, but she pressed her handkerchief against her eyes and then leaned her cheek against his brow, as if she wished that they should not look at each other.

'Is it not possible that I could be near you often and comfort you?" said Deronda. He was under that stress of pity that propels us on sacrifices.


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The Script

Daniel meets the Contessa
From the screenplay by Andrew Davies

Int. Genoa hotel, foyer.
Daniel comes in.


The Contessa: (V.O Cont'd) I will join you as soon as I can.

Undermanager: Signor Deronda.

The Undermanager comes out and hands him a letter. Daniel opens it.

The Contessa: (V/O) I'm ready to receive you -- Contessa Maria Alcharisi.

Int. Genoa hotel, Daniel's room.
Daniel adjusts his tie looking anxiously in the mirror.

Int. Genoa hotel, stairs/landing.
Daniel walks up the stairs along a very big grand corridor. He comes to a pair of double doors with a servant standing outside, who admits him.

Int. Genoa hotel, Contessa's suite.
Daniel goes through and the servant closes the doors behind him.

The Contessa is standing by her throne-like chair as if she is indeed royalty, or indeed a deity. She is very beautiful, in her fifties, but clearly ill. She looks a little unearthly, a little scary. She holds out a hand to Daniel without a word. He comes forward and takes it, and on impulse, raises it to his lips.


The Contessa: Well -- you are a beautiful creature. I thought you would be. Come here.

She kisses him on both cheeks, "like a greeting between royalties." Then stands back, looks at him searchingly.

The Contessa: (Cont'd) Yes. I am your mother -- but of course you can have no love for me.

Daniel: I have thought of you more than anyone in the world.

The Contessa: I'm not as you thought I would be, am I?

Indeed not -- she's got a bold, challenging presence. She is also very sexy, or has been. A very disturbing sort of mother.

Daniel: No. I used to think you might be suffering. I used to wish I could be a comfort to you.

The Contessa: I am suffering. But not at this moment -- and I didn't send for you to comfort me. Come, sit down.

They both sit -- Daniel very much on the edge of the chair -- he is really thrown by this glittering self-possessed woman.

The Contessa: (Cont'd) Now. I'm not foolish enough to imagine that you would love a mother who gave you away. But I chose something better for you than being with me. I didn't deprive you of anything worth having.

She is being quite warm in this speech: she is making the mistake of thinking that Daniel is like her, driven by his own ego rather than being a searcher who tends to live through other lives.

Daniel: (choked, almost, by this) Your love? Wasn't that worth having?

The Contessa: No. I didn't have much love to give you.

Up to this point, she's genuinely trying to reach out to Daniel -- but now her own huge ego comes roaring back, so to speak:

The Contessa: (Cont'd) I didn't want to be hampered with... other lives.

She stands. She has a terrific presence. Daniel looks at her, feels breathless.

The Contessa: (Cont'd) I was a singer. A great singer, an artist -- do you understand? I didn't want a child.

Daniel's shocked face, bringing her back to the reality of the situation she's in now:

The Contessa: (Cont'd) I was forced into marrying your father -- forced by my father's wishes and commands -- but it turned out to be the best way of getting some freedom. I could rule my husband but I couldn't rule my father, you see!

She's making the mistake of thinking that Daniel would identify. But Daniel has never experienced the stifling power of a parent's love, he's been longing for it all his life.

She bends down, moving closer and touches him: it's a passionate appeal:


The Contessa: (Cont'd) And I had a right to be free. I had a right to live the life that was in me -- we all have that right.

She sits.

The Contessa: (Cont'd) And the bondage I hated most -- I wanted to keep you from it, if I could. What better could the most loving mother have done?

She looks up at him, looks him in the eyes.

The Contessa: (Cont'd) I released you from the bondage of having been born a Jew.

Daniel's face. Her words have almost the opposite effect from what she expected -- it's as if she's told him his destiny, everything falls into place now, he's glad to be a Jew. So it's with a sense of wonder, but not incredulity, that he says:

Daniel: Then I am a Jew! My father was a Jew -- and you are a Jewess!

The Contessa: Yes.

Daniel: I'm glad of it.

Now it's her turn to be shocked. She's ill -- and this is quite a jolt to the heart: She's shaking and she sits back, breathless.

The Contessa: Why do you say that you're glad? You are an English gentleman, I secured you that.

Daniel: (angrily) How could you decide my birthright for me?

The Contessa: I chose for you what I would have chosen for myself. How could I know that you would love what I hated?

He can't help melting: he would love to love her and be loved by her.

She gets a pain in her heart.


Daniel: (quickly) Oh, forgive me, you are not well.

The Contessa: (her voice is weak now) It will pass.

He moves to her -- he's moved by her suffering -- he takes her hand.

Daniel: Mother.

She looks at him. He is very moved, and so is she. The first time he's said it since he lisped it at two years old.

Daniel: (Cont'd) Take comfort. Isn't it possible I could be near you often, and comfort you?

A moment when we all might think it's possible -- but the shutters come down.

The Contessa: No, not possible.

She reaches for him, touches him, her great brilliant eyes on his -- she has made so many men fall hopelessly in with her:

The Contessa: (Cont'd) I'm tired now -- will you come to me again tomorrow -- you don't hate me too much?


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The Film

Daniel meets the Contessa
From episode 2 as directed by Tom Hooper

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