The Afterlife of Property: Domestic Security and the Victorian Novel

By Jeff Nunokawa | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Daniel Deronda and the Afterlife
of Ownership

1

DANIEL DERONDA describes the most familiar idea of what it means to own in its first impression of the extraordinary estate of Sir Mallinger Grandcourt Mallinger, a property not only prodigious, but also unencumbered. The unentailed estate of the “only child” is also available to the woman he marries: Grandcourt's recessiveness charms Gwendolen Harleth with the prospect of wealth without a catch. An aura of freedom bathes in the softest light all of Gwendolen Harleth's premonitions of her coming enfranchisement, her acquisition of the title that her suitor embodies: “Adorably quiet,” Grandcourt

seemed as little a flaw in his fortunes as a lover and a husband could possibly be. Gwendolen wished to mount the chariot and drive the plunging horses herself, with a spouse by her side who would fold his arms and give her his countenance…. He did not appear to enjoy anything much. That was not necessary: and the less he had of particular tastes or desires, the more freedom his wife was likely to have in following hers. (173)

The freedom that Gwendolen Harleth imagines she will have when she marries an almost anonymous fortune is like the freedom that any proprietor has over his estate, according to the sense of ownership with which we are most at home.

This idea casts property as “an unconditionally complying object” 1 and possession as the power to do whatever one likes with the object possessed. During the past several centuries, liberal property theory has extended this idea of possession, enlisting it as the instrument and model for the construction of freedom in general. In an essay asserting the liberal conviction that private property defines, produces, and protects freedom, Charles A. Reich describes the foremost function of estate as the designation of a sphere of absolute discretion for its proprietor:

-77-

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