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Daniel Deronda

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Daniel Deronda is a novel by George Eliot, first published in 1876.

The novel has been filmed three times, once as a silent feature and twice for television.

Plot summary

Daniel Deronda is two intertwined tales united by the title character. Deronda was raised by a wealthy man, Sir Hugo Mallinger, but his relationship to the man is ambiguous--he is widely believed to be his illegitimate son though Sir Hugo never says so. He becomes attracted to the beautiful, arrogant and willful Gwendolen Harleth, whose family experiences a reversal of fortune shortly after the novel begins. In order to save herself from becoming an impoverished governess, Gwendolen marries the wealthy but depraved, cruel Henleigh Grandcourt, despite having promised his mistress (Lydia Glasher) she would not do so.

Deronda, in the meantime, rescues a poor but beautiful Jewish singer, Mirah, from committing suicide in the Thames. Recently orphaned, she came to England to seek her family, but quickly fell upon hard times in a friendless city. He puts her in the care of the mother of a friend and then assists in her search, during which time he is introduced to London's Jewish community. Eliot introduces the reader to Jewish ways in a positive fashion, while Mirah and Daniel become closer. The virtuous Mirah's behavior is contrasted with the selfish Gwendolen's, as Mirah rejects an advantageous marriage to a (Christian) friend of Daniel's, and seeks out work as a singer to pay for her keep.

Gwendolen, meanwhile, has become emotionally crushed by her cruel, manipulative husband, as well as feeling horror for causing Lydia Glasher's children by Grandcourt to be disinherited. When Henleigh Grandcourt is drowned during a trip abroad, Gwendolen is consumed with guilt for wanting him dead and hesitating to help him--in contrast to Deronda's saving of Mirah from a similar fate. Gwendolen hopes for a future with Deronda, but he instead urges her onto a path of righteousness in which she will help others in order to alleviate her own suffering.

Then, Sir Hugo tells Deronda that he is actually the legitimate son of a famous opera singer Sir Hugo was in love with. Deronda goes to meet his mother in Italy, where she is on her deathbed. She explains that she was the daughter of a rabbi, and forced to marry another religious Jew, despite her hatred for her Jewish roots; Daniel was a product of that union. At the death of that husband, she entreated the fawning Sir Hugo to raise her son as a proper Englishman, never to know his origins. Upon learning of his true origins, Deronda tells Mirah of his love for her, and the two decide to go to Palestine to start a new life in the Holy Land.

Characters in "Daniel Deronda"

  • Daniel Deronda — The ward of the wealthy Sir Hugo Mallinger, he has a tendency to help others at a cost to himself. So it is that when we first meet him he has, due to helping Hans Meyrick, failed to get a scholarship himself at Cambridge, has been travelling abroad and has just started to study law. He often wonders about his birth and whether or not he is a gentleman.
  • Gwendolen Harleth — The beautiful, spoiled daughter of a widowed mother. Much courted by men, she is flirtatious but ultimately uninterested. Shortly after the beginning of the novel, her family suffers a financial reversal, and she is faced with becoming a governess to help support her family and herself. Seeking an escape, she first explores the idea of becoming a singer, but Herr Klesmer tells her she will always be an average singer but perhaps in 5-6 years time she might be good enough to earn a living. Despite not loving him, she then marries Henleigh Grandcourt.
  • Mirah Lapidoth — A beautiful Jewish girl who was born in England but taken away by her father at a young age to travel the world as a singer. Upon his death, she seeks out relatives but, unable to find any, tries to drown herself in the Thames rather than suffer a worse fate. Rescued by Daniel, she is cared for by his friends while searching for her family and work.
  • Henleigh Grandcourt — A wealthy, manipulative, sadistic man, he marries Gwendolen Harleth and then embarks upon a campaign of emotional abuse. He has a mistress, Lydia Glasher, with whom he has several out-of-wedlock children. He had promised to marry her when her husband died, but reneged on the promise in order to marry Gwendolyn instead.
  • Sir Hugo Mallinger — A wealthy gentleman, he fell in love with Contessa Maria Alcharisi when she was young, and agreed, out of love for her, to raise her son Daniel Deronda.
  • Lush — Henleigh Grandcourt's slavish associate. He and Gwendolen take an immediate dislike to one another
  • Lydia Glasher — Henleigh Grandcourt's mistress, a fallen woman who left her husband to bear Grandcourt's children. She confronts Gwendolen in an effort to get her to not marry Grandcourt, and not disinherit her children. In order to punish both women, Grandcourt takes the family jewels he had given to Glasher and bestows them upon Gwendolen, even forcing Gwendolen to wear them though she knows who had them before her.
  • Ezra (or Mordecai) Cohen — A Jewish man who befriends Daniel Deronda and teaches him about Judaism. Mirah's brother.
  • Herr Klesmer — A German musician in Gwendolyn Harleth's social circle, he marries a wealthy girl whom Gwendolyn is friendly with, and also advises Gwendolyn to not try for a life on the stage.
  • Contessa Maria Alcharisi — Daniel Deronda's mother. The daughter of a rabbi, she had an arranged marriage to a religious man but wanted to be a stage performer. After her husband died, she gave her son to Sir Hugo Mallinger to be raised as a Christian, and she converted, keeping her origins a secret to the rest of the world. On her deathbed, she contacts Daniel so that she can see her son one last time.

Influence on Jewish Zionism

Written during a time when Christian Zionism (called at that time "Restorationism") had a strong following, Eliot's novel had a positive influence on later Jewish Zionism. It has been cited by Henrietta Szold, Eliezar Ben-Yehuda, and Emma Lazarus as having been highly influential in their decision to become Zionists.[1]

Many critics (notably Edward Said) point to the novel as a propaganda tool to encourage British patriation of Palestine to Jews. The novel is explicit in sending the non-Christians to a non-Christian land, and also maintaining that "like may only marry like", i.e., Deronda can only marry his beloved if they are the same race/religion/ethnicity. It strongly points to contemporary enlightened views of racial segregation.

Jewish Zionism in the novel

(This passage is in progress) Daniel Deronda comprises two stories under one title. It is also two worlds in one book, and the two are never reconciled. These are, of course, the fashionable world of Gwendolen Harleth and the one inhabited by the Jews, most importantly Mordecai (or Ezra) Cohen, Mirah's brother. Between these two worlds, is Daniel himself.

Daniel is ideological, helpful, and wise. In order to give substance to his character, George Eliot had to give him a worthy purpose in his life. In the light of views of the time on Jews, Jewish Zionism might seem a strange choice for this purpose. Mordecai, so easily forgotten beside the glitter and passions of Gwendolen's story, nonetheless finishes the novel. His ideas are the core messages of the book. Ideological themes override all social society play which makes up the core of most of her other novels, and this becomes a novel in support of Zionism.

To say this is, perhaps, to misinterpret Mordecai's speech a little.

(This passage is in progress)

External links

  • Daniel Deronda, available freely at Project Gutenberg
  • Daniel Deronda at the Internet Movie Database (1921)
  • Daniel Deronda at the Internet Movie Database (1970) (TV)
  • Daniel Deronda at the Internet Movie Database (2002) (TV)


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Judaica
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