Daniel Deronda

ISBN: 037576013X
ISBN 13: 9780375760136
By: George Eliot Edmund White

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About this book

George Eliot’s final novel and her most ambitious work, Daniel Deronda contrasts the moral laxity of the British aristocracy with the dedicated fervor of Jewish nationalists. Crushed by a loveless marriage to the cruel and arrogant Grandcourt, Gwendolen Harleth seeks salvation in the deeply spiritual and altruistic Daniel Deronda. But Deronda, profoundly affected by the discovery of his Jewish ancestry, is ultimately too committed to his own cultural awakening to save Gwendolen from despair. This Modern Library Paperback Classic is set from the 1878 Cabinet Edition.

Reader's Thoughts


Although not George Eliot's best work, Daniel Deronda is still worth reading. Eliot's attempt to explore Jewish mysticism is difficult to muddle through, even with copious footnotes. Her portrayal of Gwendolyn is far more compelling and complex than that of the saintly Deronda or the overly simplified Mirah. Frankly, I found myself wondering most at Gwendolyn's reliance on Deronda. She was a more interesting character when she was hopelessly flawed.


Another novel it feels absurd to rate with stars.What an exhilarating and delicious experience. The novel wasn't new to me, but it's been over 20 years since I last read it. How wonderful to be reintroduced to the complexities of Gwendolyn Harleth, the delicately tuned sadism of Henleigh Grandcourt, the benevolent conventionality of Sir Hugo Mallinger, the yearnings of Daniel Deronda. George Eliot allows everyone his or her humanity--even Grandcourt. I revere her for creating some of he most nuanced and robust characters in English literature--not just here but also in Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Silas Marner.Oh, yeah, plot. Gwendolyn Harleth is a beautiful young women who is used to commanding the worshipful attention and obeisance of all around her. She suddenly finds herself penniless, and in spite of her reservations (and also an unsavory secret she knows), she marries the wealthy Henleigh Grandcourt, who proceeds to show her that he can go her one better in the arts of mastery. In the meantime, Daniel Deronda, an orphan raised to be a gentleman by Grandcourt's uncle, Sir Hugo Mallinger, rescues a young Jewish woman who is trying to drown herself in the Thames, and through her comes to solve the mystery of his own parentage. The themes of Jewish assimilation and separateness are just as pertinent today as in the 1870s, when Daniel Deronda was written.As described above, Daniel Deronda may sound like just another big English novel, full of Sir So-and-Sos and money issues and orphans. But it's not just another English novel, even apart from the unusual Jewish thread. It's a whole world: above all the world of the human mind and heart.


** spoiler alert ** Daniel Deronda is a powerful novel which carries an amazing message. It is also heartbreaking. Gwendolyn's spoiled but naive character changes throughout the novel in a way that makes you feel for her a lot at the end. Mira's longing to find her mother and her brother connects magically to Daniel's desires and brings them together in a moving ending. Ezra's dream of Israel made a huge political statement, a famous popular author writing a novel about the Jewish dream for Israel angered many anti-semites who wanted her to stick to romance and the Gwendolyn story. Ezra's story was the most touching part of the book and when Gwendolyn decides to live you feel that the message the book tells is to find your path and follow it to the end. As Daniel, Gwendolyn, and Mira move through their lives we walk with them and hope their path will be quick and safe.


I found this book to be a fascinating portrayal of the Industrial Age in England and the emergence of the Zionist movement. A thought-provoking novel that provides a clear insight into an unusual era.


George Eliot's last novel does not quite ring true to me. Was she being too ambitious with her mix of characters and themes? It just does not seem to all work together. I plan to watch the BBC Andrew Davies video next to see what he makes of it.I liked it quite a bit more after my second reading.


** spoiler alert ** My sister wrote her senior thesis on this book, so I figured if I was going to stand half a chance at understanding but a quarter of that thesis, I would have to read it. Still haven’t gotten to the thesis (80 pages Ak?! C’mon!), but I did finally polish off the book, and am not sorry that I did. Much like Middlemarch this book is packed with long, intricate, sometimes movingly ornate, oftentimes completely hilarious (and not in a self-conscious way), frequently ultranerdy sentences that somehow seem even more absurdly arcane/wonderful than other 19th century Brits. If Austen fired a word pistol, Elliot preferred the lexical two-decker broadside.As with Middlemarch, Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen did not prepare me to fully interpret a book of Deronda’s sweep and complexity, so my only real point of reference is Middlemarch itself. Like the characters in that book, most of the protagonists in Deronda struggle with deliberately crafting their own lives, but unlike the focus on vocation in Middlemarch, these characters seemed more concerned with morality. Deronda himself wasn’t seeking a job so much as a crusade, and Gwen spent almost the entire book watching her ego eroded by both circumstance and her husband only to find she barely even knew what good meant if it couldn’t mean pleasing herself. I suspect the fact that many of the protagonists had lost parents plays into this somehow, perhaps severing them from strong religious and cultural norms and forcing the characters to question and then assert moral positions. The Meyricks, the Gascoignes, Grandcourt, and perhaps Sir Hugo rarely seemed to question their own codes, whereas Gwen and Dan were constantly revisiting them. I guess that falls a part a bit with Mordecai and Mirah, but perhaps we just met Mordecai long after he’d settled many of these internal debates (he certainly had a code, albeit a long-winded possibly delusional one).Ultimately I found Gwen to be the most interesting and appealing character, mostly because I’m a traditionalist and I like it when characters change in profound but believable ways (yes, Ak, I’m am looking forward to reading about how narrative is just a myth Elliot was trying to lay bare with this book, or something, right?), and Gwen went from back-of-the-hand-cackling-anime-villainess to having her will entirely crushed. She was the only appealing character with any wit in the book (I wasn’t a fan of Hans, and Daniel’s mom, while awesome, was really just a guest star). Actually, part of the tragedy for me was seeing that verve brought down not just by Grandcourt’s weird dominance, but also by her submission to Deronda’s moral authority. Gwen’s smart, willful, and clearly possesses the kernel of morality in her love for her mother. Why can’t she figure this shit out herself?! I found Deronda himself a bit boring. He was always good and always right. Dull. Keeping with the anime theme, he was just sad Pikachu, all the time. The way his constant deliberation always seemed to border on passivity bugged me too. His public attitude was more like Grandcourt's than anyone else’s, even though his inaction was usually due to deliberation rather than indifference.Anyway, long but good, glad I read it. Bring on the thesis.Oh, and you know there were words:prebendary (n): a stipend given to a clergyman from the revenues of a church or cathedral. (p. 33)fidus Achates: in the Aeneid, Achates was Aeneus's bff. (p. 37)euphonious (adj): sounding good. (p. 43)spoony (adj): foolish, silly, particularly when in love. It always drove me nuts that this was in the Scrabble dictionary, but I guess it does have meaning beyond "of or pertaining to a spoon" (p. 58)antigropelos (n): waterproof leggings for riding or walking, aka spatterdashes. (p. 70)burthen (n): archaic form of burden, which is pretty obvious, but I don't recall this word coming up so much with other 19th century authors. (p 90 and just about every other page in the book)monody (n):: a solo lament. (p. 90)"It was impossible to be jealous of Juliet Fenn, a girl as middling as mid-day market in everything but her archery and her plainness, in which last she was noticeably like her father: underhung and with receding brow resembling that of the more intelligent fishes."Amazing how cruel and bigoted she could be. Ak tells me she believed in physiognomy. (p. 121)uncial (n): a form of all-caps (or majuscule) script that is very rounded. Now, what exactly Elliot meant by handwriting "of the delicate kind which used to be esteemed feminine before the present uncial period" I have no idea. Did people write in all-caps all the time in her day?perrugue (n): alt. form of peruke, which is a man's wig from the 17th and 18th centuries. (p. 179)"...impaling the three Saracens' heads proper and three bezants of the one with the tower and falcons argent of the other..." Only now that I am looking things up do I realize she was talking about heraldry. Behold, a Saracen's head, bezants, and falcons argent. I was very, very disappointed to learn that Saracens bear no relation to the genus of carnivorous pitcher plants, Sarracenia, which were apparently named after an 18th century botanist named Michel Sarrazin. How does that even work?! (p. 180) "But for God's sake, keep an English cut, and don't become indifferent to bad tobacco!" Sir Hugo Mallinger's advice to Danny Boy on learning that the latter wishes to go abroad. Another winning epitaph. I'm gonna need, like, 30 graves when I die. (p. 200)"I could not bear memories any more: I could only feel what was present in me – it was all one longing to cease from my weary life, which seemed only a pain outside the great peace that I might enter into." I found this conclusion to Mirah's autobiography somewhat remarkable for the extent dedicated to her thoughts of suicide. Granted I haven't read that broadly, but I don't recall many 19th century brits dwelling on suicide too much, particularly in protagonists. (p. 241)"The self-delight with which she had kissed her image in the glass had faded before the sense of futility in being anything whatever – charming, clever, resolute – what was the good of it all?" And in addition to suicide, we have all this depression, not just sadness but an acute sensation of pointlessness. (p. 248)"Outsiders might have been more apt to think..." This paragraph is just hilarious: essentially about the triumph of personality over physicality, it just descends into this pedantic mess about the Odyssey, which she concludes by admitting that the Odyssey was just a terrible analogy. Oh George Elliot. This whole chapter is just amusing for being the only traditionally romantic passage in the entire book ("I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together." Queue the Tchaikovsky). Kind of like she was saying, "Look, I will give you guys one happy romance. One. Ok? But it will only last a single chapter. A short chapter. And I am going to talk about the Odyssey." (p. 259)chignon (n): style of hair where the hair is tied in a knot or bun at the back of the head or the nape of the neck. Never knew this had a name. Definitely better than "cockernonnie" and "cock-up." (p. 358)rinderpest (n): viral disease affecting cattle. (p. 360)"...that mania of always describing one thing while you were looking at another..." My God I hate this, and I am always catching myself about to do it, particularly while eating. The only motivations I can think of are to belittle the present meal, thereby making everyone consider it inferior, or boast about your own taste, both of which seem horrible. (p. 461)cynosure (n): something that attracts attention. Constantly forgetting this word. (p. 487)"What sort of earth or heaven would hold any spiritual wealth in it for souls pauperized by inaction?" It seems ridiculous that Deronda would deliver this line, as he is almost entirely inert for half of the book. (p. 499)persiflage (n): banter (p. 512)caliginous (adj): misty, dark. (p. 512)Melusina: a figure in Celtic and northern European legend, beautiful woman above the waist, serpent below, but apparently only on Saturdays. (p. 689)murrain (n): another infectious cattle disease. (p. 707)Supralapsarian (n): honestly even after reading the Wikipedia article I have no idea what this really means, and Hans' joke is sadly lost on me. Absurd doctrinal stances like this just make me think of Life of Brian. (p. 712)

Khadijah Qamar

Spoilers ahead:It's been quite a journey to get through Eliot's Daniel Deronda. Not only is it long, but Eliot's writing can be a bit challenging. She's full of allusions to art, opera, and poetry and quite often she dwells in vague, third-person asides that are supposed to enhance the "feeling" of the situation, but usually end in making it more complex. These add to the richness of the novel, but also make it a slower read. What strikes the reader most in this novel are the characters, particularly the two leads, Gwendolen and Daniel. Seeing as the novel is named after the latter, Daniel is the true hero and has decidedly more layers than Gwendolen, although ironically, he hardly figures in the first 150 pages of the novel. The stories of the two leads are quite separate: Gwendolen is an impetuous and beautiful coquette who, led by financial anxieties, marries a haughty and unfeeling "gentleman" who makes it his primary amusement to dominate her. Daniel, also beautiful, is an intelligent and rich orphan of unknown birth who is, above all, incredibly compassionate, particularly for the downtrodden, which sets his path when he saves a young Jewess from suicide. Although both characters are compelling in the first half of the novel, particularly since Eliot is so gifted in characterization, I found, by the end, both characters to be a bit flat, particularly Gwendolen. For Gwendolen, nothing is quite as important as her pride. That's made clear at the beginning when her sole activity is to gain the praise of others. However even as the novel progresses, and she faces considerable challenges that should expand her character and virtue, she can't seem to get over her pride. It was incredibly frustrating to see her bend to Grandcourt's will when, to me, her character seemed capable of so much more. I believe it was her own pride that trapped her in her marriage, particularly because she couldn't confront Grandcourt about Mrs. Glasher, even after the introduction of Grandcourt's will. And it's her pride that attaches her to Deronda, the only man who didn't give her outright approval or "fall in love" with her. The flatness of the two leads is never more apparent than in their communications with each other. It's always along the lines of "Gwendolen looked at him in silent despair as she pleaded with him to save her, while Deronda could look back at her only in compassionate anguish, feeling her to pull at his soul even as it was forming unbreakable attachments elsewhere". It's always disappointing when a female author creates a strong female lead that, in the end, relies constantly on a male hero to save her.Daniel is, in many ways, Gwedolen's foil, his chief characteristic being selfless compassion. His part of the story deals heavily with Judiasm, the Jewish people and Israel, which can either gratify or grate upon you, depending on your political feelings. Daniel is always admirable and he always feels what is most correct. Even when he meets his cold, estranged mother who wants nothing to do with him except to appease her own guilt, he comes out saying the right things, speaking only from goodness in his heart. I was expecting him to break this shell, if only because this moment struck so deeply and painfully at a life-long wound in his soul. But, Daniel is something of a perfect character and I won't dislike him for it, but only hope that real people like him exist.Although I was occasionally frustrated with the actions of the main leads, I should be careful not to ascribe my feelings to a genuine fault on the part of Eliot - after all, she created the characters so she meant for them to act in the ways they did. This novel is undoubtedly one to savor; it will take a while to finish, but will stay with you a longer while after.

V.r. Christensen

Daniel Deronda is perhaps my favourite book of all time. When I first read it, I wasn't sure what I thought of it. Elliot weaves the tale, as she designed to do, so that the reader is not quite certain of his loyalties. We root for Daniel, of course, but which of the women in his life do we wish for him to choose? In the end, of course, he chooses the more deserving of the two. And yet, do we not find ourselves rooting for that which society, in that day and age, would have chosen for him? Are we disappointed, or are we not? It all depends on with whom we identify, and sometimes that question cannot be honestly answered until we've stepped away from it far enough to see the big picture. And it is a very big picture.Eliot, having written the book as a contemporary to the Zionist movement, was perhaps a visionary in her approach to its causes and in her method if introducing them to the reading public. The work was highly influential to many, and to society at large regarding their view of their Jewish neighbours. More than that, though, it challenged society's views of Christianity, of what it means to be a gentleman and where one's loyalties ought, after all, to lie. Daniel's benefactor, the man, indeed, who raised him, was a good man, but he failed Daniel in many respects. To satiate his need for a home and family ties with whom he could truly identify, Daniel had to make these himself, breaking off from the tradition that had been set before him. "So you do not want to be an English gentleman to the backbone," Sir Hugo says to him. Yes, of course Daniel does, but must he do it and be a Christian without Christian feeling? Be a father without fatherly affection? Be a husband who is a stranger to his wife?Daniel Deronda is and was a Trojan horse of conscientious thought. It reads as a book written for the well bred and socially minded of the upper classes. It is, in fact, a challenge to think beyond what one thinks they believe, to ask the uncomfortable question, "Am I living the best life that is in me?" Daniel's mother asked the question and answered it selfishly. Sir Hugo asked the question and lived his life according to duty and tradition. Grandcourt asked the question and left behind him a mess of misuse, bastardry and subjugation. Daniel asked the question and chose a life that would benefit all around him. Daniel Deronda is an astounding accomplishment and I find it a constant source of inspiration, both in my life, and in my work.


Nope, it's not Middlemarch. Its scope is less vast, the characters aren't quite as three-dimensional, and the ending is a little less emotionally satisfying. But in all other regards, Daniel Deronda is a great novel, one of the best nineteenth-century English literature in general and George Eliot in particular have to offer.The title of the book notwithstanding, the main character of Daniel Deronda is Gwendolen Harleth, a young, beautiful and manipulative young woman who is forced by circumstances to marry the terrifying Henleigh Grandcourt, who is probably the one person on earth she cannot dominate. Tragedy ensues as the shallow and self-centred Gwendolen must confront her fate and the knowledge that the one person she actually admires, the eponymous hero Daniel Deronda, is less interested in her than in a poor singer called Mirah Lapidoth. So far, so generic nineteenth-century romance, but Eliot wouldn't be Eliot if she didn't add a whole lot of intellectual and cultural background. See, Mirah is Jewish, and the more Daniel digs into her background, the more he feels himself attracted to Judaism. And so the stage is set for a brilliant comparison of the staid English upper class and the oh so vibrant Jews, some of whom are in the thrall of the Zionist movement. Initially, the tone of the book is somewhat anti-Semitic, but the second half almost reads like an ode to Judaism. Eliot obviously researched her subject well and freely drops names which won't mean much to twenty-first-century readers, and probably didn't mean much to non-Jewish nineteenth-century readers, either. At times, the cultural and historical references and grand idealism get a bit tedious, but even so you've got to admire the scholarship that went into the writing of Daniel Deronda, and the audacity of making some of the most likeable people in the book Jewish (hardly an obvious choice for a Victorian author). Eliot (who said some harsh things about Jews in the earlier part of her career and was obviously eager to make amends) was clearly determined to do her subject justice, and boy, did she ever. Yet I have to say it's not the Jewish aspect of the book which has stayed with me. Rather it's Eliot's extraordinary portrayal of Gwendolen, who may well be her greatest tragic heroine. Sure, Gwen is flawed (very much so), but there is something fascinating about her personality and the tragic journey she has to make. No doubt some readers hate her with a vengeance, but I, personally, was riveted by the acute psychological insight with which Eliot analyses her heroine, some of whose less admirable traits I'm afraid I share. Likewise, Gwendolen's detestable husband Grandcourt is a formidable and endlessly fascinating character. By contrast, the much more likeable Daniel and Mirah are somewhat boring, but aren't the goodies always less interesting than the baddies?I wouldn't recommend Daniel Deronda to a first-time Eliot reader (I'd suggest Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss instead), but those who know they can deal with Eliot's wordiness and fiercesome intellect will find this a very rewarding psychological and cultural novel. It's rich stuff, and then some.


What is so curious about this book is the opposing narratives between Gwendolyn and Daniel. It is like a book sliced in half between its Gwendolyn's Gothic elements and Daniel's "new" quest. So cut in half is the narrative, that in Israel the book is only published with Daniel's chapters. No one notices? or no one cares? Strange it is also as a work of Victorian literature centering around Jews. Usually the usurperous shopkeeper or the evil begger, Jews are suddenly people who are just trying to get by in London. Previously having written against Jews early in her career, Eliot did a complete 180 by the end of it. She's also seemed to have mastered the elements of Kabbalah and mysticism, giving authenticity to Mordecai's speech and the legacy he passes on to Daniel. Poor Gwendolyn. The sensitive, well-read man in her life decided to be a proto-Zionist.


Discussion is being held at the Victorians group. This is the story of Daniel Deronda and his search for his true identify. In this book Eliot show her best of style of writing: in the first two chapters, in a flashback point of view, Deronda met Gwendolyn at a Casino but she is forced to go home due to financial duties with her family. Apparently, a romantic relationship is established between these characters. However, as the plot develops, one learns the true story of Daniel Deronda and his search for his true identity. In the meantime, Gwen accepted the marriage proposal made by Lord Grandcourt thus avoiding her probably future as a simple Governess.Then Eliot introduces a Jewish component into the plot: Daniel met Mirah who is trying to find her own mother and brother and then we have the feeling of Daniel's Jewish parentage. Eliot describes in a very sensitive way in which Jews were perceived during this Victorian period.There is other turmoil into the story but I prefer to avoid spoilers here.I haven't read all the books by George Eliot but it seems to be Daniel Deronda is her masterpiece work as a writer. Now, I must read Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Romola in order to get a true vision of her whole work.

Sandy Tjan

** spoiler alert ** Daniel Deronda is not an easy book to read. If Middlemarch is a masterpiece of 19th century realism, Deronda is something else altogether. Like its predecessor, the narrative follows two main protagonists: Deronda, a young Englishman of uncertain parentage, and Gwendolen Harleth, a pretty, at times vain and spoiled daughter of a well-off family. The two meet by chance at the gambling hall of a swanky European watering place, where Gwendolen is doing her best to live in fashionable dissipation. The gentlemanly Deronda discreetly helps her when she loses everything at the roulette table. He doesn’t know that she is, in a sense, a runaway, and that her reason for being so is perfectly honorable. Gwendolen may share certain qualities with the shallow Rosamond Vincy in Middlemarch, but she is not entirely devoid of a sense of honor. Gwendolen has been running away from one Henleigh Grandcourt, a rich, indolent playboy who is only one life away from inheriting vast estates and a peerage. Everyone, including her widowed mother and country parson uncle think that he is a splendid catch for her. Except that Gwendolen has secretly found out that he had fathered a number of illegitimate children with another woman, whom he is now ready to discard to be able to marry her. As long as her family remains well off, she has no pressing need to marry, and she keeps fending him off. But then all the family money is lost in a speculative bubble, and what can a pretty, essentially uneducated girl of modest talents do? She wants to sing for her supper, but is told that she is not talented and tough enough to be a professional singer. The only other alternative is to be a governess, a desperate option that she despises. She is too dutiful a daughter to let her beloved mother and sisters live poorly in a dinky cottage. Therefore, she (with a little nudge from her newly impoverished family) convinces herself that after all, Grandcourt is a suitable husband material. He seems pliable enough, and with her beauty and forceful personality, she figures out that she will have the upper hand in that marriage. She is unaware that in Eliot’s universe, marriage is a noose and a husband likes to be master. Soon, she finds herself at the mercy of the possessive, passive-aggressive Grandcourt, a control freak of the first order who is jealous of his wife’s emotional dependence on Deronda.Gwendolen is an interesting character and her dysfunctional relationship with her husband is morbidly fascinating, but the Deronda side of the narrative suffers from the lack of character development. Deronda accidentally rescues a suicidal girl, Mirah, a Jewess who had ran away from her abusive father to find her family in London. He brings her to live with the family of Hans Meyrick, a painter friend whom he has helped in the past. In the course of searching for her long-lost relatives, Deronda develops an interest in Judaism, and under the influence of Mordecai, Mirah’s terminally ill brother, even becomes a Zionist sympathizer. But how can a goyim be a (proto) Zionist and also win the hand of Mirah the Jewess (who, despite being attracted to him is dead set against miscegenation)? Cue a letter from Deronda’s long lost mother, now Contessa Maria Alcharisi, who informs him that he IS a Jew (duh). She had given him up to be raised as an English gentleman when she decided to pursue her singing ambition. The character of the Contessa is probably the most interesting one in the Deronda strand, although she immediately exits the stage after discharging her plot duties. Among the three women who aspire to be singing stars (Gwendolen, Mirah and herself), the Contessa is the only one who manages to succeed. But to achieve it she had to abandon her son, family and race. Success for a woman always comes at a price, often a steep one. Deronda himself, despite being given lengthy, sometimes rambling monologues, is oddly amorphous as a character. We know that he is a rescuer of distressed damsels, and that he is almost saintly, but other than that he is a blank. Even his transformation from an English gentleman to a committed Zionist is not entirely convincing. It doesn’t help that the parts in which Eliot expounds about Judaism are perhaps aesthetically among the weakest in the book. It is mostly done through Mordecai’s rambling about ‘ruach-ha-kodesh’ and other bits of Jewish lore, as well as through scenes of a meeting, where talking heads discuss --- rather abstrusely --- proto-Zionist ideas. Eliot clearly had researched the subject extensively, but the regurgitated knowledge that she presents to the reader is patchy and quite tedious to read. Mordecai himself is so much the Suffering Jew that he virtually has no personality, a fact that holds true for most of the Jewish characters. It is surely laudable that Eliot strived to present Jewish characters in a positive light in the midst of rampant anti-Semitism in Victorian Britain, but what is gained in positive characterization is lost in the believability of the characters themselves. The Jews are too busy being model minorities to be real people.Meanwhile, Gwendolen’s increasingly creepy husband drags her across Europe on a trip, which primary object seems to be to put the farthest distance between her and Deronda. While boating off Genoa, he accidentally drowns, thus releasing Gwendolen from the ‘empire of fear’ that he had created. Deronda, who happens to be there to meet his mother, rescues her. He notes that, while she herself did not do the deed, she actively desired her husband’s death. He also discovers that, in a vindictive move, Grandcourt had altered his will to prevent Gwendolen from inheriting the bulk of his property, bequeathing it to his illegitimate son instead. The novel’s end is inconclusive; Gwendolen learns to stoically accept her situation and Deronda, after marrying Mirah, sets off for Palestine. Despite a happy ending for Deronda and Mirah, the tone of the novel is somber, with very little of the sarcastic wit and humor that enliven Middlemarch. At certain parts, Eliot seems to abandon realism and descends into melodrama and insipid characterization, which makes it hard to continue reading. If you absolutely have to read one Eliot novel, pick Middlemarch instead.3.5 stars.


I love George Eliot's books for two reasons: (1) her stellar writing, and (2) her memorable characters. This book lacks both. Strange way to end an otherwise excellent career. I'm not sure what Eliot was trying to accomplish with Daniel Deronda. While I understand her desire to defy the stereotype of Jewish culture in Victorian Britain, I think she was trying too hard. In fact, I think the Jewish theme of this book was Eliot's only real focus, and she created cardboard characters under the guise of a novel, simply as a means of presenting her social views on this subject. The story rings hollow.The book has two storylines. One follows Gwendolen Harleth – a vain, complicated young lady who starts out resembling Scarlett O'Hara but ends up just ... pitiful. Why? I'm still trying to figure out the point of her story. The second storyline focuses on Mirah Lapidoth, a Jewish girl running away from her father to find what is left of her family in London. Through Mirah, we are introduced to the Jewish culture of London in 1865-66, where characters range from a working class pawnbroker and his family, to Mordecai, a consumptive visionary living on charity, who thinks he has the answer to all the problems of his "race" if only somebody – anybody – would just listen to him.Gwendolen's and Mirah's storylines seem completely unrelated. In fact, they are in such dramatic opposition to each other, it's hard to believe they are part of the same book. The only thing connecting them is Daniel Deronda, the title character (which I guess explains the title of the book, though I'm pretty sure Eliot devotes more pages to Gwendolen than all the other characters combined). Deronda can't seem to decide which camp he belongs in – the comfortable gentry life he was raised in, or the world of the minority, segregated Jewish workers he meets while trying to help Mirah. This got pretty annoying – I got the sense that Deronda couldn't move forward in life until he discovered his ethnic origin, as if the past choices of his biological parents (people he never met) should determine the trajectory of his future ... even to the point of deciding whom he should marry. The story overall is a long slog through endless, monotonous detail ... plotlines that drag at snails' pace ... lengthy monologues that make the book seem more like a textbook on sociology or philosophy than a novel. I tried to be patient with this book because Eliot's works are normally worth the labor they demand. But here, the reward never turned up. The two storylines didn't blend well at all, in my opinion. And while Eliot is particularly regarded for her portrayal of people (she paints them like an artist with a photographic memory – quite stunning), she seemed to forget how to develop characters when she wrote this. All the people are caricatures, not human beings. The people of Mirah's story are over-the-top good, in contrast with the complacent upper class shallowness that embodies Gwendolen's world. But both women are supposed to be heroines, with Deronda standing somewhere in between. Which will he choose? Why does it matter? I'm still waiting for the answers.


Daniel Deronda is the rare male protagonist who is self-aware, mature, and searching. He's probably the most admirable male character I've read in a novel. But Eliot doesn't just write about saints; a lead female character, for example, undergoes a brilliantly described, painful learning curve as she comes becomes acquainted with Daniel and comes to understand that his motives are far superior to hers.

Christopher H.

I have just finished a leisurely eight-week group-read of George Eliot's last completed novel, Daniel Deronda, with my 'Anglophiles Anonymous' group on Shelfari.com. I very much enjoyed the experience of reading and discussing the book, section by section, each week. I am convinced that I got so much more out of it this way than if I'd read it by myself. Without the incentive of the group-read, I am also quite sure that this is a novel that I probably would not have even acquired, much less read.The novel, first published in 1876, is quasi-Tolstoyan in scope and complexity. It has a whole raft of fairly interesting characters that border on being 'Dickensian.' While written in her characteristic style of 'social realism,' Eliot uses some quite elegant and sophisticated literary and plot devices too. For example, she is adept at using flashbacks to bounce characters and events back and forth in time. She also runs dual storylines through much of the novel, that are quite divergent at the beginning, but close in a relatively satisfying convergence near the end. Her use of allusion, allegory, and metaphor is deft and appropriate. Eliot, in writing this novel, is clearly didactic, without being overtly 'preachy' or academic like Tolstoy (e.g., Anna Karenina) or Victor Hugo (Les Miserables).In some respects, for much of the first half of the novel I found myself more interested in the character and plot-threads associated with Gwendolen Harleth versus that of the eponymous Daniel Deronda. Gwendolen reminded me, at various times, of Jane Austen's 'Emma' or even Eliot's own 'Dorothea Brooke' (Middlemarch). With the convergence of Gwendolen's storyline with that of Daniel's, I did find that Daniel's story and character became much more compelling and interesting.All in all, this is a novel about double-standards, redemption and balance. Eliot provides a fascinating portrait of the situation and lives of English and European Jews during the Victorian period, and particularly the nascent proto-Zionist movement and her interpretation of the Kaballistic philosophy. Eliot balances this portrait with a similar examination of the ways and social mores of the well-established English upper class. Eliot pulls off this balancing act superbly through having the novel's primary male protagonist, Daniel Deronda, having a foot in the both worlds. I was also completely taken with the intelligent young Jewish woman, Mirah Lapidoth. From her introduction, early on in the novel, I eagerly looked forward to her each of her appearances. The Meyrick family, especially Mrs. "Little Mother" Meyrick and her vivacious daughters, are splendidly wonderful characters. The novel also contains some characters that you simply love to hate, and others that you hate to love. Ambiguity and shades of gray abound.In conclusion, I enjoyed reading George Eliot's last novel, Daniel Deronda, very much. I can say, however, that it did not affect me in the same visceral and emotional sort of way that her earlier books have; specifically, The Mill on the Floss, or Silas Marner. I could also tell that writing Daniel Deronda and telling this story was somehow quite important to George Eliot, and for that reason alone I am glad that I read it. While perhaps not as monumental as her Middlemarch masterpiece, this is a big and meaty novel and well worth reading. Four out of five stars for me.***[My review is based upon the 2003 Penguin Classics edition of Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, 850 pages.:]

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