Daniel Deronda reaches beyond Eliot’s other work in both form and ideas. The plot develops in two separate lines, one concerning the English upper classes and the other portraying a Jewish family living in the humbler part of East London. These lines converge in the title character, who has matured as the ward (and believes he is the illegitimate son) of Sir Hugo Mallinger, but discovers that he has a distinguished Jewish mother and grandfather. His discovery resolves dilemmas of identity and vocation, favorite themes of Eliot.
Deronda’s alertness, compassion, and moral seriousness lead him to rescue two quite different maidens. One is Mirah, a despairing Jewess who tries to drown herself because she cannot find the mother and brother from whom she has become separated. As he aids her search, Deronda meets Mordecai, a visionary Jew who sees in Daniel one who will complete his dream of perpetuating the Jewish cultural past in a coherent national future. The theme of inherited vision thus counterpoints the theme of inherited wealth.
The other maiden Deronda rescues is Gwendolen Harleth, a talented but ego-driven dilettante of limited experience and education. Deronda restores to her a necklace she has pawned to replace gambling losses; more significant, he awakens her conscience by disapproving of her reckless behavior. Later, after she has married Henleigh Grandcourt for money and power and is racked by guilt for having knowingly taken him from the woman who has borne his illegitimate children, she becomes dependent on the sympathetic, insightful Daniel to be...
(The entire section is 652 words.)