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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1107

Gwendolen Harleth, a strikingly beautiful young woman, is gambling at Leubronn. Playing with a cold, emotionless style, she wins consistently. Her attention is suddenly caught by the stare of a dark, handsome gentleman whom she does not know and who seems to be reproving her. When her luck changes and...

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Gwendolen Harleth, a strikingly beautiful young woman, is gambling at Leubronn. Playing with a cold, emotionless style, she wins consistently. Her attention is suddenly caught by the stare of a dark, handsome gentleman whom she does not know and who seems to be reproving her. When her luck changes and she loses all her money, she returns to her room to find a letter from her mother requesting her immediate return to England. Before she leaves, Gwendolen decides that she will have one more fling at the gaming tables. She sells her turquoise necklace for the money to play roulette, but before she can get to the tables, the necklace is repurchased and returned to her with an anonymous note. Certain that the unknown man is her benefactor, she feels that she cannot very well return to the roulette table. She goes back to England as soon as she can. Her mother recalls her because the family lost all their money through unwise business speculations.

A high-spirited, willful, accomplished, and intelligent young woman, Gwendolen is Mrs. Davilow’s only child by her first marriage and her favorite of all her children. From her second marriage to Mr. Davilow, who is now dead, she has four colorless, spiritless daughters. About one year earlier, she moved to Offendene to be near her sister and brother-in-law, the prosperous, socially acceptable Gascoignes and because she wished to arrange a profitable marriage for her oldest daughter. Gwendolen’s beauty and manner impressed all the surrounding gentry. Her first victim was her affable cousin Rex Gascoigne, who was willing to give up his career at Oxford for Gwendolen. His family refused to sanction this unwise move, however, and Rex, broken in spirit, was sent away for the time being. Gwendolen remained unmoved by the whole affair.

Soon afterward, the county became excited over the visit of Mallinger Grandcourt, the somewhat aloof, unmarried heir to Diplow and to several other large properties owned by Sir Hugo Mallinger. All the young ladies were eager to get Grandcourt to notice them, but it was Gwendolen, apparently indifferent and coy in her conversation, whom the well-mannered but monosyllabic Grandcourt courted for several weeks. Gwendolen’s mother, uncle, and aunt urged her to try to secure Grandcourt, and just when it seemed that Grandcourt would propose and Gwendolen accept, Mrs. Lydia Glasher appeared. Grandcourt’s scheming companion, Lush, brought Mrs. Glasher to tell Gwendolen that she left her husband to live with Grandcourt and is now the mother of four of his illegitimate children. She begged Gwendolen not to accept Grandcourt so that she might have the chance to secure him as the rightful father of her children. Gwendolen, promising not to stand in Mrs. Glasher’s way, went immediately to join friends at Leubronn.

Before he came to Leubronn, Daniel Deronda, the man whom Gwendolen encountered in the gambling casino, was Sir Hugo Mallinger’s ward. He did not know his parents, but Sir Hugo always treated him well. Sir Hugo, who married late in life, had only daughters. Although he lavished a great deal of expense and affection on Deronda, his property was to go to his nephew, Mallinger Grandcourt. At Cambridge, Deronda was extremely popular. There, he earned the undying gratitude of a poor student named Hans Meyrick, whom Deronda helped to win a scholarship at the expense of his own studies. One day after leaving Cambridge while in a boat on the river, Deronda saved a pale and frightened young woman, Mirah Lapidoth, from committing suicide. She told him that she was a Jewess who returned after years of wandering with a brutal and blasphemous father to look for her lost and fondly remembered mother and brother in London. Deronda took her to Mrs. Meyrick’s home, where Mrs. Meyrick and her daughters nursed the penniless Mirah back to health.

When Gwendolen returns to Offendene, she learns that her family will be forced to move to a small cottage and that she will have to become a governess. The idea oppresses her so strongly that when she sees Grandcourt, who was pursuing her on the Continent, she agrees at once to marry him in spite of her promise to Mrs. Glasher. Her mother, aunt, and uncle know nothing of Mrs. Glasher; Grandcourt knows only that she spoke to Gwendolen, knowledge that he keeps to himself.

After their marriage, Grandcourt is revealed to be a mean, domineering, and demanding man. He sets out to break Gwendolen’s spirit. In the meantime, at several house parties, Gwendolen meets Deronda and finds herself much attracted to him. At a New Year’s party at Sir Hugo Mallinger’s, Gwendolen, despite her husband’s disapproval and biting reprisals, speaks to Deronda frequently. When she tells him her whole story and confesses breaking her promise to Mrs. Glasher, Deronda suggests that she show her repentance by living a less selfish life and by caring for and helping those less fortunate than she. Gwendolen, realizing the folly of her marriage to Grandcourt and wishing to find some measure of happiness and peace, decides to follow the course Deronda proposes.

Meanwhile, Deronda is attempting to secure Mirah’s future and, if possible, to find her family. Mirah is an actress and has some talent for singing. Deronda arranges an interview for her with Herr Klesmer, a German-Jewish musician with many connections, who can get Mirah started on a career. Herr Klesmer is very much impressed with Mirah’s singing. He knew Gwendolen at Offendene and refused to help her when she asked for singing engagements because he thought her without sufficient talent; that was the first blow to Gwendolen’s ego. Herr Klesmer married Miss Arrowpoint, next to Gwendolen the most talented and attractive girl in Offendene.

Still trying to find Mirah’s family, Deronda wanders in the London East End. There he becomes friendly with the family of Ezra Cohen, a crafty but generous shopkeeper. On the basis of some slight evidence, Deronda for a time believes that the man might be Mirah’s brother. Through Ezra’s family, he also meets Mordecai, a feeble and learned man, with whom he immediately feels a great kinship. Mordecai takes Deronda to a meeting of his club, a group of men who discuss scholarly, political, and theological topics.

Deronda is delighted when he learns that Mordecai is really Mirah’s brother. This discovery helps Deronda to acknowledge and accept his own spiritual and literal kinship with the Jews. The boy of unknown origin, able to move successfully in the high society of England, finds his real home in London’s East End.

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