(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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,...

(The entire section is 1107 words.)