Daniel Deronda, the final novel published by George Eliot, was also her most controversial. Most of Eliot’s prior novels dealt largely with provincial English life but in her final novel Eliot introduced a storyline for which she was both praised and disparaged. The novel deals not only with the coming of age of Gwendolyn Harleth, a young English woman, but also with Daniel Deronda’s discovery of his Jewish identity. Through characters like Mirah and Mordecai Cohen, Eliot depicts Jewish cultural identity in the Victorian period. Reaction to Daniel Deronda exposes the deeply embedded anti-semitism of the period. The story follows the tow main characters over the course of several years as they struggle with their own self discovery.
The novel’s primary female character, Gwendolyn, is an essentially aloof figure that resists any genuine emotional connection. She enters into a union with Grandcourt in hopes of advancing herself socially but the resulting marriage is disastrous. Deronda, after saving young Mirah from suicide, is drawn into a Judaic community. Deronda eventually discovers his Jewish heritage and marries Mirah. The two move to Palestine in hopes of helping to establish a Jewish homeland there.
Eliot was not ignorant of the risks she ran in writing a novel that placed a minority culture at its center. In a letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe Eliot described her aims in writing Daniel Deronda this way:
There is nothing I should care more to do, if it
Were possible than to rouse the imagination of
Men and women to a vision of human claims in
Those races of their fellow men who diff...
... middle of paper ...
... a November 1876 letter to John Blackwood:
This is what I wanted to do- to widen the English vision
a little in that direction and let in a little conscience and
refinement. I expected to excite more resistance of feeling
than I have seen the signs of, but I did what I chose to do-
not so well as I should have like to do it, but as well as I
could.(qtd. in Haight, 304)
Ashton, Rosemary. George Eliot; A Life. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Cave,Terence. Introduction. Daniel Deronda. By George Eliot. London: Penguin,1995. ix-xxxiii.
Haight, Gordon. Ed. The George Eliot Letters Volume VI. London:Yale Univ.Press, 1955.
Karl, Frederick R. George Eliot; Voice of a Century. New York: Norton & Co., 1995.
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