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Daniel Deronda Paperback – January 1, 2008
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About the Author
Mary Anne Evans (22 November, 1819 – 22 December, 1880), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight. She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot's life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances. She also wished to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. An additional factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived for over 20 years.
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Daniel Deronda is the ward (and rumored illegitimate son) of a nobleman, who is unsure of his past (particularly of his mother) catching a glimpse of pretty, reckless, arrogant Gwendolyn Harleth at a casino. Gwendolyn (who boasts that she gets everything she wants) is interested in Daniel, but when her family loses all their money, she marries a rich suitor, a relative of Daniel's -- knowing that his mistress and illegitimate children will be disinherited. But she soon finds that her new husband is a sadistic brute, and sees Daniel as her only help.
Meanwhile, Daniel rescues the despairing Mirah Lapidoth from a suicide attempt in the river, and he helps the young Jewish singer find a home and friends to care for her. As he helps her find her family, he becomes passionately attached to the Jewish population and their plight, embodied by a dying young visionary and a kindly shopkeeping family. Then he receives an important message -- one that will illuminate his roots, and give him a course for the future.
When Eliot published her final novel, it caused a massive stir -- not many novelists tackled the plight of the Jewish population, or how it compared to the gilded upper classes. In a way, "Daniel Deronda" is both a love triangle and an allegory -- Daniel must choose between the pretty, shallow English life (Gwendolyn) or a rich Jewish heritage (Mirah) with a background of tragedy.
The biggest problem with Eliot's writing is that it becomes a little too lush and dense at times, and the narrative moves a bit slowly (in the Victorian manner). But that flaw doesn't rob her writing of its power or beauty -- she describes every feeling, gesture and emotion in detail, as well as the sumptuous balls, exquisitely gilded mansions, and every shadowy tree or rich expanse of land ("a grassy court enclosed on three sides by a gothic cloister").
Yet the greatest power is in the stories that twine like ivy over the main plot -- a young Jewish girl's search for her family, a sadistic man's search for a wild lovely girl he can break, and especially of the composer Herr Klesmer and his sweet, atypical love story with Miss Arrowpoint. And the last quarter of the book is wrapped in Daniel's search for his own family, culminating in a quietly tense encounter with someone from his long-ago past.
Daniel almost seems like a character too good to be true -- unselfish, kind, universally kindly and very intelligent, though possessed of a vaguely searching quality. Gwendolyn is his complete opposite: she has been raised to be selfish, disdainful and immature, but as the book goes on she learns that selfishness doesn't pay -- marriage to the despicable Grandcourt changes her from a selfish little girl into a scarred but stronger woman.
The third leg of the triangle is Mirah, who is not given the loving attention that Gwendolyn is, but who is still a compelling figure -- her father tried to sell her, and now she wanders through England searching for her family. And the book is littered with many other striking characters: the sadistic Grandcourt and his creepy servant Lush, the crotchety but kindly Klesmer, the spirited artist Hans, the kindly Sir Hugo and the doomed, strong-willed Mordecai.
"Daniel Deronda" is a beautiful portrait of a young man's search for his past, and a young woman's struggle with the fruits of her own selfishness. What's more, George Eliot's last novel is a loving, powerful portrait of the Jewish people, in a time when they were caricatured at best.
The novel has two separate stories joined together by Daniel Deronda. Each of them features a compelling woman who is involved with Daniel.
I found this much less compelling than Middlemarch, and horribly slow. Most novels this static I would have put down, but this is Elliot and her characters are very well drawn.
The novel highlights the repression of women in Victorian society - both of Gwendolen, and Daniel's mother who rebelled. And Mirah herself has been used like a puppet by her father.
I'm glad I read it. But it took some time.
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The author captures the tone of "society" at the time.