Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Listens: 54


A lovely young woman gambling at a casino in Leubronn, Germany. A young man watches, fascinated from afar. She begins to lose heavily and leaves the casino. Thus opens the last and probably the most controversial of George Eliot's novels. Published in 1876, Daniel Deronda is also the only one in which the great Victorian novelist portrays contemporary society of her own time. There were only a few murmurs when it first came out, but later, they became a full fledged outpouring of resentment against what many readers felt was an extremely controversial stand on Jewish, proto-Zionist and Kabbalistic ideas. However, it was not just the non-Jewish people who were offended. In 1889, many Jewish people also called for a revision of the book. Whatever the controversies and difficulties that readers had and perhaps still have with the book, it remains one of the most hard hitting and objective portrayals of race, identity, politics, Imperialism, gender bias, religious tolerance and prejudice. The novel actually brings two separate streams of narrative together and they are connected by means of the character of Daniel Deronda, a wealthy young man whose altruistic nature leads him into all manner of troubles. He is the ward of an aristocratic millionaire and knows little about his own birth. Once he comes in contact with the Jewish people, he begins to suspect that he is indeed one of them. Though the title of the story would give the impression that the tale's focus is its eponymous hero, Daniel Deronda, the reader is taken by surprise to find that Gwendolen Harleth shares the limelight in equal measure. She is one of the least lovable of heroines in literature, yet her shallow snobbery, wit, the depth of her despair and her overwhelming narcissism (in one scene we find her kissing her own image in the mirror!) make her an unforgettable character. For her, marriage is a ticket to the higher echelons of society. Caught in an abusive marriage which she entered into for her own ends, she begins to depend on Daniel Deronda whose generous nature makes him ever willing to extend a helping hand. Scholars have noted that George Eliot (or Mary Ann Evans to give her real name) was probably influenced to write Daniel Deronda after meeting Emmanuel Deutsch, a Jewish scholar and Zionist. The character of Mordecai Cohen in the novel is presumed to be based on Deutsch. As the brilliant final work of Daniel Deronda, this book retains its appeal due to its gripping plot, the depth of social issues being raised in it and the remarkable characters.