Daniel Deronda

( 41 )


George Eliot's last and most unconventional novel is considered by many to be her greatest. First published in installments in 1874-76, Daniel Deronda is a richly imagined epic with a mysterious hero at its heart. Deronda, a high-minded young man searching for his path in life, finds himself drawn by a series of dramatic encounters into two contrasting worlds: the English country-house life of Gwendolen Harleth, a high-spirited beauty trapped in an oppressive marriage, and the very different lives of a poor ...
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George Eliot's last and most unconventional novel is considered by many to be her greatest. First published in installments in 1874-76, Daniel Deronda is a richly imagined epic with a mysterious hero at its heart. Deronda, a high-minded young man searching for his path in life, finds himself drawn by a series of dramatic encounters into two contrasting worlds: the English country-house life of Gwendolen Harleth, a high-spirited beauty trapped in an oppressive marriage, and the very different lives of a poor Jewish girl, Mirah, and her family. As Deronda uncovers the long-hidden secret of his own parentage, Eliot's moving and suspenseful narrative opens up a world of Jewish experience previously unknown to the Victorian novel.

The last of Eliot's novels, it is the most complete expression of her idealism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Daniel Deronda is a startling and unexpected novel . . . it is a cosmic myth, a world history, and a morality play.” —A. S. Byatt
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375411236
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 955,906
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Edmund White is the author of many novels, including A Boy’s Own Story (available as a Modern Library hardcover classic) and The Married Man. He has written a long biography of Jean Genet and a short one of Proust. His most recent book is The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris. White teaches writing at Princeton University.

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Read an Excerpt

Book I The Spoiled Child

Chapter I Men can do nothing without the make-believe of a beginning. Even Science, the strict measurer, is obliged to start with a make-believe unit, and must fix on a point in the stars’ unceasing journey when his sidereal clock shall pretend that time is at Nought. His less accurate grandmother Poetry has always been understood to start in the middle; but on reflection it appears that her proceeding is not very different from his; since Science, too, reckons backwards as well as forwards, divides his unit into billions, and with his clock-finger at Nought really sets off in medias res. No retrospect will take us to the true beginning; and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth, it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact with which our story sets out.

Was she beautiful or not beautiful? and what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance? Was the good or the evil genius dominant in those beams? Probably the evil; else why was the effect that of unrest rather than of undisturbed charm? Why was the wish to look again felt as coercion and not as a longing in which the whole being consents?

She who raised these questions in Daniel Deronda’s mind was occupied in gambling: not in the open air under a southern sky, tossing coppers on a ruined wall, with rags about her limbs; but in one of those splendid resorts which the enlightenment of ages has prepared for the same species of pleasure at a heavy cost of gilt mouldings, dark-toned colour and chubby nudities, all correspondingly heavy—forming a suitable condenser for human breath belonging, in great part, to the highest fashion, and not easily procurable to be breathed in elsewhere in the like proportion, at least by persons of little fashion.

It was near four o’clock on a September day, so that the atmosphere was well-brewed to a visible haze. There was deep stillness, broken only by a light rattle, a light chink, a small sweeping sound, and an occasional monotone in French, such as might be expected to issue from an ingeniously constructed automaton. Round two long tables were gathered two serried crowds of human beings, all save one having their faces and attention bent on the tables. The one exception was a melancholy little boy, with his knees and calves simply in their natural clothing of epidermis, but for the rest of his person in a fancy dress. He alone had his face turned towards the doorway, and fixing on it the blank gaze of a bedizened child stationed as a masquerading advertisement on the platform of an itinerant show, stood close behind a lady deeply engaged at the roulette-table.

About this table fifty or sixty persons were assembled, many in the outer rows, where there was occasionally a deposit of new comers, being mere spectators, only that one of them, usually a woman, might now and then be observed putting down a five-franc piece with a simpering air, just to see what the passion of gambling really was. Those who were taking their pleasure at a higher strength, and were absorbed in play, showed very distant varieties of European type: Livonian and Spanish, Græco-Italian and miscellaneous German, English aristocratic and English plebeian. Here certainly was a striking admission of human equality. The white bejewelled fingers of an English countess were very near touching a bony, yellow, crab-like hand stretching a bared wrist to clutch a heap of coin—a hand easy to sort with the square, gaunt face, deep-set eyes, grizzled eyebrows, and ill-combed scanty hair which seemed a slight metamorphosis of the vulture. And where else would her ladyship have graciously consented to sit by that dry-lipped feminine figure prematurely old, withered after short bloom like her artificial flowers, holding a shabby velvet reticule before her, and occasionally putting in her mouth the point with which she pricked her card? There too, very near the fair countess, was a respectable London tradesman, blond and soft-handed, his sleek hair scrupulously parted behind and before, conscious of circulars addressed to the nobility and gentry, whose distinguished patronage enabled him to take his holidays fashionably, and to a certain extent in their distinguished company. Not his the gambler’s passion that nullifies appetite, but a well-fed leisure, which in the intervals of winning money in business and spending it showily, sees no better resource than winning money in play and spending it yet more showily—reflecting always that Providence had never manifested any disapprobation of his amusement, and dispassionate enough to leave off if the sweetness of winning much and seeing others lose had turned to the sourness of losing much and seeing others win. For the vice of gambling lay in losing money at it. In his bearing there might be something of the tradesman, but in his pleasures he was fit to rank with the owners of the oldest titles. Standing close to his chair was a handsome Italian, calm, statuesque, reaching across him to place the first pile of napoleons from a new bagful just brought him by an envoy with a scrolled mustache. The pile was in half a minute pushed over to an old bewigged woman with eye-glasses pinching her nose. There was a slight gleam, a faint mumbling smile about the lips of the old woman; but the statuesque Italian remained impassive, and—probably secure in an infallible system which placed his foot on the neck of chance—immediately prepared a new pile. So did a man with the air of an emaciated beau or worn-out libertine, who looked at life through one eye-glass, and held out his hand tremulously when he asked for change. It could surely be no severity of system, but rather some dream of white crows, or the induction that the eighth of the month was lucky, which inspired the fierce yet tottering impulsiveness of his play.

But while every single player differed markedly from every other, there was a certain uniform negativeness of expression which had the effect of a mask—as if they had all eaten of some root that for the time compelled the brains of each to the same narrow monotony of action.

Deronda’s first thought when his eyes fell on this scene of dull, gas-poisoned absorption was that the gambling of Spanish shepherd-boys had seemed to him more enviable:—so far Rousseau might be justified in maintaining that art and science had done a poor service to mankind. But suddenly he felt the moment become dramatic. His attention was arrested by a young lady who, standing at an angle not far from him, was the last to whom his eyes travelled. She was bending and speaking English to a middle-aged lady seated at play beside her; but the next instant she returned to her play, and showed the full height of a graceful figure, with a face which might possibly be looked at without admiration, but could hardly be passed with indifference.

The inward debate which she raised in Deronda gave to his eyes a growing expression of scrutiny, tending farther and farther away from the glow of mingled undefined sensibilities forming admiration. At one moment they followed the movements of the figure, of the arms and hands, as this problematic sylph bent forward to deposit her stake with an air of firm choice; and the next they returned to the face which, at present unaffected by beholders, was directed steadily towards the game. The sylph was a winner; and as her taper fingers, delicately gloved in pale-grey, were adjusting the coins which had been pushed towards her in order to pass them back again to the winning point, she looked round her with a survey too markedly cold and neutral not to have in it a little of that nature which we call art concealing an inward exultation.

But in the course of that survey her eyes met Deronda’s, and instead of averting them as she would have desired to do, she was unpleasantly conscious that they were arrested—how long? The darting sense that he was measuring her and looking down on her as an inferior, that he was of different quality from the human dross around her, that he felt himself in a region outside and above her, and was examining her as a specimen of a lower order, roused a tingling resentment which stretched the moment with conflict. It did not bring the blood to her cheeks, but sent it away from her lips. She controlled herself by the help of an inward defiance, and without other sign of emotion than this lip-paleness turned to her play. But Deronda’s gaze seemed to have acted as an evil eye. Her stake was gone. No matter; she had been winning ever since she took to roulette with a few napoleons at command, and had a considerable reserve. She had begun to believe in her luck, others had begun to believe in it: she had visions of being followed by a cortège who would worship her as a goddess of luck and watch her play as a directing augury. Such things had been known of male gamblers; why should not a woman have a like supremacy? Her friend and chaperon who had not wished her to play at first was beginning to approve, only administering the prudent advice to stop at the right moment and carry money back to England—advice to which Gwendolen had replied that she cared for the excitement of play, not the winnings. On that supposition the present moment ought to have made the flood-tide in her eager experience of gambling. Yet when her next stake was swept away, she felt the orbits of her eyes getting hot, and the certainty she had (without looking) of that man still watching her was something like a pressure which begins to be torturing. The more reason to her why she should not flinch, but go on playing as if she were indifferent to loss or gain. Her friend touched her elbow and proposed that they should quit the table. For reply Gwendolen put ten louis on the same spot: she was in that mood of defiance in which the mind loses sight of any end beyond the satisfaction of enraged resistance; and with the puerile stupidity of a dominant impulse includes luck among its objects of defiance. Since she was not winning strikingly, the next best thing was to lose strikingly. She controlled her muscles, and showed no tremor of mouth or hands. Each time her stake was swept off she doubled it. Many were now watching her, but the sole observation she was conscious of was Deronda’s, who, though she never looked towards him, she was sure had not moved away. Such a drama takes no long while to play out: development and catastrophe can often be measured by nothing clumsier than the moment-hand. “Faites votre jeu, mesdames et messieurs,” said the automatic voice of destiny from between the mustache and imperial of the croupier: and Gwendolen’s arm was stretched to deposit her last poor heap of napoleons. “Le jeu ne va plus,” said destiny. And in five seconds Gwendolen turned from the table, but turned resolutely with her face towards Deronda and looked at him. There was a smile of irony in his eyes as their glances met; but it was at least better that he should have kept his attention fixed on her than that he should have disregarded her as one of an insect swarm who had no individual physiognomy. Besides, in spite of his superciliousness and irony, it was difficult to believe that he did not admire her spirit as well as her person: he was young, handsome, distinguished in appearance—not one of those ridiculous and dowdy Philistines who thought it incumbent on them to blight the gaming-table with a sour look of protest as they passed by it. The general conviction that we are admirable does not easily give way before a single negative; rather when any of Vanity’s large family, male or female, find their performance received coldly, they are apt to believe that a little more of it will win over the unaccountable dissident. In Gwendolen’s habits of mind it had been taken for granted that she knew what was admirable and that she herself was admired. This basis of her thinking had received a disagreeable concussion, and reeled a little, but was not easily to be overthrown.

In the evening the same room was more stiflingly heated, was brilliant with gas and with the costumes of many ladies who floated their trains along it or were seated on the ottomans.

The Nereid in sea-green robes and silver ornaments, with a pale sea-green feather fastened in silver falling backward over her green hat and light-brown hair, was Gwendolen Harleth. She was under the wing or rather soared by the shoulder of the lady who had sat by her at the roulette-table; and with them was a gentleman with a white mustache and clipped hair: solid-browed, stiff, and German. They were walking about or standing to chat with acquaintances; and Gwendolen was much observed by the seated groups.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. 1. Examine George Eliot’s first epigraph, which begins, “Let thy chief terror be of thine own soul.” Why do you think the author chose to set her story in motion with this poetic warning?

2. 2. Summarize the two intersecting story lines represented by Gwendolen Harleth and Daniel Deronda. The prominent critic F. R. Leavis suggested that Daniel Deronda would be vastly improved by removing the Jewish story line, leaving Gwendolen Harleth’s story to stand on its own. Do you agree that this literary surgery would have been an improvement? What would be lost if Eliot had chosen to shape the novel in this fashion?

3. 3. Consider how the principal characters in the novel - the Mallingers, the Meyricks, Gwendolen, Grandcourt, Mirah, and Mordecai - view Daniel Deronda. Does it contrast with the way he views himself? How do his self-image and his aspirations change over the course of the novel?

4. 4. Speaking through a fictional character in an 1876 piece he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, Henry James noted that “Gwendolen Harleth is a masterpiece. She is known, felt, and presented, psychologically, altogether in the grand manner. Beside her and beside her husband - a consummate picture of English brutality refined and distilled (for Grandcourt is before all things brutal) - Deronda, Mordecai, and Mirah are hardly more than shadows.” Do you agree with his assessment?

5. 5. Daniel Deronda’s mother, the Princess Halm-Eberstein, tells her son, “You are not a woman. You may try—but you can never imagine what it is to have a man’s force of genius in you, and yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl.” Consider the female characters in the novel, including Gwendolen, Mrs. Glasher, Mirah, and the princess. What is their place in Victorian society, and how do they deal with their limited options? What gives Catherine Arrowpoint the strength to defy her parents and marry Herr Klesmer?

6. 6. In an 1876 letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot wrote, “As to the Jewish element in Deronda . . . precisely because I felt that the usual attitude of Christians towards Jews is—I hardly know whether to say more impious or more stupid when viewed in the light of their professed principles, I therefore felt urged to treat Jews with such sympathy and understanding as my nature and knowledge could attain to.” How would you characterize Eliot’s Victorian depiction of Jewish people and their cultural and religious heritage?

7. 7. Throughout the novel, how does Eliot explore the themes of social class, power, and respectability?

8. 8. On his wedding day, Daniel receives a letter from Gwendolen that repeats her emotional claim: “It is better—it shall be better with me because I have known you.” Do you think this is true? How would you describe the complex relationship between Gwendolen Harleth and Daniel Deronda?

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 41 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

    This is Vol. II of a 3 Vol. story

    It should be noted that this is Volume II of "Daniel Deronda", therefore it is missing the first part of the story (look for Vol. I), and I assume the end as well, since the work comes in three volumes, so you will have to find a Volume III as well if you want to finish the story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2006

    Daniel Deronda - Unexpectedly good

    I do not know anyone who has ever read this book and had never heard of it, but what an unexpected surprise it was. I had a hard time putting it down. Follows the lives of two main characters - Gwendolyn - who reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara and Deronda- a man with a good and genuine heart. There is also the pompous Grandcourt character you just want to punch! Great plot - will keep the pages turning. Only negative (which can easily be skipped through without missing anything)was that some of the religious philosophy of Mordecai was a bit too wordy for me. However, you will not be disappointed.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2005

    Compulsive Reading

    I consider myself a fan of the nineteenth century British novel, but never have I read one as unputdownable as Daniel Deronda. Eliot mangages to craft a novel with texture as rich and complex as a Flemish tapestry, without ever slackening the pace of a riveting story. In Deronda himself she creates a hero whose unimpeachable moral integrity is balanced by a touching personal vulnerability. None of her characters, down to the members of Society who attend the balls and soirees to utter one line and be forgotten, are flat. I found Daniel Deronda to be a brilliant, evocative book, and a hugely satisfying read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A true classic

    Give yourself an opportunity to read a true classic and escape into a completely different time and place. Victorian England lays the stage as two major dramas unfold. Follow strong-willed Gwendolyn as she learns what it is that her heart really desires when she is forced to make a life-changing decision, thus realizing she is stronger than she ever imagined. Meanwhile Daniel Deronda saves a young woman from drowning and finds himself trying to unlock the mystery of her past and becomes all the more intrigued with her and the truths he uncovers. Daniel's search for truth about her past may ultimately bring him closer to knowledge of himself...Is he willing to change who he has believed himself to be all this time?

    I love a novel that is smart and well thought-out. No wonder this one is a classic! Beautifully rich characters. Great story!!! LOVED IT!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2004

    A great writer's moral passion

    A great writer's moral passion embraces the Zionist cause in this complex and intricate novel.If not her greatest work certainly one worth careful reading and study.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2003

    Great book, just as great movie.

    This book is a moving, riviting, and spiritual thing. It has everything anyone is looking for in a good read. If you like the book,...buy the movie!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2013

    Daniel Deronda is immensely quotable with such lines as, ¿I thin

    Daniel Deronda is immensely quotable with such lines as, “I think I dislike what I don't like more than I like what I like.” And, “Ignorance gives one a large range of probabilities.” And, “I shall never love anybody. I can't love people. I hate them.” The aristocracy are great in Eliot’s hand.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    This is part I, leaves you dangling...

    I made it through all the scanning errors and - end of part one...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

    Absolutely unreadable

    Horrible digital transfer

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2011

    Satisfing and complex

    Overall, an enjoyable read, and quite different from anything that I've read from the Victorian era. But first a word of caution, Eliot's writing tends to be extremely dense, and if you're looking for a fast and easy read, this is not it. Eliot may spend pages on the inner thoughts of her characters, and many readers of more contemporary fiction would find it quite dry. I'm not going to lie, I myself do prefer the more jaunty and colorful writings of authors like Dickens, but hers are far from meritless, and this book left me feeling far more intellectually satisfied, than say, after I read the works of my favourite, Dickens. This book played with my affection throughout its course. I did find Gwendolen marvelously wicked and clever in the beginning and (I hate to say it) reminded me quite a bit of myself, headstrong and determined that the world moves only for me. Though toward the end, I started to find her contriteness and moral idolization of Daniel a little annoying and repetitive. But I suppose what makes her a great character is her varying degrees of contriteness and self absorption, for after all, she did feel disgusted with her own self-centeredness. On the other hand, I would have enjoyed the book far more if the character of Daniel was a little less stoic and, like Gwendolen, possessed varying levels of good and bad, instead of being always so very morally upright, forgiving, and high-minded (Oh, I want to set out and change the world! and the like). But the part of the book that I found particularly different and was the Jewish portion. It took the reader out of the genteel English drawing rooms that normally characterize Victorian fiction, and took one inside the English-Jewish subculture (England did in fact have a large Jewish population) and their domestic lives (unlike Dickens' novels that highlight a few sleazy red-headed Jewish characters). But at times Mordecai's philosophy did become a bit wearing. Therefore my feelings fluctuated throughout the book (it did get particularly enjoyable towards the end, and was not without its comic occurrences) and in the end left me not ecstatic but fully satisfied.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2011


    Incomplete! It is missing the end of the story -- very frustrating

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  • Posted May 20, 2009

    Closer to Understanding parts of My Judism

    Moving disturbing,and beautifully written,as only Eliot can. At first I was in awe of the detailed Historical events,then I became so engrossed in the storyline,as well..Was read for my inperson book club,it started to become very personal for all of us.

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  • Posted February 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Victorian era good read

    This is a lesser known classic, but I really enjoyed it. I like George Eliot's writing style and find it very typical of that era and some of the greats. If you enjoyed Austin, or the Bronte's this is another one you will certainly enjoy.

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    Posted April 20, 2009

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    Posted December 31, 2009

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    Posted December 8, 2009

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    Posted March 22, 2011

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    Posted June 23, 2010

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    Posted January 10, 2011

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    Posted February 11, 2010

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