Friday, 14 October 2011

Book Review: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Daniel Deronda (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (B&N Classics Trade Paper)Daniel Deronda (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) by George Eliot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda. New York. Harper & Row Publishers,1878.

The book Daniel Deronda, written by George Eliot, is a story about selfishness, redemption, and Zionism. It is a social novel in that it speaks about the limited choices women had for financial independence in Victorian England. Gwendolyn, the main protagonist of the story, is a vibrant and outspoken young woman, who gambles not only at the roulette table, but also with life itself. She frequents a Parisian casinos where she gambles. It is here that she meets with the English gentleman Daniel Deronda. Daniel, while rowing down the river Thames, saves a woman, Mirah’s, life, when he finds her trying to drown herself. Mirah, he discovers, is a Jewess and singer and he makes it his mission to help her become happier. In the meanwhile, when Gwendolyn’s parents become ruined, her mother informs her of a position at the home of a bishop where she could work as a governess. She obstinately refuses believing working as governess would be far too demoralizing. Gwendolyn would prefer to marry a man she does not love, the cold aristocrat Henleigh Grandcourt, than work as a governess. As her life with Henliegh Grandcourt becomes daily more and more unbearable, she begins to seek the friendship of Daniel Deronda. In the meanwhile, Daniel, discovering that he is a Jew by birth, marries Mirah and decides to work for a Jewish unified state. Henliegh Grandcourt drowns in a boating accident in Genoa. Gwendolyn is finally free of her obnoxious husband. Daniel becomes an immensely positive influence on Gwendolyn’s life. Daniel tells her, “ Our happiness comes from helping others and not just thinking about us”(483). Gwendolyn resolves to put her wretched past behind her and become a more altruistic person beginning with being a good sister and daughter.

This is a very ambitious novel in which Eliot explores a myriad of human conditions. Eliot explores selfishness vs. altruism with her two characters, Gwendolyn and Daniel Deronda respectively. I like the sensitivity in which Eliot explores the racial issues of Jews living as outsiders in a homogenous society of nineteenth century England. I especially like how she uses Gwendolyn’s character to expose women‘s limited opportunities in Victorian England. Gwendolyn practically prostituted herself out to the wealthy Grandcourt and once she was married she had to live as a slave to his patriarchal rules. I believe Eliot was showing the reader society’s low estimation of women, women not having rights as far as property, education, marriage and divorce are concerned. I believe Eliot is trying to show us that many women like Gwendolyn led oppressive existences. This is a great historical novel for its social commentary and raw exposure of the shallow values, and mores of Victorian England.

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