Published in 1876, Daniel Deronda
is credited by some as inspiring Jewish Zionism and advocating the British partition of Palestine.
Daniel Deronda is two intertwined tales united by the title character. Deronda was raised by a wealthy man, Sir Hugo Mallinger, but his relationship to the man is ambiguous; Deronda is widely believed to be his illegitimate son, though Sir Hugo never says so. He becomes attracted to the beautiful, arrogant and willful Gwendolen Harleth, whose family experiences a reversal of fortune shortly after the novel begins. In order to save herself from becoming an impoverished governess, Gwendolen marries the wealthy but cruel and depraved Henleigh Grandcourt, despite having promised his mistress (Lydia Glasher) she would not do so.
Deronda, in the meantime, rescues a poor but beautiful Jewish singer, Mirah, from committing suicide in the Thames. Mirah had arrived in London penniless after running away from her father who, she feared, was planning an arranged marriage for her. Deronda puts Mirah in the care of the mother of a friend and then assists in her search for her mother and brother, from whom she was taken by her father as a child. While Deronda helps with this search he is introduced to London's Jewish community. Eliot introduces the reader to Jewish ways in a positive fashion, while Mirah and Daniel become closer. The virtuous Mirah's behavior is contrasted with the selfish Gwendolen's, as Mirah rejects an advantageous marriage to a (Christian) friend of Daniel's, and seeks out work as a singer to pay for her keep.
Gwendolen, meanwhile, has become emotionally crushed by her cruel, manipulative husband, as well as feeling horror for causing Lydia Glasher's children by Grandcourt to be disinherited. When Henleigh Grandcourt is drowned during a trip abroad, Gwendolen is consumed with guilt for wanting him dead and hesitating to help him--in contrast to Deronda's saving of Mirah from a similar fate. Gwendolen hopes for a future with Deronda, but he instead urges her onto a path of righteousness in which she will help others in order to alleviate her own suffering.
Then, Sir Hugo tells Deronda that he is actually the legitimate son of a famous opera singer Sir Hugo was in love with. Deronda goes to meet his mother in Italy, where she is on her deathbed. She explains that she was the daughter of a rabbi, and forced to marry another religious Jew, despite her hatred for the rigid piety of her traditional Jewish roots; Daniel was a product of that union. At the death of that husband, she entreated the fawning Sir Hugo to raise her son as a proper Englishman, never to know his origins. Upon learning of his true origins, Deronda tells Mirah of his love for her, and the two decide to go to Palestine to start a new life in the Holy Land.
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