Daniel Deronda: Gwendolen Gets Her Choice

Upon becoming engaged to Grandcourt, Gwendolen experiences a sensation quite new to her: “she who had been used to feel sure of herself, and ready to manage others, had just taken a decisive step which she had beforehand thought that she would not take — nay, perhaps, was bound not to take” (ch. 28). The fact that she is about to deliberately adopt the notion that “it did not signify what she did; she had only to amuse herself as best she could” frightens her in its lawlessness and its “casting away of all care for justification”. But she determines to go on as if she were on horseback, with spirit, no matter what thoughts disturb her.

She is unsettled further by another meeting with Daniel Deronda. They discuss gambling and making one’s gain from another’s loss — subjects that have obvious parallels to Gwendolen’s actions. Daniel becomes even more interested in her: “Persons attracted him … in proportion to the possibility of his defending them, rescuing them, telling upon their lives with some sort of redeeming influence” (ch. 28) — as his interest in Mirah Lapidoth. Upon the whole, however, Gwendolen manages to enjoy her coming position, still thinking she will be able to rule Grandcourt and do as she likes.

My favorite part of this book came during Grandcourt’s visit to Lydia Glasher. Lydia managed to annoy Grandcourt! “It was undeniable that this woman, whose life he had allowed to send such deep suckers into his, had a terrible power of annoyance in her …” (ch. 30). Grandcourt feels it an indignity to have to “ask for anything in the world. But however he might assert his independence of Mrs. Glasher’s past, he had made a past for himself which was a stronger yoke than any he could impose” — and he must ask for those diamonds he promised to Gwendolen. Lydia has her way about how to deliver the diamonds and Grandcourt leaves. “The effect that clung and gnawed within Grandcourt was a sense of imperfect mastery.” Grandcourt is such a cool, calculating, domineering man, it is quite pleasant to see someone manage to frustrate him, especially since it was his own actions which gave Lydia that power over him.

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Though Daniel would not consider it possible for him to marry either Gwendolen or Mirah, however much they interest him, he feels that he is in some danger of falling in love with the latter. He admires her sweetness and patient endurance and finds her plight and sensibilities appealing. Which leads me to a serious point about Mirah. Much is made of her devotion to the Jewish religion. However, her religiousness is apparently based on memories of her childhood and feelings of affection towards her mother, as she is admittedly ignorant of half her people’s religion. She follows it blindly because of family feeling, not because she loves God and wants to do as He commands.

This is not far from the general attitude towards religion which the rest of the characters in the book possess. Both Daniel and the Meyrick girls, because of their interest in Mirah, visit synagogues. Afterwards, the most substantial objections Amy and Mab can come up with are that the women sit separately from the men, the latter wear their hats during the service, and it is “so strange to be of the Jews’ religion now” (ch. 32).

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This is part of the Eliot Project which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are doing. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the fourth book of Daniel Deronda here: “Gwendolen Gets Her Choice”.

Screencap from the 2002 adaptation of Daniel Deronda with Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda.

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