Daniel Deronda

By George Eliot; Graham Handley | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

DANIEL DERONDA is the final and comprehensive expression of George Eliot's idealism. Its main concerns are those of personal morality, of dedication to tradition and roots, of spiritual identification and sympathy all set against a significant time of national and international awareness. What we know of the novel's conception and writing indicate that a slight incident and a warmly sympathetic friendship provided the impetus for the artistic fullness of Daniel Deronda. George Eliot and G. H. Lewes, with whom she had been living for nearly twenty years, were in Homburg where she was just completing the Finale of Middlemarch in the autumn of 1872, when she saw 'Miss Leigh, Byron's grand niece' gambling.1 George Eliot was upset to 'see her young fresh face among the hags and brutally stupid men around her'. The effect of this sadness and disgust are captured in the opening pages of Daniel Deronda. The gambling girl was transformed into Gwendolen Grandcourt née Harleth, the neurotic, selfish, suffering but superbly integrated character who is one of the greatest psychological studies in English fiction. The second source for Daniel Deronda was, I think, George Eliot's close friendship with and respect for the fine Talmudic scholar Emanuel Deutsch ( 1829-73), whom she had first met in 1866. In the same year she visited a Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, responding emotionally to 'The chanting and the swaying about of the bodies--almost a wriggling--are not beautiful to the sense, but I fairly cried at witnessing this faint symbolism of a religion of sublime far-off memories.'2Her view that 'Everything specifically Jewish is of a low grade'3 expressed to John Sibree some eighteen years earlier had obviously suffered transforming revision. There is little doubt that the character and example of Deutsch were in part responsible for this. He cherished the ideal of a Jewish national home, and visited the Holy Land in 1869. He was deeply moved at being 'among his own people at the Wailing-place in Jerusalem'.4 Deutsch provided George Eliot with the inspirational example of a man committed to race, faith, tradition, his personal

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1
Letters, v. 314, 4 October 1872.
4
Literary Remains of the Late Emanuel Deutsch: with a brief memoir, ed. Lady Strangford ( 1874), xi.

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