The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XI. The Political and Social Novel

§ 31. Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda (1876), the last of George Eliot’s works of prose fiction, though, as is not to be denied, it brought some disappointment to the ever-widening congregation of her admirers, both in matter and style, maintains the high standard of Middlemarch; and, in the character of Gwendolen, offers one more variety of the high-spirited and high-souled woman whom the experience of life trains to resignation—a resignation of little worth if it comes without pain. She passes, imperiously selfcentred, through childhood and girlhood; nor is it till after she has quickly shaken off the honest proffer of a boyish heart that she steadies herself to meet the first real trial—the imminent marriage proposal of Grandcourt, great by his calm acceptance of his great position in the world. His character, however, is better conceived than executed; for, while we have to take his high-breeding on assurance, his brutality thrusts itself pitilessly upon us. A secret which makes Gwendolen pause on the brink of acceptance causes her to go abroad to escape Grandcourt (who follows her very slowly) and to be brought face to face with Daniel Deronda. Gradually, he becomes a kind of higher admonition—for he is too detached to fill the office of good angel—in her life. His own, from his early days onwards, has been enveloped in a mystery to the solution of which the reader looks forward with tempered interest. It proves, in the end, to be a racial problem—though a less violent one than that of The Spanish Gypsy—with which we are invited to deal; and the haze of Disraelian dreams hangs round this part of the story, till, at the close, it leaves us face to face with the familiar project of the restoration of a national centre to the Jewish race. The attempt to constitute this Semitic mystery an organic part of the story of Gwendolen and her experiences, which culminate in her unhappy marriage with Grandcourt and his tragic death, cannot be deemed successful. After she has grown accustomed to rely absolutely on nothing but Deronda and his “Bouddhalike” altruism, she finds herself, at last, as her woman’s nature cries out in a moment of despair, “forsaken” by him, so that he may fulfil his destiny, which includes his marriage with Mirah. But the candid though severe critic, who goes rather far in his suggestion that this ending may “raise a smile which the author did not intend to excite,” is within the mark when he adds that “no words of praise can be too warm for the insight displayed by the book into the complex feelings of modern character” or “for its delicacy and depth of delineation of sentiment.” Among the subsidiary personages of the story, one is wholly new and orginal—the musician of genius, whose single-minded devotion to an art which, for George Eliot, always had a unique fascination, rises superior to his personal grotesqueness. Thus, almost in spite of itself, Daniel Deronda remains one of the great achievements of its author’s genius.