Daniel Deronda (1876), George Eliot's final novel, explores highly unusual territory for Victorian fiction: the title character, raised as a Christian, discovers and embraces his Jewish heritage. The novel has two main plots. In one, Daniel Deronda transforms from a serious but rootless young man, convinced that he is the illegitimate son of his guardian, Sir Hugo Mallinger, into a man of purpose, committed to the welfare of the Jewish people. He is inspired along the way by Mirah Lapidoth, an innocent Jewish singer whom he rescues from an attempted suicide, and by Mordecai, a Jewish mystic. In the other plot, the lovely but chilly (and self-involved) Gwendolen Harleth rescues her family from ruin by marrying the sadistic Mr. Grandcourt—even though she knows perfectly well that Grandcourt has fathered two children with his mistress, Lydia Glasher. As the novel progresses and Gwendolen sinks further and further into despair, she desperately turns to Daniel for moral support.
Ambition Is Evil: Alcharisi, who wants to pursue her successful theatrical career, gives up her son to do it; when she thinks her voice has been wrecked, she makes an aristocratic marriage. The result: misery and an agonizing death from cancer. Mirah Lapidoth, however, enjoys singing, but she loathes public performance. The result: she is reunited with her brother, freed from her horrible father, and married to Daniel.
American Civil War: Unlike Eliot's other novels, Daniel Deronda is set just a decade before its publication. The characters and the narrator occasionally reference what's going on in the United States, both as a moral touchstone and as a reminder that Gwendolen's worldview is extremely narrow.
A case of Betty and Veronica Switch : Gwendolene is a well-liked Christian with blond hair and she seems very grounded, and Mirah is a jewish outcast with a melancholy disposition, but Mirah is simply traumatized and very sweet, while Gwendolene, despite her good size, is a bit of an hysterical Gold Digger and may and may not be a sympathetic murderer.
Beware the Quiet Ones: Grandcourt, whose voice becomes softer and softer as he grows more and more dangerous.
Bittersweet Ending: It's not actually clear what's going to happen to Daniel and Mirah, let alone whether any of Daniel's and Mordecai's plans are going to come to fruition. Gwendolen, meanwhile, ends the novel widowed, abandoned by Daniel, and suffering from recurring fits of hysteria.
Break the Haughty: Gwendolen, who has already treated one suitor badly, marries Grandcourt to avoid having to work for a living—even though she knows what this will mean for Grandcourt's mistress, Lydia. This turns out to be a bad, bad idea.
Distracted by the Luxury: Soon subverted. Although Gwendolen initially jumps at Grandcourt's proposal on account of the lovely things he can buy her, she suffers a mental breakdown when Lydia Glasher sends her the diamonds that Grandcourt had once given to her.
Driven to Suicide: Mirah Lapidoth; averted, however, when Daniel manages to rescue her.
Gold Digger: Played with. Gwendolen treats Grandcourt as a Meal Ticket in order to avoid becoming a governess, but her mediocre talents and education don't leave her many other avenues with which to save her family from destitution.
Hard Work Hardly Works: Sternly subverted by Klesmer, the musician who itemizes all of Gwendolen's faults as a potential actress. Similarly, even though Mirah has The Gift, she nevertheless has spent her life in training for performance.
How We Got Here: After Gwendolen's mother recalls her to England in the novel's early chapters, the plot rewinds a year and recounts all the events leading up to her decision to go abroad in the first place.
Parental Marriage Veto: Catherine Arrowpoint's parents try this when she announces that she is going to marry Klesmer. They don't get very far.
By contrast, Mr. Gascoigne successfully vetoes Rex's desire to marry Gwendolen. Then again, Gwendolen has no interest in marrying Rex.
Passed Over Inheritance: Grandcourt's will has two options: if Gwendolen has a son, he and she will inherit everything, with a relatively small maintenance to Lydia Glasher and the four illegitimate children; if Gwendolen has no son, then Grandcourt's illegitimate son Henleigh takes everything, and Gwendolen receives the pittance. Unusually for this trope, Gwendolen knows of the arrangement ahead of time. In the end, the inheritance goes to Henleigh, and Gwendolen debates whether or not she should even accept the house and maintenance.