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Literature / Daniel Deronda

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No, seriously.

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.

The novel was adapted a number of times: a short film titled Gwendolin in 1914, a British silent film in 1921, and twice as a television drama: in 1971 and in 2002.

Tropes used:

  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: averted at least in the case of Daniel himself, who is probably Sephardi in heritage. Herr Klesmer is probably Ashkenazi, and Mirah and Mordecai could very well be either.
  • 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.
  • 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 points, is a bit of an hysterical Gold Digger and may or 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.
  • Character Tics: Grandcourt. Speaks. Slowly.
  • Creepy Painting: The hidden painting of the corpse at Offendene. Does double duty as Foreshadowing.
  • Demoted to Extra: Mordecai in the TV miniseries; he's included in the story, but his whole plotline about wanting to help the Jewish people and recruiting Daniel to help him is all but dispensed with completely.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Deronda, who has a hard time figuring out what it is he's called to do.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hates Being Touched: Gwendolen's aversion to anything sexual.
  • Heir Club for Men: Sir Hugo Mallinger only has daughters, so his estates and title will descend to Grandcourt.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Massively averted. Grandcourt's supposed "love" for his dogs reveals the manipulative side of his nature.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Gwendolen thinks she can handle Grandcourt well enough. Oops.
  • 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.
  • Long Bus Trip: Daniel and Mirah exit the novel by going to Palestine, with no assurances that they will ever return to England.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Daniel and Hans both love Mirah. Mirah and Gwendolen love Daniel, and depending on your interpretation, maybe Mordecai does too. Meanwhile Rex loves Gwendolen, and while Grandcourt's disposition towards Gwendolen could hardly be described as loving, he certainly feels possessive of her. Meanwhile Lydia Glasher lives and dies for Grandcourt's infrequent visits.
  • "Harleth" is suspiciously close to "harlot."
  • A musician named Klesmer (Klezmer is a Jewish style of music)
  • Daniel's last name Deronda hints at his Jewish heritage. (Deronda means "of Ronda", a city in Andalusia, Spain, where his Jewish ancestors were presumably expelled.)
  • Missing Mom: Daniel's absent mother; Mirah's and Mordecai's dead mother.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Grandcourt suspects that Gwendolen is trying to have an affair with Daniel. Or something of the sort.
  • Noodle Incident: We are never told what happened to Mrs. Cohen's daughter.
  • Parental Abandonment: Alcharisi wanted Daniel to be kept entirely ignorant of his Jewish heritage.
  • 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.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Grandcourt is a brutal parody of this.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Observe how Grandcourt treats his dogs. Now, see how he treats his wife...
  • Secret Other Family: Grandcourt's mistress, Lydia Glasher, and their children. The whole problem is that Gwendolen knows they exist, and yet marries Grandcourt anyway.
  • By the end of the novel, arguably Gwendolen as well.
  • Gwendolen, in the novel's famous opening.
  • Mirah's father Lapidoth is a more conventional example.
  • Token Minority Couple: A downplayed example, since while the Jewish Daniel hooks up with Mirah, there are many other important Jewish characters in the novel.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Gwendolen and Daniel have their own, clearly-defined plots, although they repeatedly cross paths.