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"Daniel Deronda" by George Eliot

Daniel Deronda may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

First published in 1876, Daniel Deronda was the last novel George Eliot published and the only one set in the time period in which it was written. It tells the story of several interconnected characters including Daniel Deronda, the ward of a wealthy gentleman, and Gwendolen Harleth, the beautiful and spoiled daughter of a widow.

While it doesn't have the concise and perfect plot of Eliot's Silas Marner, Daniel Deronda is once again proof that she could tell an engrossing story. That is if you make it through the pages upon pages of political speeches and ruminations about character motivations--Eliot is anything but concise in this one. The political element has a reason to be there, however, as at the heart of the novel is a commentary on the budding Zionist movement in British and European society at the time.

While I was reading this book, The Guardian published an interesting article discussing the Jewish element in Daniel Deronda. Apparently, the Zionist political discussions in the book enraged as much as perplexed her readers at the time. Still today, this aspect of the novel appears to be something many would prefer to leave out. The 2002 BBC adaptation, while an excellent story in itself, does not tell the story of the book. In it we are led to believe that Deronda's interest in Jewish customs is an idle fancy that just happens to coincide with some nice plot twists. The real story according to this version is: will he or won't he with the stunning Miss Harleth?

While no overt romance exists in the book between these two characters, they do play the major roles, and their interactions are the pivotal points of the plot. Gwendolen Harleth is just the kind of character Eliot excels at portraying. She has as much bad as good in her and is highly prone to selfishness and regretting her actions. Henleigh Grandcourt is excellent as the villain who has rational (to him) reasons behind his deeds. Gwendolyn and Grandcourt, with all their failings and imperfections, are the polar opposites to Deronda and saintly Mirah. One wonders if Eliot purposefully made these characters more perfect than human to drive home a point that I'm not quite understanding.

Personally, I prefer Middlemarch and the concisely perfect Silas Marner to Daniel Deronda. But there's no doubt that this one is a classic that will endure, at the very least, as a testament to societal preconceptions and misconceptions about Judaism at that point in history--and perhaps even today.


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