Daniel Deronda


  • Daniel Deronda — The ward of the wealthy Sir Hugo Mallinger and hero of the novel, Deronda has a tendency to help others at a cost to himself. At the start of the novel, he has failed to win a scholarship at Cambridge because of his focus on helping a friend, has been travelling abroad, and has just started studying law. He often wonders about his birth and whether or not he is a gentleman. As he moves more and more among the world-within-a-world of the Jews of the novel he begins to identify with their cause in direct proportion to the unfolding revelations of his ancestry. Eliot used the story of Moses as part of her inspiration for Deronda. As Moses was a Jew brought up as an Egyptian who ultimately led his people to the Promised Land, so Deronda is a Jew brought up as an Englishman who ends the novel with a plan to do the same. Deronda's name presumably indicates that his ancestors lived in the Spanish city of Ronda, prior to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
  • Gwendolen Harleth — The beautiful, spoiled daughter of a widowed mother.[2] Much courted by men, she is flirtatious but ultimately self-involved. Early in the novel, her family suffers a financial crisis, and she is faced with becoming a governess to help support herself and her family. Seeking an escape, she explores the idea of becoming an actress and singer, but Herr Klesmer tells her that she has started too late, that she does not know the meaning of hard work, training, and sacrifice. Gwendolen marries the controlling and cruel Henleigh Grandcourt, although she does not love him. Desperately unhappy, she seeks help from Deronda, who offers her understanding, moral support and the possibility of a way out of her guilt and sorrow. As a psychological study of an immature egoist struggling to achieve greater understanding of herself and others through suffering, Gwendolen is for many Eliot's crowning achievement as a novelist and the real core of the book. F R Leavis famously felt that the novel would have benefited from the complete removal of the Jewish section and the renaming of it as Gwendolen Harleth. It is true that though the novel is named after Deronda, a greater proportion is devoted to Gwendolen than to Deronda himself.
  • Mirah Lapidoth — A beautiful Jewish girl who was born in England but taken away by her father at a young age to travel the world as a singer. Realising, as a young woman, that her father planned to sell her as a mistress to a European nobleman, to get money for his gambling addiction, she flees from him and returns to London to look for her mother and brother. When she arrived in London she found her old home destroyed and no trace of her family. Giving in to despair, she tries to commit suicide. Rescued by Daniel, she is cared for by his friends while searching for her family and work, so that she can support herself.
  • Sir Hugo Mallinger — A wealthy gentleman; Sir Hugo fell in love with the operatic diva Maria Alcharisi when she was young and agreed, out of love for her, to raise her son Daniel Deronda.
  • Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt — Sir Hugo's nephew and heir-presumptive, a wealthy, manipulative, sadistic man. Grandcourt marries Gwendolen Harleth and then embarks upon a campaign of emotional abuse. He has a mistress, Lydia Glasher, with whom he has several children. He had promised to marry Lydia when her husband died but reneged on the promise to marry Gwendolyn instead.
  • Thomas Cranmer Lush — Henleigh Grandcourt's slavish associate. He and Gwendolen take an immediate dislike to one another.
  • Lydia Glasher — Henleigh Grandcourt's mistress, a fallen woman who left her husband for Grandcourt and had his children. She confronts Gwendolen, hoping to persuade her not to marry Grandcourt and protect her children's inheritance. To punish both women, Grandcourt takes the family diamonds he had given to Lydia and gives them to Gwendolen. He forces Gwendolen to wear them despite her knowing that they had been previously worn by his mistress.
  • Ezra Mordecai Cohen — Mirah's brother. A young Jewish visionary suffering from consumption who befriends Daniel Deronda and teaches him about Judaism. A Kabbalist and proto-Zionist, Mordecai sees Deronda as his spiritual successor and inspires him to continue his vision of creating a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Named after the biblical character Mordecai, who delivers the Jews from the machinations of Haman in the Book of Esther
  • Herr Klesmer — A German-Jewish musician in Gwendolen Harleth's social circle; Klesmer marries Catherine Arrowpoint, a wealthy girl with whom Gwendolen is friendly. He also advises Gwendolen not to try for a life on the stage. Thought to be partly based on Franz Liszt.[3]
  • The Princess Halm Eberstein — Daniel Deronda's mother. The daughter of a rabbi, she suffered under her father's dominance; he saw her main purpose was to produce Jewish sons. To please him, she agreed to marry a religious man, her cousin, knowing he adored her and would let her do as she wished after her father died. When her father was dead, she became a renowned singer and actress. After her husband died, she gave her son to Sir Hugo Mallinger to be raised as an English gentleman, free of all the disadvantages she felt she had had as a Jew. Later when her voice seemed to be failing, she converted to Christianity to marry a Russian nobleman. Her voice recovered, and she bitterly regretted having given up her life as a performer. Now ill with a fatal disease, she begins to fear retribution for having frustrated her father's plans for his grandson. She contacts Daniel through Sir Hugo, asking him to meet her in Genoa, where she travels under pretense of consulting a doctor. Their confrontation in Italy is one of the novel's important scenes. Afterwards, she tells Deronda where he can recover a chest full of important documents related to his Jewish heritage, gathered by her father.

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