Daniel Deronda


The Soul in the Jewish Marriage, as Embodied by Daniel Deronda

May 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

The first few books of Daniel Deronda focused on Gwendolen Harleth, who shines as a self-centered, domineering young woman. In becoming trapped by marriage to Grandcourt, she develops growing fascination with Daniel, an attraction that began with their encounter in the opening pages of the book. Daniel’s influence on Gwendolen causes her to evolve her ego and become a better woman, and Gwendolen ultimately falls in love with him. Unfortunately for Gwendolen, Daniel realizes that despite his attraction to her, his loves lies with the Jewess, Mirah, and Gwendolen’s fate is left undecided.

Eliot had begun the novel with Gwendolen and then portrayed many scenes of Gwendolen’s dependent relationship on Daniel, so naturally both readers, and characters within the story, can imagine an eventual love story between the two. However, Eliot clearly indicates in Book VIII that a romance with Gwendolen is incompatible with Daniel’s discovery of his Jewish background. Using language that equates marriage to a spiritual union, Eliot emphasizes that Daniel’s soul has a distance to Gwendolen’s that precludes any satisfactory marriage between the two, and furthermore, she suggests that for Daniel and Mordecai, the faithful Jewish characters, religion and marriage are intertwined as they entail similar acts of joining souls together.

We first see the overt religious division between Daniela and Gwendolen early in Book VIII, when Mirah feels misplaced jealousy toward Daniel’s relationship with Gwendolen, who has the proper rank and English background that she lacks. Mirah thinks that the perceived “attachment between Deronda and Mrs Grandcourt” would certainly “end in their future marriage” (732). On the other hand, she simultaneously holds the contradictory belief that Gwendolen “seemed another sort of being than Deronda, something foreign that would be a disturbance in his life instead of blending with it” (733). Besides their differences in personality, the aspect of Deronda’s character that causes this alienation is his connections to Judaism. While Mirah does not yet know of his parentage, she already associates him with Judaism because of his continued interest in the religion and his potential role as Mordecai’s disciple. She concludes that “the relation between Deronda and her brother” is“incongruous with any close tie to Mrs Grandcourt” (733). Despite her original misconception that Daniel and Gwendolen are romantically involved, Mirah retains a strong, conscious awareness that a marriage between the two would not be in harmony with Judaism’s hold on Daniel’s life.

While Mirah doubts Daniel’s love for her, Daniel in turn doubts Mirah’s love for him, even after he finds out he is a Jew. When arguing with the dejected Hans about Mirah, he says that he has “‘very little hope’” to be Mirah’s lover despite Hans’s convictions otherwise (784). This suggests that the romantic depth of Daniel and Mirah’s relationship remains unchanged even after the revelation of his parentage, for he does not think of himself as more attractive to her as a lover. However, the newly “discovered charter” of his “inherited right” does give him the potential and the ability to marry Mirah, which previously would have been impossible even if they had acknowledged love for each other (744). He knows that their relationship is not different externally, but “his relation to Mordecai” brings him “new nearness to Mirah” in spite of “no apparent change in his position toward her” (745). After she too learns of his parentage, Mirah also feels this “suddenly revealed sense of nearness” because Daniel’s Jewish birthright allows him to inhabit the same religious plane as Mirah and Mordecai, an intangible yet important difference to her (751). Eliot’s choice of spatial words like “nearness” and “position” contrasts with the abstract ideas presented, but they allow the reader to substantiate the changes in Daniel’s relationship with Mirah. While they are not any closer in love or in space, their souls now live under the same God, a closeness that cannot arise organically as Jews can only be born, not made.

In feeling closer to Mirah and Mordecai, Daniel’s new bonds of “love and duty” to Judaism prevent him from pursuing any impulse to love Gwendolen, which could have been a reality earlier in the story (765). When Daniel and Gwendolen first met in the casino, they were transfixed and occupied each other’s thoughts, and their intriguing reunions, in the midst of Gwendolen’s problems with Grandcourt and Daniel’s involvement with the Lapidoths, were a focal point of the story. Daniel even admits that a year ago, “he would hardly have asked himself whether he loved her,” and he would have wanted “to save her from sorrow,” and “to carry out to the last the rescue he had begun in that monitory redemption of the necklace” (765). However, the deepening connection that Daniel feels to the Lapidoths makes him realize that Gwendolen and he differ on a fundamental level. The “strength of the bond” that holds him to his Jewish brethren “[keeps] him asunder from her” (765). Once again the Eliot invokes a spatial distinction, that Gwendolen and Daniel are separate, or “asunder.”

Unlike the Jewish characters, Gwendolen does not believe in a crucial difference between Daniel’s and her soul. After Daniel tells her of his Jewish parentage, she asks, “‘What difference need that have made?… You are just the same as if you were not a Jew’” (801-802). Gwendolen’s perspective is that of the conventional English reader at the time, who is expected not to be familiar with the necessity of unity in a Jewish marriage. They may be prejudiced against a Jewish-English marriage on other grounds, but they do not see the same fundamental difference that Mirah and Daniel do. In fact, other characters, including Sir Mallinger and Hans, have the same view as Gwendolen: when they learn of Daniel’s Jewish heritage, they still retain the belief that Daniel will marry Gwendolen. Ultimately, Gwendolen and Grandcourt married out of necessity, and the Klesmers out of pure love, but Daniel and Mirah arrive at marriage in the wake of religious and romantic unity.

In contrast to his distance from Gwendolen, when Daniel proposes to Mirah, he proclaims that they “‘can have no sorrow, no disgrace, no joy apart’” (792). Marriage between them is a true union of their souls, as Daniel desires to accept her wholly within him. Eliot emphasizes the theme that since marriage for the Jews joins together their souls, they must accept every part of each other, including the evil. After Mr. Lapidoth steals his diamond ring, Daniel tells Mirah in his proposal that he will even think of her father as his, a conviction that results from his all-encompassing love for Mirah.

Mordecai also embodies this ideal of whole acceptance after Mirah faces the repugnant return of their father. Mordecai attempts to console her by saying that the good they have inherited allows them to “feel the evil”, which are two opposites that “are wedded” to them, as “‘[their] father was wedded to [their] mother’” (743). Mordecai accepts the wrongdoings of Mr. Lapidoth as necessary to his identity, as something he has inherited; Daniel accepts him as a necessary part of marrying Mirah since he forms a part of Mirah’s identity.

Their faithful Jewish perspective views marriage not as blind love between two people, but a conscious appreciation of both good and bad—because both are a result of God’s work. Eliot extrapolates this into hallowed religious doctrine by comparing Mordecai’s consoling speech to Mirah to “a Rabbi transmitting the sentences of an elder time” (743). In teaching Mirah to understand the religious meaning of marriage, Mordecai is like the Rabbi who said, “‘the Omnipresent is occupied in making marriages’” and “by marriages meant all the wondrous combinations of the universe whose issue makes our good and evil” (743). Here Eliot makes clear that this perspective on marriage applies to all Jews throughout time, and not just the characters of her story. Furthermore, by specifying the distinctive nature of the Jewish doctrine, she differentiates Mordecai and Daniel’s views from the typical Englishman’s.

Although not an observant Jew, even Mirah’s father recognizes the symbolism of marriage in accepting both good and evil in Judaism. When he begs to live with his children again, he turns to Mirah and draws upon her faith in marriage and her reverence for her mother. He says Mrs. Cohen would have forgiven him because “thirty-four years ago [he] put the ring on her finger under the Chuppa, and [they] were made one” (777). Mirah then exclaims that he should stay, and Mordecai does not disagree with her, despite his vehement dislike for his father. While Mirah and Mordecai are not enthusiastic for their father to stay, they do give him the chance to live out his apology and eventual path to forgiveness. He had wronged them greatly, even driving Mirah to the brink of suicide, but the implication that their mother would have forgiven him causes the children to accept him for a little longer. At one point, the mother and the father were “one,” and the children still hope that the lasting goodness of their mother’s soul can prevail against the evil of their father’s.

Judaism not only causes Daniel to get closer to Mirah and farther from Gwendolen, but also to find higher meaning in his own life. After he discovers his parentage, Mirah “had taken her place in his soul as a beloved type — reducing the power of other fascination” in Gwendolen, who he realized tended “to rouse in him the enthusiasm of self-martyring pity rather than of personal love” (744-5). He felt a duty toward Gwendolen that eclipsed any of the potential love he felt, and while conscious that “Gwendolen’s soul clung to his with a passionate need,” he realized that his own soul needed “the closer fellowship” of “men of like inheritance” (765). The idea of Daniel’s “self-martyring pity” and desire to help those in need is woven throughout the novel as he rescues Gwendolen, Hans, and Mirah in some fashion, and he struggles with his inability to save Gwendolen from her marriage to Grandcourt. With the change of fate in his relation to Mordecai, he finds a new calling, to save the multitudes of Jewish people in diaspora. In the same way that his Jewish identity gives him the ability to marry Mirah, Daniel now has the ability to nurture his wandering soul into a fulfilling vocation.

Eliot paints many similarities between Daniel’s marriage to Mirah and his new religious calling. In the scene in which Daniel reveals his parentage, he excitedly tells Mordecai that they “‘have the same people’” and their “‘souls have the same vocation’” (748). This moment of revelation mirrors the intimacy of a wedding, as the two men “clasped hands,” and Daniel says that they “‘shall not be separated by life or by death,’” a choice of words reminiscent of wedding vows (748). To Daniel and Mordecai, the revelation of this religious brotherhood is tantamount to the union of a man and a woman under God, for both result in eternal bonds of the soul.

The vocation that Daniel claims both of their souls share is the bringing together of the Jewish people, which is the successor to his former tendency of trying to save people who he meets in distress. He had always “‘longed for some ideal task, in which [he] might feel the heart and brain of a multitude,’” and now Mordecai has given him the calling “‘to bind [their] race together in spite of heresy’” (750). Eliot repeatedly uses such language of unity, togetherness, and bonding to describe Daniel’s newfound path and relation to the Lapidoths. While Daniel and Mirah are united in marriage, with the goal of propagating God’s goodness and love through family life and children, Daniel and Mordecai’s souls wed together as an unbreakable, transcendental bond, with the goal of bringing together the Jewish people.

Mordecai himself also affirms the idea that Daniel can be wedded to religion, as he is to Mirah. After Daniel confirms his intention to follow Mordecai’s prophecy and unite the Jewish people, Mordecai explicitly says that “‘the marriage of their souls’” has begun and waits only for “‘the passing away of this body’” (751). Mordecai wishes to pass on his knowledge and writings to Daniel, and he awaits “‘the willing marriage which melts soul into soul’” that will combine Daniel and his souls (751). He believes that only after he passes can his soul be truly free to bond with Daniel’s, which will result in the better fulfillment of his desire to unite the Jewish people. At the conclusion of the book, as Mordecai is about to pass away, he repeats the previous idea that he has “‘breathed [his] soul into [Daniel’s],’” and despite his impending death, they “‘shall live together’” (811). After Mordecai speaks “the confession of the diving Unity” and finally passes, he completes the melding of his and Daniel’s souls into one (811). Daniel thus finally “weds” both Mordecai and Mirah.

Eliot illustrates Daniel’s evolution from a confused young man into one certain of his life direction, a change brought upon by the momentous occasion of discovering his identity and adherence to Judaism. She crafts a compelling narrative of Jewish bonds borne of the struggles and prejudices that contemporary Jews had to face. While the audience, ignorant of Jewish spirituality and practices, may have from the start expected a typical conclusion of romance with Gwendolen, Eliot succeeds in eliciting a greater appreciation for the Jews’ strength and belief in unity, as exemplified by Daniel’s relationships with Mirah and Mordecai.


Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda. London, England: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Read more


Women as Performers

March 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

In George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, a theme of subjugation through observation becomes a unifying tie between Jews and women, two primary categories of characters in the novel. Eliot’s female characters provide a complex commentary on the performance demanded of women in their public lives, a quality of society that exceeds boundaries of race and religion. The direct use of acting and singing as career choices for the Jewish women illuminates this idea, and inspires a natural comparison with the behavior expected of women in English culture. In 1876, when the book was published, critics and public alike were scandalized by Eliot’s attempt to draw the Jewish element (including these female performers) into fine English literature. Eliot’s critique on her society is clear in the novel’s attempt to consider the Jewish woman beyond the stereotypical role of performer. In fact, the role of professional actress begins to defend itself. As an art form, it is an honest level of posing, as opposed to the false premises of the married life offered to English ladies. In its language, and mode of description, the novel manages to make even more unique conclusions about these two groups. Essentially, Eliot shows us English wives petrified into statues, disillusioned by a world that demands a public stance. Meanwhile, the Jewish characters display the very ability to act their emotions when they are off the stage that is demanded of the English women in their relationships. The relationship between authenticity and performance varies in the wide range of female characters, relying constantly on the ability to submit to circumstance, to embrace reality, to succumb to society’s unequal terms.The choice to make three of the most important female characters performers of a sort is certainly a significant one. Eliot is insisting her readers keep the role of performer in their minds when considering the lives of women, across the barriers of culture or race. Deronda’s Jewish mother, the Alcharisi, turns out to be a retired singer, once quite famous. And Mirah was brought up by her father for the stage. Gwendolen is a step away from these two in that she desires to become an actress but chooses marriage instead, facing this new life as a role to play. The continual presence of this performance theme is extremely important, as it draws our attention to the similarities between drawing room politesse and the nature of the theater. But there are not only parallels between these two worlds. There is a clear differentiation buried deep within the descriptions of Gwendolen and Mrs. Glasher, a quality not included in presentations of Alcharisi or Mirah. Both of these English characters become petrified by tragedy and hardship, rather than enlightened by it. They bristle when forced to submit, using performance to mask their true emotions and hardening stone representations of their own failures. Where Mirah’s posing is infused with natural talent, Gwendolen’s seems full of stony determination. These subtle contrasts help to set up the discrepancy at the heart of Eliot’s critique: Trained performance in the public gaze and professional performance on a stage have objectification in common, but acting for money and acting for social leverage are not the same thing.Gwendolen defines herself as a statue figure as much as Eliot defines her as such. Gail Marshall suggests that “Gwendolen is from the start engrossed in, and enclosed by, her desire to be seen,” a desire that makes her willingly transform into an object for perusal. From the very opening of the novel, in the famous gambling scene, we are introduced to Gwendolyn through Deronda’s eyes. The first lines of the book are Deronda’s first impression of her (although we do not know this until the second paragraph). This choice for an entrance into Gwendolen’s story certainly fixes her in the gaze of others. Deronda’s response seems to mimic one’s reaction to a work of art, in the sense that heightened aesthetic quality inspires deep thought, and naturally begs personal judgement of its viewers: “Was she beautiful or not beautiful? And what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance? Was the good or the evil genius dominant in those beams? Probably the evil; else why was the effect that of unrest rather than of undisturbed charm? Why was the wish to look again felt as coercion and not as a longing in which the whole being consents?.” Before we even know her name, Gwendolen is frozen in time, her physical presence an inspiring object for a man’s gaze. As far as the reader knows, these questions could be inspired by a captivating painting or sculpture of a woman, since it is not specified that what is being regarded is a human being. The beams of her eyes are seemingly static enough to be steadily considered, weighed in the concrete terms of good and evil. And descriptions like “the secret of form,” “gave the dynamic quality,” and “the wish to look again,” hint at a desired effect, carefully and expertly crafted by art. The moral quality of the questions, in contrasting “good or evil genius,” sets up a kind of paradoxical state. Although the language insists on an inner depth in question, Eliot proceeds to prove that they are merely interrogating the surface. The question is not “is she?” but “how does she seem?,” and the male gaze is thus fixed in this aesthetic sphere, despite its lofty intentions.The gambling scene, which lingers as an important memory throughout the narrative, continues to set Gwendolen up as a statuesque figure. Eliot also shows us how willingly, even purposely she occupies this role. The second paragraph supplies the reader with crucial twists to the ambiguous opening questions, while securing the authority of Deronda’s gaze by further describing through it. Eliot tells us who is looking and what exactly the object is by beginning, “She who raised these questions in Daniel Deronda’s mind was occupied in gambling: not in the open air under a southern sky, tossing coppers on a ruined wall, with rags about her limbs; but in one of those splendid resorts which the enlightenment of ages has prepared for the same species of pleasure at heavy cost of gilt mouldings, dark-toned colour and chubby nudities…” (DD, 7). Note that we learn the name of the male observer, but the person in question remains the ambiguous “she”. In fact, Eliot will continue to lead the reader through Deronda’s long careful scrutiny of Gwendolen’s person, and she will even consider his presence (DD, 7-10) before Eliot supplies the name Gwendolen. This naming decision not only aligns the reader’s gaze with Deronda’s, but, like introductions at a party, tells us who it is more important to respect and know as an equal. The placement of agency in “she who raised these questions” implies the intent to cause questioning on “her” part, as though that is her inevitable function in his presence. Eliot goes further, showing us just how Gwendolen fails in presenting herself by hinting at where she truly belongs, with the mention of where she could be. Her being brings to Deronda’s mind the image of a beggar girl, and shows us how her pose has failed. The skeptical tone of “heavy cost of gilt mouldings,” along with the choice of “dark-toned” and “chubby nudities,” especially next to the open air of the girl in rags, suggests a self-conscious attempt at masking the truth. The aesthetic is thus failing on two levels in this moment. The space itself is lying about its own purpose, with its shoddy attempt to wear a clunky costume of gilt and generic art. On top of this, is a woman who is not what she tries to appear, and uses performance (unsuccessfully) to try and cover the truth about herself and her situation.Gwendolen’s inability to play her ideal part is revealed in a series of disappointments, just as it will be in her consciousness over the course of the narrative. Her excessive self-awareness in posing, an awkward element that will later separate her from Mirah, is betrayed by both Deronda’s conclusions and her own apprehensions. She is not immediately recognizable as artificial like the space around her, but as alive and vibrant as she intends. In fact, Deronda initially chooses to stare at this creature because she seems to contain more motion than her tableau-like surroundings. After his eyes scan over the gambling crowd in “this scene of dull, gas-poisoned absorption,” he pauses on Gwendolen because “…he suddenly [feels] the moment become dramatic” (DD, 9). He watches her win, the reader following his every perception, until suddenly she turns to meet his gaze. The effect of his regard overpowers her own agency: “…her eyes met Deronda’s, and instead of averting them as she would have desired to do, she was unpleasantly conscious that they were arrested – how long?” (DD, 10). It is clear that Gwendolen is not only affected, but even controlled by Deronda’s gaze. He is staring, so she must stare back. Here, the creature that stood out as dramatic has been frozen by the male gaze. She betrays a deep awareness of her artifice in her (correct) conclusion about this gaze. “The darting sense that he was measuring her and looking down on her as an inferior, that he was of different quality from the human dross around her, that he felt himself in a region outside and above her, and was examining her as a specimen of a lower order, roused a tingling resentment which stretched the moment with conflict” (DD, 10). The reader is thus warned early on that Gwendolyn struggles in her acting, as she is acutely aware of her failure. By revealing her immediate self-doubt when subjected to a penetrating gaze, the novel is beginning the process of differentiating between what she is and what she wants to be. Her statuesque quality enters her, as Eliot turns her to marble before his eyes. This moment “[does] not bring the blood to her cheeks, but [sends] it away from her lips…without other sign of emotion than this lip-paleness turned to her play” (DD, 10). She becomes white, like a real statue, and tries to show as little emotion as possible, deciding to “go on playing as if she were indifferent to loss or gain” (DD, 11). Not only does Gwendolen freeze under this gaze, but she loses because she is so utterly aware of it and determined to conquer it, mistaking her self-objectification for defiance.Eliot’s careful differentiation between the authentic self and the performed self becomes a critique because it expands to include other female characters. This characteristic of deliberate self-objectification is hardly specific to Gwendolen Harleth. It appears quite obviously in scenes with Mrs.Glasher, who is tragically frozen in time and space by a deliberately malicious Grandcourt. She personifies Gail Marshall’s notion that “sculpture can be both time-defying and time-bound. It presents an image which can persist as long as its concrete form endures, in defiance of the transience of sculptor and condemned perpetually to repeat that same moment.” Lydia Glasher is frozen in Grandcourt’s false promise of eventual marriage and therefore inheritance for their son. The scene in her home certainly contains a sense of condemnation – she is basically imprisoned in a moment of hopeful patience, and Eliot carefully shows her trapped in this emotion. When Grandcourt arrives, she is “seated in the pleasant room where she habitually passed her mornings with her children round her. It had a square projecting window and looked on broad gravel and grass, sloping towards a little brook that entered the pool” (DD, 343). The symmetrical placement of Lydia in a circle (specified by “round”) of children, then framed by a square that contains a quaint little background, is certainly just like a painting or pose-plastique that is waiting for his entrance. Almost as actors on stage, the proscenium effect suggested by the “projecting” aspect of the window, these carefully placed characters will remain here, only moving a little to suggest reality: “The children were all there. The three girls, seated round their mother near the window, were miniature portraits of her – dark-eyed, delicate-featured brunettes with a rich bloom on their cheeks, their little nostrils and eyebrows singularly finished as if they were tiny women, the eldest being barely nine. The boy was seated on the carpet at some distance, bending his blond head over the animals from a Noah’s ark…Josephine, the eldest, was having her French lesson; and the others, with their dolls on their laps, sat demurely enough for images of the Madonna” (DD, 343-344). Here, the children are either small statues of their mother, or posed images one recognizes from classical paintings. This is a recognizable tableau scene of quiet domesticity, symmetrical and visually cohesive.The tableau effect created by Mrs. Glasher becomes dramatic, or alive, only when Grandcourt enters. The scene is entirely dependent on his gaze, a symbol of the power he has in choosing whether or not to come at all, to contain the tragic potential it intends. As readers, we know he stands on the threshold, and the dramatic effect of a scene about to occur is skillfully achieved. The sense of condemnation, of the statue’s imprisonment in time is not only suggested by Grandcourt’s opposing freedom of decision. It is also quite apparent in Lydia’s pitiful, purposeful preparation for this exact moment: “Mrs. Glasher’s toilet had been made very carefully – each day now she said to herself that Grandcourt might come in. Her head, which, spite of emancipation, had an ineffaceable beauty in the fine profile, crisp curves of hair, and clearly-marked eyebrows, rose impressively about her bronze-coloured silk and velvet, and the gold necklace which Grandcourt had first clasped round her neck years ago” (DD, 344). Here we have a woman who puts on her costume every morning, her stage makeup, or mask for this one particular scene. She has spent more time frozen, waiting, than she will spend alive, acting it out. Again, Eliot clues us into the statue metaphor by dropping linguistic clues throughout the passage. The words “ineffaceable,” “crisp,” and “clearly-marked” all suggest the presence of careful and hardened art. Even her clothing, described as bronze, brings to mind a material traditionally used in sculpture. She is more a symbol of her own fossilization than an actual human being, carefully crafted down to the tiny detail of her necklace. There is a dark cynicism in Eliot’s inclusion of “spite of emancipation,” which hints that Lydia is fighting something inevitable, and bigger than she is. The reader is to take note that circumstance has changed, but she has not. This only solidifies the sense that a horrible, stagnant quality defines her life. She is beautiful in defiance, but tragically fighting in another cycle of powerlessness. However powerful her crafted presence may be, it is utterly reliant on Grandcourt. His gaze, and only his gaze, will decide whether her being will occupy a statue or a human life.Without ever saying it explicitly, Eliot shows us the horrible Medusa effect that Grandcourt has on both of the women in his life. Gwendolen will also be frozen in a moment, condemned to repeat its expression forever (or at least until she is released from the marriage, which is a period largely outside of the scope of the novel). This moment is her wedding night, when Lydia exerts her haunting power over Gwendolen, and petrifies the new Mrs. Grandcourt in self-hatred through guilt. Eliot draws strong parallels between their two situations. The presence of significant necklaces is hardly hidden – Lydia wears her gold one, while discussing the diamond one, which is the very object that she will use as a symbolic yoke on Gwendolen’s emotional freedom. The diamond necklace will be a crucial detail in the statuesque figure of Mrs. Grandcourt that Gwendolen is to become, the history of Lydia Glasher thus injected into this role. The language of the scene again presents the notion of a statue, connecting the two women through this pose. This doubling shows us a shared fate among the novel’s English women, silently waiting to be destroyed by their life’s inevitable disappointments. Gwendolen makes small movements between tragic poses, moving from one depiction of despair to another.”It seemed at first as if Gwendolen’s eyes were spell-bound in reading the horrible words of the letter over and over again as a doom of penance; but suddenly a new spasm of terror made her lean forward and stretch out the paper towards the fire, lest accusation and proof at once should meet all eyes. It flew like a feather from her trembling fingers and was caught up in the great draught of flame. In her movement the casket fell on the floor and the diamonds rolled out. She took no notice, but fell back in her chair again helpless. She could not see the reflections of herself then: they were like so many women petrified white; but coming near herself you might have seen the tremor in her lips and hands. She sat so for a long while, knowing little more than that she was feeling ill, and that those written words kept repeating themselves in her.” (DD, 359)Finally, Gwendolen can submit to the moment. She releases all power as the paper, the diamonds, and even the repeating words, move more than she does. She only leans and trembles, trying to gain her balance in the pose that will occupy the rest of her married life. This is truly an expository moment in the novel. Gwendolen teeters on the edge of her own ideal in a flawless, poignant aesthetic composition that reflects great drama with little movement. She is a fluid part of a perfectly placed tableau; The letter burns in the fire, she succumbs to the moment with no pretension, and the diamonds that represent her ideal life roll away from her symbolically. Eliot makes this allusion very clear, with the “so many women petrified white,” reminding us that Gwendolen inhabits a collective identity in her suspended tragedy, thus aligning herself with the Lydia Glashers of the world. This is also a place void of any gaze, even introspection, as we are reminded that she “took no notice,” and “could not see the reflections of herself”. This momentary achievement will be disrupted, and therefore essentially controlled by Grandcourt once again. Gwendolen cannot maintain aesthetic perfection in the demand of the male gaze. She is no longer reified in statuesque tragedy, as he enters to find her “pallid, shrieking as it seemed with terror, the jewels scattered around her on the floor” (DD, 359). Gwendolen is finally stripped of her presumed power, unable to create a solid posture for this situation. Eliot has now led the reader to the very cusp of Gwendolen’s success, the near achievement of her ideal, and let it crash upon the floor.The novel is comprehensive in considering the nature of performance in all of its female characters. Gwendolen’s inability to adequately perform is not only highlighted through comparison with the Jewish women, but subject to the critique of their relative success. Eliot places Mirah and Alcharisi in similar situations, where their style of performance is far removed from the static postures assumed by Lydia and Gwendolen. When Deronda first sees Mirah attempting suicide by the river, she is absolutely frozen, yet another female subject to his discerning gaze. As he is rowing and singing, “Deronda…turn[s] his head to the river-side, and [sees] at a few yards’ distance from him a figure which might have been an impersonation of the misery he was unconsciously giving voice to: a girl hardly more than eighteen, of low slim figure, with most delicate little face, her dark curls pushed behind her ears under a large black hat, a long woolen cloak over her shoulders. Her hands were hanging down clasped before her, and her eyes were fixed on the river with a look of immovable, statue-like despair” (DD, 187). The authority of his gaze is again secured here, as his misery is projected onto her being before we are told what she actually looks like. And here, Eliot directly uses the statue metaphor and once again introduces to a woman through the eyes of her male protagonist as opposed to her own, the female author. Like the theatrical effect of the Glashers waiting on stage, or Gwendolen with the diamonds, for the entrance of Grandcourt, there is the sense that Mirah is frozen here, waiting to be activated by the arrival of the male gaze. However, she is not posing to achieve something, but rather effectively inhabiting her own emotional state.In examining the shifting relationship of authenticity and performance, Eliot is considering more than effectiveness of performance. In the same way that Gwendolen’s statuesque subservience is clarified by the presence of an extreme version (in Lydia Glasher), Alcharisi serves to illuminate the nature of Mirah’s abilities. Eliot is providing a brief glimpse of a character even beyond Mirah in performance. The Alcharisi shows us a state where the connection between emotions and acting has become seamless. The nature of her scene of course helps to draw the parallel, in its basic setup: she will also be described for the first time through Deronda’s gaze, in an apprehensive posture awaiting his arrival to begin her role. Deronda enters and “[finds] himself in the presence of a figure which at the other end of the large room stood awaiting his approach,” (DD, 624) in yet another moment when we wait poised for his first reaction, which objectifies her right away. Deronda sees that “She was covered, except as to her face and part of her arms, with black lace hanging loosely from the summit of her whitening hair to the long train stretching from her tall figure” (DD, 624). The language here has subtle implications, not nearly as explicit as the tableau effect described in scenes involving the English women: Eliot calls her a “figure” twice, as opposed to a more living term such as “woman,” “person,” or “being”. She is not wearing clothes, but rather “covered,” like furniture in a dusty room. Even her pose is perfectly suited to the scene she is prepared to act out, the great finale, the family reunion: “Her arms, naked from the elbow, except for some rich bracelets, were folded before her, and the fine poise of her head made it look handsomer than it really was” (DD, 624). She stands ready to receive his reaction. She is simultaneously proud and tragic, beautiful and old, royal yet broken. The variety of effect is much wider, with more nuances than what is achieved by Gwendolen and Lydia’s simplistic posing. The scene between Deronda and his mother continues to be stilted and slow, somewhere between the statuesque and the dramatic. The authentic quality of her emotions is enhanced by a level of truth and submission. This utter lack of defiance, and the effectiveness it achieves, call to mind Mirah’s honest posture, proving their similarity in the mind of the author.Eliot continues to connect Mirah and Alcharisi, the two Jewish women, by imbuing them with an honesty of performance that remains absent elsewhere. The fluidity of Alchirisi’s manner does not exist in Gwendolen’s posing, or Mrs.Glasher’s obvious intention of effect. Although she barely moves in her scene, the theatrical nature of her behavior (as opposed to the frozen, tableau effect) is referred to constantly. Eliot describes her mode of explication, after Alcharisi has calmly told Deronda her life story and admitted the pain she has caused him and herself, having barely batted an eyelash: “The varied transitions of tone with which this speech was delivered were as perfect as the most accomplished actress could have made them. The speech was in fact a piece of what may be called sincere acting: this woman’s nature was one in which all feeling – and all the more when it was tragic as well as real – immediately became matter of conscious representation: experience immediately passed into drama, and she acted her own emotions” (DD, 629). The immediacy of representation here has a vibrancy that sets it apart from Gwendolen’s more convoluted efforts. Mirah, on the other hand, achieves this same unintentional art in the eyes of Deronda. Mirah can become the living statue with none of Gwendolen’s labor or struggle. Like Alcharisi, she seems always to be playing herself. When she is happy, her aesthetic presentation perfectly reflects it: “The dainty neatness of her hair and dress, the glow of tranquil happiness in a face where a painter need have changed nothing if he had wanted to put it in front of the host singing Œpeace on earth and goodwill to men,'” (DD, 369). This frank admittance of her interior state is somehow communicated but without pretense or art. Mirah and Alchirisi also do not perform to mask their feelings, but rather to expertly express them. Gwendolen is more often seen acting to hide or repress her instincts. Although both roles require performance, these details distinctly separate them as very different.There could be a strong connection between the motives for acting and the relative level of success. Since both Lydia and Gwendolen are fighting their feelings, and both betray a more obvious effort, their frozen aspect may be due to heightened difficulty. The struggle to repress seems to demand more effort than a simple expression of truth. In Gwendolen, Eliot certainly depicts more effort in performance than one senses in either of these characters. In the gambling scene she had to actively try (with difficulty), whether she was to win or lose, to do it “strikingly” (DD, 11). During Grandcourt’s proposal to her, we are acutely aware of just how hard “she had to concentrate all her energy in that self-control which made her appear gravely gracious as she gave her hand to him,” setting the scene so meticulously that “any one seeing them as a picture would have concluded that they were in some stage of love-making suspense” (DD, 299). We are reminded constantly of Gwendolen’s intentional posing and her awareness of difficulty involved. According to Gail Marshall’s assessment of the statuesque, this intense concentration could distract Gwendolen enough to cripple the outcome of her efforts. Marshall claims that “The statuesque may be approved on an initial register of visual appreciation, but too great an emphasis on spectacle militates against the absorption of both moment and actress into the play’s disrupted narrative.” Gwendolen is too busy acting the part to understand its context. Her poses freeze and trap her within her own narrative. The existence of this awareness is absent in the characters who seamlessly exude their inner selves. Where Gwendolen, “with all that gnawing trouble in her consciousness…hardly for a moment drop[s] the sense that it was her part to bear herself with dignity, and appear what is called happy,” (DD, 425) Mirah is never visibly conscious of such an obligation. She places barely any emphasis on her own role as sculpture but, or therefore, seems to naturally occupy it. Eliot shows us again and again that Mirah’s poses are supposedly unintentional, although entirely effective. She directly tells us this, when Mirah inspires in Deronda a sense that it would be “impossible to see a creature freer at once from embarrassment and boldness. Her theatrical training had left no recognizable trace; probably her manners had not much changed since she played the forsaken child at nine years of age; and she had grown up in her simplicity and truthfulness like a little flower-seed that absorbs the chance confusion of its surroundings into its own definite mould of beauty” (DD, 225). It is interesting that to betray affectation, one must be trained in that very art. When Mirah is suicidal, she appears artistically so, just as when she is happy she appears a perfect picture of happiness.An acceptance of reality, or at least a consciousness that is not too self-absorbed to perceive it, is an element that manifests itself differently in the four women. No matter what the motive is, any form of denial tends to cripple a performance. On Eliot’s proposed spectrum of authentic performance, the woman who submits succeeds. There is also an element of submission in Mirah and Alcharisi’s authenticity that is distinctly not a personality trait found in Gwendolen or Lydia. Unlike Gwendolyn, Mirah freezes in pitiful despair as opposed to fiery defiance. She also willingly submits to the reality or her situation, however cruel it may be, in such moments. This pliant submission stands precisely opposite the sort of reaction seen in Gwendolen, when facing difficult situations. Both of the English women are presented as stubborn, often proud characters who are struggling against something. Mirah’s cooperative tenderness, among other crucial qualities, softens her enough to let the hardness of the statues seen in the other women dissolve into a more fluid performance. She is more the actress than the statue: Still defined by the exterior gaze, but alive in her fixed place, and embracing the mannerisms and not simply the expression of this position.It seems that Eliot believes that only by embracing the inevitability of her lesser position that a woman can obtain any freedom of movement at all. A comparison of Lydia, Gwendolen, Alcharisi, and Mirah perfectly outlines the effect of any attempt for freedom on the part of women. In that order, they are each subsequently less frozen, and less defiant. Lydia actively tries to hold power over Grandcourt, in the existence of their son. Gwendolen has been adequately proven as a defiant creature, determined to be free above all (she marries Grandcourt because she refuses to work, which would make her subject to someone else). Alcharisi, like Gwendolyn, seeks only freedom through power in her relationships with men. She tells Deronda that she married because it was “My best way of getting some freedom. I could rule my husband, but not my father. I had a right to be free. I had a right to seek my freedom from a bondage that I hated” (DD, 627). Mirah’s personality is the on the other end of this spectrum from Lydia’s horrible frozen existence. Mrs. Meyrick explains that “It is not her nature to run into planning and devising: only to submit. See how she submitted to that father! It was a wonder to herself how she found the will and contrivance to run away from him. About finding her mother, her only notion now is to trust: since you were sent to save her and we are good to her, she trusts that her mother will be found in the same unsought way” (DD, 224).The difference between the statue and the actress is at its most basic level, that of life. The statue is basically an actor, frozen in their role’s most poignant and expressive state. This question of life can be seen as the crucial difference between these two sets of women. If life is seen as an ability to flourish in one’s setting, to find happiness and love, Mirah and Alcharisi certainly live more. The question of submission to circumstance, no matter how difficult, enters again. Lydia and Gwendolen are essentially dead because they refuse to embrace reality. Life becomes the charade they have attempted to create, rather than the series of circumstances that fate has created for them. This is a choice that they make. Gwendolyn disregards Lydia’s existence, but quickly learns that she cannot simply eradicate her presence. And Lydia refuses to accept Grandcourt’s character, wasting years of love and hope on someone who is essentially cruel. They try to use art to manipulate the world, rather than allowing the world to manipulate them. And the world is something much bigger, and stronger, than they are. By trying to turn the tables in this manner, their art becomes too apparent to be successful. Henry James wrote a unique review of Daniel Deronda, in which three characters (a dissenter, a fan, and a neutral figure who argues both sides) discuss the book. The neutral figure, in defending the book, proclaims “In life without art you can find your account; but art without life is a poor affair.” This is precisely what is so pitiful about Gwendolen’s art, her self-fashioning and posing for society. It denies what is truly her life: that of an independent spirit who cannot stand to be tied down by anyone’s rules, least of all a shallow, boring man. This discrepancy between surface and interior, between art and life, is Gwendolen’s greatest failure in her performance-based society. This conflict is the force behind the entire cycle of her failure: It sparks the obsession with performance and the struggle in adequately performing. It involves her so much that she loses touch with reality. The defiance and pride that the reader comes to identify with her are shoved down in this struggle. They are too well hidden to resurface when she is acting, and thus she becomes an empty shell, a lonely creature with no substance.The question of Jewish versus English is not necessarily answered by discussions of submission and effort. One could argue that this is present in the Jewish women because both of these characters are trained for the stage. This performative quality certainly sets them apart from Gwendolen, but not necessarily in a way that is intentional. The fact that both of the Jewish characters in the book play their scenes perfectly, like polished marionettes, could certainly betray a certain distance on Eliot’s part. One can not expect her to entirely comprehend a culture so separate from her realm of experience. She can identify with Gwendolen’s deepest sentiments and specific circumstances. Conversely, the Jewish culture is something foreign to her, far enough away from her own life to prohibit a truly deep understanding of its subjects. Several critics have attacked Eliot’s treatment of her Jewish characters as artificial when compared to the utterly realistic and complete Gwendolen Harleth. In his biography, Neil Roberts argues that Deronda himself is the best example of this narrative discrepancy. He argues that Eliot creates a kind of repulsion to these unfamiliar characters by her “abstractness of analysis which suggests that the author’s imagination does not spontaneously conceive of the character in particular situations.” James’ Conversation includes intense discussion of this exact weakness. “Pulcheria” is the character who hates the book, and at one point alludes to the detachment in question, when she complains (of the Jewish characters) “…I don’t see what you mean by saying you have been near those people; that is just what one is not. They produce no illusion. They are described and analyzed to death, but we don’t see them or hear them or touch them. Deronda clutches his coat-collar, Mirah crosses her feet, and Mordecai talks like the Bible; but that doesn’t make real figures of them. They have no existence outside of the author’s study.” It is quite possible that Mirah and Alcharisi act better because in Eliot’s eyes, they are only acting. Just as Gwendolen and Lydia portray more substantial struggles because they are alive in Eliot’s mind. The Jewish women have perfect, functioning surfaces because they do not have a developed interior. Without that aspect of struggle, the horrible surface/depth dilemma that traps Gwendolen, they obviously elude the same complex characterization.It is intriguing to find that this lifelike quality is found more in the characters that are generally perceived as less real. Gwendolen is indeed the more convincing character, a creature who is exposed through action as opposed to analysis. Perhaps the realness of Gwendolen Harleth is most dynamic in the very struggle that cripples her performance. Therefore, Eliot’s commentary on submission is a frank exposition of the struggles of a woman in her society. The characters who are more than an obviously artificial creation of the artist’s imagination, the women who jump off the page and face actuality, will serve to critique the obligation to perform at all through their inevitable failures. Despite her well-meaning motives in depicting Jewish women, Eliot’s intentions are not directly realized in her text. Instead, the very inability to develop these characters intensifies the narrative. Whether purposeful or not, Eliot’s minor inadequacy provides an even more disconcerting and painful glimpse into the impossible expectations placed on women in their public life.

Read more