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