Secondary – Daniel Deronda

Terry Eagleton delvers a common verdict on Daniel Deronda when he argues that the utopianism of the Jewish plot, with its accompanying ideal of organic totality, disavows the unstable conditions of modernity so vividly depicted in the Gwendolen Harleth plot, with its countervailing emphasis on exchange value, amoralism, contingency, and sheer will to power.

At the most basic level, it is clear that she sought to insert the nineteenth century European Jew fully into the modern project of nation-building…Through the figure of Deronda, a nascent Jewish nationalism is projected as exemplary, along with the future state it heralds. By this reading Judaism does not obediently subordinate itself to the dictates of modernity, but rather makes good on modernity’s most important and defensible ideals: self-reflective affirmation of cultural heritage, individual and political self-determination, democratic will-formation, and recognition of cultural differences. And as Eliot’s portrayal of Deronda persistently implies, all of these ideals are only made possible through the careful cultivation of dialogic openness—to the individual other, to one’s own cultural heritage(s), and to other cultures.

Amanda Anderson, George Eliot and the Jewish Question [Read this as dialogue between Arnold’s conception of culture (eternal pregnancy) and Schiller’s utopian ideal of the merging of perception and creation…]



In her compelling “double-reading” of Deronda Cynthia Chase argues that this tension between the explanatory power of origin and the subversion of origin’s causal potency finds a larger expression in the tension between the two plots. She argues that the “English Part” works through irony and satire to undermine the “system of assumptions about teleological and representational structure” that characterize the “Jewish Part” and realist fiction more generally (216). “On the one hand,” Chase claims, “the narrator’s account emphatically affirms its [Deronda’s origin] causal character. On the other hand, the plot and overall strategy of the novel conspicuously call attention to its status as the effect of tactical requirements” (218).

Cynthia Chase, “The Decomposition of Elephants: Double-Reading Daniel Deronda.” [my paraphrase]


From the beginning, Daniel’s response is figured as a struggle between a conventional, rational dismissal of Mordecai’s plea and a stronger impulse to suspend judgment and open himself to other possibilities.

Rachel Hollander, “Daniel Deronda and the Ethics of Alterity”



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