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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2010

David W. Toise*
California State University, Sacramento


In between writing Middlemarch (1872) and her final novel, Daniel Deronda (1876), George Eliot recorded in her notebook that she wanted her fiction to explore “great turning points” in history by depicting “in detail” not only “the various steps by which a political or social change was reached” but also “the pathos, the heroism often accompanying the decay and final struggle of old systems, which has not had its share of tragic commemoration” (Essays 402). Indeed, by writing Daniel Deronda, the only one of her novels set in her contemporary moment, Eliot seems intent on examining shifts, presumably incomplete ones, taking place during her life. The incomplete nature of change may be echoed in the novel's unusual bifurcation: famously, its two plots address the title character, Daniel Deronda, who searches for a way to serve humanity, and Gwendolen Harleth, a beautiful woman who must address the narcissism she has been encouraged to develop. Deronda's story traces his gradual discovery and acceptance of his Jewish heritage, while Gwendolen has a story line that is only indirectly related to Deronda: she suffers in a tragic marriage and only partially comes to terms with the position of femininity in late Victorian England. Many readers hope, or simply expect, that the two stories will be joined in Daniel and Gwendolen's romance and marriage. Dismayed, however, by a double plot where Deronda and Gwendolen have separate trajectories and endings without marriage, readers and critics have frequently commented on the plot's structural problems, often noting “the narrative disjunction” that is one of the novel's most prominent features (Levine 421).

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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