Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 16 (1985)
Daniel Deronda, G.H. Lewes once rather ingenuously explained, was "all about English ladies and gentlemen with the scene laid in Wiltshire" (Letters 6:136)2 ... and although the novel is evidently "about" far more than that, Lewes' words are a useful reminder that Deronda gains his entree to the world of the novel as a gentleman, the ward of Sir Hugo Mallinger, and not as a political figure: a believer in a Palestinian homeland for the Jews. I t is necessary for the novel that he believe in something, of course; as R. T. Jones has commented, "In order to have the moral authority that can challenge Gwendolen's superficial complacency, Deronda must himself be capable of devoting himself entirely to a worthy cause") But nothing in the novel requires that the cause be a foreshadowing of Zionism. Why, then, does Deronda find himself committed to the idea of a Jewish national home?
Part of the answer has long been evident. Eliot was interested in the sense of national ·and racial destiny which grips Deronda, and she had elaborated upon this theme eight years before in The Spanish Gypsy (1868), in which the heroine finds that she has both gypsy blood and a mission to her people. Further, Eliot had been personally enthusiastic about the idea of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine ever since meeting Emmanuel Deutsch - a passionate advocate of the return. "Do notdistrust your call," she had written to him in 1868: "1 believe in it still". (Letters 4:446) But neither The Spanish Gypsy and its sources nor Deutsch (and the impressive reading list on Jewish history that Eliot worked through when· preparing to write Daniel Deronda) fully account for the highly political vision Deronda inherits from his mentor in Judaism, . Mordecai. Eliot's source for the politics of the novel was the fiction of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and in all probability it was also reading Stowe that persuaded Eliot to address a Jewish theme.