English, Department of



Saleel Nurbhai

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (25)


A criticism of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, from Henry James onwards, is that it is a novel of two halves: the realist Gwendolen half, and the visionary Mordecai half. These two are regarded as unable to mesh, and thus weaken the novel in structure and purpose. When examining the novel and a contextual interpretation of the Jewish myth of the golem, however, this bifurcation seems intentional; more than that, it is a metafictional rendering of the theme in the novel's structure.

The term golem is central to mythical creation in Judaism. It means an unformed mass. Before he is given shape, Adam is golem; before he receives the inspiriting breath of God, Adam is also golem. The ambiguity of the term presents it as a metaphor for shapelessness. Despite this - perhaps because of it - golem occupies an important symbolic position in the history of Judaism. As with most myths its origins were in ritual practice; in its subsequent manifestations golem making has been used as proof of human imitation of the divine, and sometimes regarded as transgression into the occult. Most popular has been its reception in folk legend, where it has been attributed to the wonder-working of Elijah of Chelm, and the Faustian Yehuda Loew of Prague. In literature it has served as a symbol for 'the unredeemed, unformed man; the Jewish people; the working class aspiring for its liberation. In Daniel Deronda Deronda is an unformed man whose growth into definition becomes a metaphor for cohesion in and of the novel.