English, Department of



Phyllis Weliver

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 27 (1996) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (27)


The language of music communicates and contributes to spiritual transformation in Daniel Deronda. It expresses non-verbal truths about humanity's connection to the world, and unifies the novel with a continuous vocabulary since sound and silence are frequently described in musical terms. George Eliot specifies meaning in non-verbal mediums. For instance, since the narrator says that Gwendolen blushes as a result of surprise, the reader can decipher an encoded meaning in situations where she blushes, although the characters must still interpret via deduction: 'A blush is no language: only a dubious flag-signal which may mean either of two contradictories. In order for Gwendolen to understand the world, she must learn to interpret it through non-verbal languages. Music is non-verbal, except when combined with texts in vocal music.

Each art form adds a layer of understanding to the moral theme. Visual art is non-verbal communication, and its moral counterpart is 'the vision'. Mordecai's visions expand the dimensions of the current world, suggesting potential achievement. Alison Byerly outlines a thesis of how the arts relate to the self in George Eliot's novels:

Visual art is used to expose the detached and groundless fantasies of characters .... the pictures they create for and of themselves are circumscribed by their own egoistic desires, and have no connection with the world outside the frame. Theatrical art is also linked to a dangerous deception of self and others .... Music, however, represents a pure, authentic expression of self: it does not count as an 'art' at all.

Actually, the text carefully delineates the demands of professional music, thereby treating it as an art. However, sound is indeed more truth-leading than vision. Mirah's singing is introduced by painting her picture: 'Imagine her' (314), the narrator begins, then depicts her appearance. However, when Mirah begins to sing, Daniel responds most to the music (315). This sharply contrasts with Gwendolen's first performance. English society is charmed by her pretty performance, but Klesmer responds by saying that although he dislikes her sound 'It is always acceptable to see you sing' (38) [italics mine]. Klesmer opens Gwendolen's horizons, beginning a process that progresses through the novel. When Gwendolen stops judging herself on beauty and social rank, she learns how to be happy. Music traces this process.