English, Department of



Derek Miller

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 29 (1998) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (29)


For the last twenty years or so critics have wondered if Daniel Deronda, the eponymous hero of George Eliot's last novel, was circumcised or not. If he was, he would scarcely have to wait for his mother's revelations to know he was a Jew. Some commentators, however, say that, for medical reasons, circumcision was not uncommon among middle class people at the time of Deronda's infancy, and he might therefore not have given much attention to the matter.

Professor John Sutherland, recently entering this lively discussion! points to the rebellion by Deronda's mother against her father's Judaism as a prime factor in his persuasive argument against the circumcision. Sutherland omits to note that later on, uncircumcised, Deronda might have to deal with his incompleteness as a Jew in a life devoted to redemptive activities among his people.

Victorian propriety and Eliot's own reticence - did Dorothea and Casaubon consummate the marriage? - keep such questions off the page. But there is no evasion, for the symbolic references and narrator's language in each of these answer the question as asked, while they also stir larger reverberations that transcend the literal level and become part of the thematic material of the novel.