Episode 5: Character and Education of Daniel Deronda (03:48)
In this lecture, Ruth Wisse will examine the title character's interest in the Jews, identity search, and response to Mordecai's mission for him. The novel's shortened Yiddish translation shows the Jewish story could have stood on its own.
Challenging Anti-Jewish Prejudice (03:26)
The novel presents Daniel as an upstanding Englishman to win reader trust, before revealing his Jewish roots. Eliot felt prejudice was harming society, and became a student of Judaism.
"The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot" (04:03)
Daniel's character seems fully formed from the start. Gertrude Himmelfarb traces how Mary Anne Evans developed an interest in Jews as she rejected Christianity; this novel transposes her emotional development onto Gwendolen and intellectual development onto Daniel.
Daniel's identity search is complicated by available choices. His ambiguous birth is a passport to freedom, but also leaves him without a purpose or calling. He blames his upbringing on a "meditative numbness."
Jewish Morality (05:51)
Mirah's national identity is inbred; Daniel pursues his identity through intellectual quest. He becomes a "dual citizen" of English and Jewish nationalities. Wisse argues that morality is necessary for survival as a minority; hear a passage describing Daniel’s revulsion for gambling.
Conservative Romantic (04:08)
Wisse discusses Daniel's realistic stance on his prospective relationships with Gwendolen and Mirah. He longs for his missing mother, and sees her in Mirah.
Daniel's Evolving Attitude (04:57)
In caring for Mirah, he becomes sensitive to how others treat Jewish people. The Cohen family’s realistic portrayal normalizes Jewish life. Finally, Daniel asks his mother to share his happiness at being Jewish with all her might—reflecting Jewish spirituality.
Wisse believes that Eliot used Daniel to contrast Heinrich Heine's image of the Jew as a divided being. Hear a description of "Princess Sabbath," an epigraph before Daniel joins the Cohen family's Sabbath. He lacks self-deprecating humor, aiming instead for contentment.
Empathy and Judgment (04:46)
Wisse addresses Daniel’s capacity to improve the morality of others. His strongest influence is on Gwendolen, who considers him a savior. The book considers the spiritual capacity of Jewish life as a necessary corrective for Britain’s declining Christianity.
Attraction of Judaism (04:00)
Daniel's discovery of his Jewish identity causes British characters to appreciate Jewish people. His encounter with Mordecai reveals his desire to be a leader.
Leadership Possibilities (03:06)
Mordecai wants Daniel to become a scholar; Hugo Mallinger believes he can go into British government. In order to govern the Jewish people, a Jewish nation must be founded.
Credits: The Character and Education of Daniel Deronda (00:07)
Credits: The Character and Education of Daniel Deronda
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