74 pages 2 hours read

George Eliot

Daniel Deronda

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1876

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Daniel Deronda is the last novel by George Eliot, published in 1876. The novel satirizes Victorian society, and its sympathetic portrayal of Jewish culture and ideas garnered controversy at the time of publication. It has been adapted for stage, television, and film.

This guide is written using the 2014 Oxford World’s Classics edition.

Content Warning: This guide contains references to a suicide attempt and antisemitism and antisemitic language that feature in the source text.

Plot Summary

Daniel Deronda begins in the fictional town of Leubronn, Germany. Daniel Deronda is both attracted and repulsed by Gwendolyn Harleth, a beautiful young woman he spots at the roulette table. Gwendolen feels him watching her and her winning streak ends. The next day, she receives a letter from her mother. The family has lost its fortune and she must return home. Distraught, Gwendolen pawns a turquoise necklace to pay her way home. The necklace is returned to her in an anonymous package she assumes to be from Deronda.

The narrative goes back to a year before events in Leubronn. After the death of her stepfather, Gwendolen and her family move into a new home. She lives with her mother and stepsisters. They are near their cousins, the Gascoignes. Another recent arrival in the neighborhood is Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, the cousin of Deronda’s guardian and presumptive father, Sir Hugo Mallinger. The laconic Grandcourt quickly decides that he should marry Gwendolen, who has previously insisted that she has no interest in marriage. During an archery tournament, Grandcourt’s friend and helper, Mr. Lush, arranges for Gwendolen to meet Lydia Glasher. Lydia is a woman with whom Grandcourt had a scandalous affair and with whom he fathered four children. He now refuses to marry Lydia, even though her husband is dead. Gwendolen is shocked. She rebuffs Grandcourt’s advances and agrees to travel in Europe with her cousins.

Grandcourt follows Gwendolen to Leubronn but misses her. He meets Sir Hugo and Deronda instead. Deronda does not know his parents. He is widely suspected to be Sir Hugo’s son, but no one, including Daniel, is sure of this. Sir Hugo and Daniel are close. Sir Hugo wants Daniel to go into politics, but Daniel, a bright and kind young man, isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. He attends school and university but spends more time helping others than he does himself.

While boating on the Thames in the summer of 1865, Daniel prevents a young woman named Mirah Lapidoth from dying by suicide. He learns that the Jewish girl is a singer who has come to London after discovering that her father intended to sell her into sex trafficking. She wants to find her mother and brother, who she thinks live in London. Daniel resolves to help her find her family. By helping Mirah, Daniel becomes acquainted with London’s Jewish community. He also begins to develop feelings for Mirah, to his dismay. He attempts to flee his feelings by going to Leubronn.

In the present day, the recently impoverished Gwendolen is offered a job as a governess. After her ambitions to be an actor are dashed, she is horrified by the prospect of lowering herself to a diminished social status. When Grandcourt reaches out to her, she accepts his proposal. During this time, Deronda asks Herr Klesmer, a German music teacher, whether Mirah might succeed as a singer. Klesmer proclaims Mirah to be a true musician. Additionally, Deronda begins searching for Mirah’s family. His search brings him in contact with a dying Jewish scholar named Mordecai. The two men quickly become friends, and Mordecai teaches Deronda about Jewish history and culture. As Deronda investigates his own family history, he discovers that Mordecai is Mirah’s long-lost brother. He thinks about how he can reunite them.

Gwendolen realizes that she hates Grandcourt but she feels trapped in her marriage. He emotionally abuses her and not even Deronda can give her advice on how to escape. Grandcourt announces that they will take a yachting vacation. They sail around the Mediterranean until a problem with the boat means they must dock at Genoa. At the same time, Sir Hugo has told Deronda to visit Genoa to learn more about his parents. Deronda meets his mother and learns that she was once a famous Jewish singer. She gave him up as a child to be raised by Sir Hugo as an Englishman, as she did not want him to experience antisemitism. She is dying and she insists on parting from Deronda. After, Deronda runs into Gwendolen and Grandcourt. The following day, Grandcourt drowns in a tragic boat accident, and Gwendolen, racked with guilt, wonders whether she let him die. Deronda stays with Gwendolen but his thoughts are with Mirah. Now that he knows that he is Jewish, he plans to tell her that he loves her.

Deronda returns to England and shares his news with Mirah and Mordecai. They are both delighted. Deronda marries Mirah and they plan to honeymoon in the Middle East with Mordecai, who dies before the trip. Deronda promises to continue his work. Gwendolen writes to Deronda and thanks him for his support.