74 pages 2 hours read

George Eliot

Daniel Deronda

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1876

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Jewish Culture, Identity, and Community

Daniel Deronda explores the links between culture and identity. Like many of Eliot’s other works, large parts of the plot concern the romantic travails of the English middle and upper class in Victorian Britain. Unlike her other works, however, Daniel Deronda explores the experience of Jewish people in Eliot’s England. Antisemitism was rife during this time. While the Jewish characters may not experience the pogroms and violence that occurred at other times in history, they are deliberately marginalized and ostracized by the Christian majority. Many references to Jewish characters by Christian characters are disparaging or dismissive; when Mirah is suggested as a possible singer at a social event, the middle-class Christian guests disparage her as a “little Jewess.” These patronizing comments create a clear delineation between Christian and Jewish communities, with the assumption that this line will rarely be crossed, and only at the behest of the Christian characters. Even Deronda, the “Christian” character who is most sympathetic to the Jewish people, struggles to remove his lingering antisemitic prejudices. Similarly, the Meyrick family loves Mirah as an individual, but they worry that she is overly invested in Judaism, treating her cultural identity as a passing whim. The Christian majority of England are portrayed in the novel as being keenly aware of their difference from Jews and determined to maintain this difference as a core part of their own identities.