Middlemarch is a great novel. Daniel Deronda isn’t.
I read Daniel Deronda because I enjoyed Middlemarch so much. This seemed like a good idea for a while, because the early chapters of Daniel Deronda focus on Gwendolen Harleth. She is a self-centered, lively young woman with a gift for repartee and a strong desire to be independent. Unfortunately, the focus eventually moves to the title character, a serious young gentleman who never knew his parents and is unsure of his life’s purpose.
Gwendolen isn’t a saint. Daniel is. He rescues a saintly Jewish woman named Mirah, whose saintly brother is a scholar and passionate Zionist. Gwendolen marries an unpleasant, controlling aristocrat, to her regret. In her misery, she seeks advice from Daniel and falls in love with him. But Daniel has fallen in love with Mirah.
Daniel, with the help of Mirah’s brother, does find his life’s purpose. But I didn’t care about Daniel, Mirah or her brother. I was rooting for Gwendolen.
The novel is saved somewhat by Eliot’s beautiful language and her frequent commentary. For example:
And Gwendolen? She was thinking of Deronda much more than he was thinking of her — often wondering what were his ideas ‘about things’, and how his life was occupied.
But … it was as far from Gwendolen’s conception that Deronda’s life could be determined by the historical destiny of the Jews, as that he could rise into the air on a brazen horse, and so vanish from her horizon in the form of a twinkling star.
… it was inevitable that she should imagine a larger place for herself in his thoughts than she actually possessed.
They must be rather old and wise persons who are not apt to see their own anxiety or elation about themselves reflected in other minds.
But it probably would have been better to read Middlemarch again.