Daniel Deronda, George Eliot's final novel proved a daring work of fiction. Published in Victorian England, the author's portrayal of Jews differed from that of other noteworthy writers of the time, contrasting with the stereotypic dishonesty of characters like Dickens' "Fagin." The protagonist, Daniel peels away a veneer of sham and finds his true heritage. Despite discovering he is not a English Christian, but an English Jew, Daniel remains true to his nature. He remains a loyal, generous individual, truly a remarkable portrait of a Jew in 1876 England. The novel begins with Gwendolen Harleth, a seemingly typical young Englishwoman gambling in a casino. She is painted as being self-centered, rich, spoiled and shallow. Eliot most likely meant for Gwendolen to typify English gentry. Daniel sees her from a distance yet does not make her acquaintance until later. Gwendolen and Daniel become friends. Fortunately, for Gwendolen, they remain friends after the young Englishwoman marries the abusive Grandcourt. A boating accident makes Mrs. Grandcourt a widow. A poorly written novel would have Gwendolen and Daniel marry. Yet, Daniel remains single. The plot is propelled by the introduction of Mirah, a young woman searching for her family.
In parallel, Daniel finds his mother, Princess Halm-Eberstein in Genoa. She confirms what he had suspected, that he is Jewish. Reflecting upon the reality of English society, George Eliot wrote that her character was given up by his mother and raised by a nobleman to allow Daniel some success. The concept of Judaism becomes reinforced in the novel. Mirah finds her brother, Ezra, who unfortunately dies soon after. Another character, Mordecai is portrayed as a Zionist, another nod to the times. As Daniel bonds with the novel's few Jewish characters, it seems that his ties to his Christian acquaintances weaken. Daniel and Mirah wed and plan a journey to Israel. With this remarkable novel, George Eliot reveals her open-mindedness and her classical knowledge. Her references range from Greek mythology, French literature to Biblical text and Jewish history.