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Course Hero. "Daniel Deronda Study Guide." April 9, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018.


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Daniel Deronda | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Volume 1, Book 1: The Spoiled Child

The novel begins in medias res ("in the midst of things") by introducing the eponymous Daniel Deronda, a young, handsome English gentleman. Deronda has come to a watering hole for the aristocracy on the continent at the request of his guardian, Sir Hugo Mallinger. Also on hand is Gwendolen Harleth, an exceptionally beautiful young woman traveling with her cousins, the Langens. Deronda watches Gwendolen at the gaming tables, noticing her arresting presence as well as the fact she is gambling away all her winnings. She notices him too, and thinks he mocks her while admiring her enthusiasm. Gwendolen receives a summons home the same day—her mother's little bit of fortune has been squandered by financial speculators, and the family is now destitute. To make the journey home, Gwendolen pawns a turquoise necklace, but Deronda sees her and secretly buys back the necklace and sends it to her before she leaves, warning her to be more careful in the future.

The novel then uses a long flashback relating the action of the previous year. Gwendolen has moved with her mother, Mrs. Davilow, and her four half-sisters to a lovely property called Offendene near her uncle's rectory. Gwendolen is a spoiled, egotistical, young woman of about 20 who intends to do as she pleases, putting off marriage as long as possible. Gwendolen is introduced to the gentry, particularly the Arrowpoints, whose only daughter is an aspiring musician being tutored by a semifamous musician, Herr Klesmer. When a rich aristocrat and eligible bachelor comes to town, Gwendolen thinks to play with his heart as she has recently done with her cousin's, and she sees him for the first time at the Archery Meeting, where she just misses taking first place.

Volume 1, Book 2: Meeting Streams

To Gwendolen's surprise, she finds herself drawn to Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, the nephew of Sir Hugo who stands to inherit his property since Sir Hugo has no sons. Gwendolen likes the fact Grandcourt is proud and cold with aristocratic bearing, and she takes his perpetual boredom as a sign of refinement and sophistication. He does not seem ridiculous like other men, and he pursues her in moderation. Grandcourt intends to marry Gwendolen because she is beautiful and piques his interest with her mixture of rebellious fire and maidenly reserve. She is a worthy opponent, and he has every intention of subduing her and making her submissive.

Grandcourt begins to court Gwendolen, and Mr. Lush, Grandcourt's all-purpose manservant and fixer, arranges to put Grandcourt's mistress in Gwendolen's path. He wishes to expose Grandcourt's illegitimate family—consisting of three female children and one male heir—to Gwendolen so she will reject him. He feels it is a bad match. Gwendolen receives a note to meet with Lydia Glasher right before Grandcourt is about to propose to her during a roving archery meet. When Mrs. Glasher tells Gwendolen she has been Grandcourt's mistress for 10 years and expects him to marry her now that her husband has died, Gwendolen promises to get out of the way. In her shock and embarrassment, Gwendolen runs away to Leubronn, where she first sees Deronda.

Another long flashback provides background on Deronda as a young teenager, a beautiful and intelligent child with a loving disposition. He receives the best schooling from Sir Hugo and a university education but is haunted by the fact he doesn't know where he comes from. He believes Sir Hugo is his father, although he calls himself Deronda's uncle. No one has ever told him about his mother.

At university, Deronda undertakes the care of a good friend, Hans Meyrick, who has fallen ill and needs help catching up with his classics work to maintain his scholarship. Hans succeeds as a result of Deronda's intervention. Hans's family, consisting of his mother and three sisters, are very grateful to Deronda and adopt him as a sort of honorary son and brother. One day while he is out rowing on the river—his usual form of exercise—Deronda spots a young woman who is clearly about to drown herself. He saves her and brings her to the Meyricks, asking them to care for her. Mirah Lapidoth is a 19-year-old singer of Jewish ethnicity. She has come to London looking for her mother and brother but has been unable to find them.

Volume 2, Book 3: Maidens Choosing

Mrs. Meyrick is the first to get Mirah's story. She was taken away when she was about seven by her reprobate father—an impresario, actor, and compulsive gambler. He leaves his debts behind and takes Mirah to America. He begins training her for the theater, expecting she will make him a bundle of money. He pushes her voice too fast so she can never sing in large halls, and when his dream of quick money disappears he becomes determined to sell his daughter to a rich count. When she realizes what he is up to, Mirah runs away and makes her way to England, where she last saw her mother. When she can't find the old place where her family lived and runs out of money, she falls into despair. While Deronda decides to undertake looking for Mirah's relatives, he is also worried he might find them and they might turn out to be unrefined or wicked like her father. She herself is a delicate, refined creature: "A pearl; the mud has only washed her." These events take place about a week before Daniel leaves for Leubronn.

Gwendolen returns to Offendene and tries to figure out what she might do so she doesn't have to go out as a governess—which she finds unthinkable. She asks Herr Klesmer to call on her, hoping he might give her his opinion of her chances of becoming either a singer or actor (he has seen her in both roles). He tells her as kindly as possible she is a mediocre talent and will not go far, but he would be happy to help her if she truly wants to be an artist. He has lately become engaged to Miss Arrowpoint after the two declared their love for each other, and the Arrowpoints are furious, so Klesmer is leaving town. Meanwhile, Grandcourt has made his way back to Diplow Hall where he is staying and has learned about the family's reversal of fortune. He picks up his courtship of Gwendolen by sending her a note. After a night of soul searching, Gwendolen receives Grandcourt and ends up agreeing to marry him. While he knows Gwendolen has seen Lydia Glasher, Gwendolen thinks Grandcourt is in the dark in this matter.

Volume 2, Book 4: Gwendolen Gets Her Choice

On her wedding night, Gwendolen gets a packet of diamonds from Lydia Glasher. She has been forced to give these family diamonds up by Grandcourt. Inside the packet is a vicious note that curses Gwendolen's union. Not surprisingly, Gwendolen becomes temporarily hysterical, but she doesn't tell Grandcourt why, although he has a good idea since he agreed the diamonds could come directly to Gwendolen from Lydia.

In London, Mrs. Meyrick and Deronda decide Hans Meyrick will stay in Deronda's rooms over the Christmas break from school since he is sure to fall in love with Mirah and they want to avoid this. Deronda now begins looking for Mirah's relatives, specifically for her brother Ezra Cohen. He meets a serious and brooding man in his early 30s in a bookstore. The man is disappointed to find out Deronda is not Jewish. Then Deronda goes into a pawnshop because the sign says "Ezra Cohen" and pretends he needs to pawn his ring. In the process, he meets Ezra's family and has a Sabbath meal with them. He also learns the intense man in the bookstore, named Mordecai, is a boarder at the Cohen house. They have taken him in as a charity case (he is sick with tuberculosis), but Mordecai also tutors their son, and they say he is a "blessing" since he is a holy man.

Volume 3, Book 5: Mordecai

Deronda and Gwendolen meet for a second time at Sir Hugo's estate called the Abbey over the Christmas and New Year holidays. They met properly for the first time at Diplow Hall, just before Gwendolen's wedding. Gwendolen has been married seven weeks, and already Grandcourt has mastered her. She is much troubled, although she hides it with a mask of coldness. However, she lets Deronda know she is suffering, hinting she has done someone a great wrong and fears her own emotions. In the course of the festivities, Deronda has also learned from a gossip about Grandcourt's family "under the rose," so he has a good idea of why Gwendolen feels tormented. He tries to provide her with comforting words, but Sir Hugo warns him not to play with fire. Grandcourt is well aware of the attention his wife is paying to Deronda and tells her she is making a fool of herself.

After the holidays, Deronda returns to London again and finds his good friend Hans has fallen in love with Mirah as he feared and is now painting her, having taken up his artistic pursuits full time. Deronda is surprised by the depth of his annoyance at Hans, and he tells Hans the sketches are inappropriate since Mirah is now hiring herself out as a singer and music teacher. Further, Mirah will never marry someone who is not a Jew. Deronda also continues his relationship with Mordecai and the Cohens now that he is back in town. Mordecai has fastened on him as his religious successor. More specifically, he tells Deronda he has been waiting for him, and that he will transfer his religious vision and vocation of uniting the Jewish people to him. When Deronda reminds Mordecai he is not Jewish, Mordecai dismisses such an idea, saying the truth will come out in the end.

Volume 3, Book 6: Revelations

Deronda is both disturbed and excited by Mordecai's visionary rantings. Because of Mirah and Mordecai, Deronda has been delving deeply into Jewish history and religion. He wants to help his new friend in any way he can without making false promises. The next time he visits the Cohens' house, he and Mordecai go to a meeting of "The Philosophers." Deronda hears Mordecai speak at length for the first time about the reasons Jews should not simply melt into the cultures in which they live. Rather, they ought to unite in order to restore the Jewish nation. That evening after the meeting breaks up, Deronda learns Mordecai's backstory. Mordecai lost his sister to a reprobate father many years ago and his name is really Ezra Mordecai Cohen. Deronda is amazed to have found Mirah's brother (her mother is dead), but he will wait to make his revelations until he can get lodgings prepared for Mordecai near the Meyricks where both he and Mirah can live.

Grandcourt meanwhile has become more and more irritated by Gwendolen's seeming obsession with Deronda and now Mirah, who is giving music lessons. She invites Mirah to play at a party and mentions Deronda to her husband to spite him. In response he enlists Lush to relay to her the contents of his will, which says if Gwendolen doesn't produce an heir his money and title will pass to his illegitimate son. In this way, Gwendolen will be humiliated in learning that Grandcourt has known all along about her own knowledge of his past. Gwendolen shows no feeling over the will to spite her husband, and the next time she sees Deronda at the Klesmers she asks him to call on her. When he does she begins pouring her misery out, but they are interrupted by Grandcourt, who has come back to the house to spy on his wife. To keep Gwendolen away from Deronda, Grandcourt now insists Gwendolen go yachting with him. On the same day Daniel comes to visit, he receives a cryptic note from Sir Hugo, written in his mother's hand—her first communication to him. She requests that he meet her in Genoa.

Volume 4, Book 7: The Mother and the Son

In Genoa, Deronda meets his dying mother, Leonora Halm-Eberstein, formerly a famous singer named Alcharisi. He learns his mother was an ambitious artist who wished to escape the restraints of an orthodox Jewish life. For this reason she agreed to marry her cousin, whom she could rule. Her father, Daniel Charisi, was a tyrant who considered her to be merely an instrument for producing a grandson. Charisi died, as did Leonora's husband, Ephraim Charisi. Sir Hugo was one of the many men in love with Deronda's mother, and he agreed to take the toddler Daniel off her hands so she could focus exclusively on being an artist. She asked that he be brought up as an Englishman. But now that she is dying she feels the hand of her father on her, in a metaphorical sense. Thus, Deronda learns he is descended from a line of Sephardic (Spanish) Jews on his father's side and Portuguese Jews on his mother's side.

Deronda attempts a loving reconciliation with his mother. He would like to take care of her but she will have none of it. He also confesses to his mother after she guesses that he is in love with a Jewish woman. Deronda and his mother part on good terms, and she tells him there is a trunk of his grandfather's books and papers waiting for him in Mainz, Germany. This trove is being held by Daniel Charisi's best friend, Joseph Kalonymos.

In the course of his meetings with his mother, Deronda has coincidently run into the Grandcourts, who are staying at the same hotel. They had recently arrived while the yacht was being repaired. Once again, Grandcourt decides to put distance between Deronda and his wife, so he insists she go out sailing with him while they wait for the yacht to be ready. Deronda goes down to the quay, thinking to say hello to the Grandcourts as they come in that evening. Instead, he is greeted with a soaked Gwendolen pulled from the water and a drowned Grandcourt. Deronda stays with Gwendolen until her family members arrive. He learns from Gwendolen how she had felt horribly imprisoned on the yacht with Grandcourt. When he forced her to go out on the sailboat, she wished him dead, and when he fell in the water and called for the rope, she hesitated before throwing it. When he sank again, she threw herself into the water and tried to save him. Deronda reassures her she is not responsible for his death and most likely could have done nothing to save him. He assures her that, through her great suffering, she will learn to lead a worthier life that is a blessing to others.

Volume 4, Book 8: Fruit and Seed

When Sir Hugo arrives, he tells Deronda about the poor terms of the will. Gwendolen is to get Grandcourt's least desirable property and a modest yearly income. Everything else will go to his heir. Sir Hugo is shocked and appalled by Grandcourt's shoddy treatment of Gwendolen, and since Grandcourt was his nephew he takes a special interest in Gwendolen. In truth he is hoping she and Deronda will marry, although he is worried Deronda will have other ideas now that he knows his heritage. Sir Hugo can't help but feel pleased, however, that his estates will revert back to himself and he will be able to leave them to his daughters.

After saying goodbye to Sir Hugo and Gwendolen, Deronda heads for Mainz to meet Joseph Kalonymos. He learns his grandfather was a man with ideas very similar to Mordecai and believed the Jews should resist assimilation, even while remaining cordial with other cultures. Daniel Charisi called this attitude "separateness and communication," which is essentially an approach that promotes multiculturalism and respects ethnic and racial differences.

Back in England, the Meyricks have heard about the boating accident, and when Hans makes a joke about the path now being clear for Deronda and "the Duchess," as he calls Gwendolen, Mirah becomes extremely angry and realizes for the first time she is in love with Deronda. Hans also realizes the same thing and that his own love will remain unrequited. When Deronda gets back to England, he tells everyone he is a Jew. Mordecai is overjoyed, and Mirah suddenly thinks there might be some hope for her. Meanwhile, Deronda is wondering how he can find out whether Mirah has any inclinations toward him. Hans confesses to his friend, albeit grudgingly, that Mirah is in love with him. Soon after, Deronda proposes and the couple becomes engaged.

Deronda visits Gwendolen a few more times and has to work up the courage to tell her about his plans to marry. He intends to take on Mordecai's mission after all and become a leader of his people and work for the formation of a Jewish nation. When he finally tells her, she cries, but then accepts she must lose him. She writes to him that she is a better person for having known him. Mordecai dies shortly after the wedding, and Mirah and Deronda set off for the East.

Daniel Deronda Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Gwendolen's family moves into Offendene, near relatives.

Rising Action

2 Gwendolen is courted by the aristocratic Grandcourt.

3 Gwendolen meets Lydia, Grandcourt's common-law wife.

4 Deronda saves Mirah from drowning herself.

5 Deronda rescues Gwendolen's necklace in Leubronn.

6 Gwendolen agrees to marry Grandcourt to avoid poverty.

7 Deronda meets Mordecai and the Cohen family.

8 Gwendolen signals remorse by wearing the turquoise necklace.

9 Mordecai and Mirah are reunited with Deronda's help.

10 Deronda is summoned to Genoa by his mother.


11 Deronda finds out he is Jewish.

Falling Action

12 Grandcourt dies in a boating accident.

13 Deronda tells Mordecai he will work for the Jews.

14 Deronda proposes to Mirah, and she accepts.


15 Deronda tells Gwendolen of his plan to marry and go east.

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