Course Hero. "Daniel Deronda Study Guide." Course Hero. 9 Apr. 2018. Web. 16 Jan. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daniel-Deronda/>.
Course Hero. (2018, April 9). Daniel Deronda Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daniel-Deronda/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "Daniel Deronda Study Guide." April 9, 2018. Accessed January 16, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daniel-Deronda/.
Course Hero, "Daniel Deronda Study Guide," April 9, 2018, accessed January 16, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daniel-Deronda/.
The female protagonist of the novel is introduced through the eyes of Daniel Deronda, the male protagonist. He watches an arresting young woman gambling in a fashionable watering hole in Germany and asks himself, "Was she beautiful or not beautiful?" He wonders if "the good or the evil genius" is dominant in her glance. Gwendolen Harleth is a model of composure as she wins at roulette, but as soon as she perceives Deronda examining her she begins to lose. Nonetheless, she keeps her poise and imagines that in spite of the "smile of irony in his eyes," the handsome stranger admires her spirit. Gwendolen is further described through a secondary character as a serpent because of her exotic costume and a woman "a man might risk hanging for." Gwendolen later learns that Deronda is related to the Baronet Sir Hugo Mallinger and expresses an interest in meeting him since she is "bored to death."
Gwendolen receives a letter from her mother, Fanny Davilow, asking her to come home immediately because the family has been ruined. Gwendolen has been traveling with her cousins, the Langens. Her mother and aunt Gascoigne have lost their money due to the collapse of a major bank. Mr. Gascoigne has only his meager living as a clergyman and housing as a rector, but Mrs. Davilow and her four daughters must immediately vacate their well-appointed rental. Anger and bitterness are Gwendolen's first emotions, especially about losing her winnings. She has a little money left but not enough to get home without pawning a turquoise necklace. She does so because she will not ask the Langens for help nor tell them of her trouble. Successfully completing her mission before anyone is up, Gwendolen nevertheless receives a package with the necklace and an anonymous note, saying she ought not to risk losing it again. Gwendolen knows the note is from Deronda and feels "the vexation of wounded pride," thinking he is treating her with contempt. Soon after she leaves for home.
Chapter 3 begins a long flashback from the previous year, when Gwendolen, her mother, and her four half-sisters first move to Offendene, a large house near the Pennicote Rectory, where Mrs. Gascoigne and her family live. Gwendolen's father died when she was a baby, and her stepfather has also died, so her mother is twice widowed. Gwendolen, age 20, is strong-willed, self-centered, proud, and used to ruling her mother. Her younger sisters also cater to her, and the narrator mentions she once wrung the neck of her sister's pet canary because it was interfering with her own singing.
The Gascoignes have eight children, six of whom are boys. A likely companion for Gwendolen is her cousin Anna, only a year younger. Mrs. Davilow presses Mr. Gascoigne to get a horse for Gwendolen to ride, and he tentatively agrees. He will also sponsor Gwendolen to become a member of the local archery club since they both shoot (his own daughter is nearsighted).
The novel, in third-person omniscient narration, begins in medias res (in the middle of the action) with a moment of drama shared by the two protagonists: both Gwendolen and Deronda arguably hold equal weight as characters. Gwendolen at the gambling table shows the same indifference whether winning or losing as Deronda looks on. Gwendolen is fond of looking at herself in the mirror, a repeating motif, and now Deronda is her mirror as she imagines him admiring her for her daring and poise. Gwendolen and Deronda are mutually attracted, but he is not sure at first glance if she is beautiful because he intuits that her character might be less than stellar. He wonders if she has "the good or the evil genius," and in fact she has both. Gwendolen's dark side will repeatedly be alluded to in the novel. A secondary character in this opening scene names her a "Lamia"—a sea monster, part human and part serpent. Gwendolen claims to be "bored to death," a quality she shares with her love interest, the aristocratic Henleigh Grandcourt, who is also easily bored and from whom she has run away. She takes her boredom to be a sign of sophistication instead of mental and spiritual bankruptcy. Although humiliated that Deronda has rescued her necklace, he makes a strong impression on her, awakening her conscience ever so slightly. She fears he is treating her with contempt, but from the opening pages of the book Deronda is established in Gwendolen's mind as a spiritual mentor.
The flashback in Chapter 3 occurs almost a year earlier, when Gwendolen and her family move to Offendene, the name of a house "just large enough to be called a mansion." Such a short time before the bad news comes from her mother, Gwendolen has been living a good, middle-class life. She is the favorite child of Mrs. Davilow and is used to being spoiled and petted and having her way, mainly because she is both beautiful and headstrong. The narrator's reference to the strangled canary is an indication Gwendolen is capable of great rage that ends in violence, and this incident is a foreshadowing of violence in the future. There is an element of lawlessness in Gwendolen's nature because it is not natural for most people to put a sister's pet to death. Nonetheless, the narrator notes, "The thought of that infelonious murder had always made her wince," and Gwendolen is not without remorse about the deed. Now that she is a young woman, she has more control of herself and guards against "penitential humiliation." Her strong will remains, but it is more calculated. These comments by the narrator also foreshadow Gwendolen's disastrous marriage and the fallout from having to control herself in ways she would never have imagined possible for herself at the beginning of the novel.