Literature Study GuidesDaniel DerondaVolume 1 Book 1 Chapters 4 6 Summary

Daniel Deronda | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Daniel Deronda | Volume 1, Book 1, Chapters 4–6 : The Spoiled Child | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 4

The Rector wants his niece to be seen in the best light in society and expects she will make a good wife, which is why he agrees to get her a horse. For her part, Gwendolen doesn't have much enthusiasm for marriage, although she would like to be "sued or hopelessly sighed for as a bride." She thinks of marriage as a "dreary state" in which women become dull upon producing children and following their husband's wishes. Although she knows marriage is inevitable and a "social promotion," she maintains two goals—to do what she finds pleasant and to "strike others with admiration." She had done well in school and is a quick study, and in her family she plays the role of an exiled princess. Her mother spoils her because she is beautiful and willful, but also because she feels guilty for bringing a stepfather into her life. People who love Gwendolen also fear her unpredictable nature.

Chapter 5

Gwendolen is well received by all the gentry in the neighborhood, although she is not so well liked by Mrs. Arrowpoint. Gwendolen's tone with Mrs. Arrowpoint is slightly patronizing when they discuss her work as an amateur novelist. Her daughter, Miss Catherine Arrowpoint, is not very attractive, but she is kind and down-to-earth. Miss Arrowpoint is also a serious student of music, being coached in piano by a gifted musician, the German Herr Klesmer. When Gwendolen sings at a gathering held by the Arrowpoints, she is criticized by the maestro, who says she has not been well taught.

Chapter 6

Gwendolen is slightly jealous of Miss Arrowpoint because she is an heiress (the Arrowpoints are rich), highly accomplished in music, and has other mental and social refinements. But this doesn't put a dent in her own feelings of exceptionality. Gwendolen's ambitions for herself, however, are vague since she is "held captive by the ordinary wirework of social forms." To pass the time, she, her sisters, and her cousins prepare tableaux vivants (a group of people who remain immobile while depicting artistic scenes) and charades for a party at Offendene. Mr. Middleton, the bishop's nephew, takes part in the preparations. He is in love with Gwendolen, as is Rex, Anna's favorite brother recently home from school for the Christmas holidays. The theatricals come off well, except Gwendolen is frightened when a moveable panel in the drawing room pops open to reveal a macabre painting of a dead face and a fleeing figure. She screams in terror. Herr Klesmer later covers up Gwendolen's discomfort by pretending her startled expression and reaction were part of the planned theatricals.

Analysis

Gwendolen fancies herself to be cut out for great things, but the best she can hope for is a good marriage. She realistically sees marriage as a "vexatious necessity," a prison in which a woman is locked in a "humdrum" life with "more children than [are] desirable." Thus in her fantasies of greatness, she imagines herself as the heroine in an open-ended story in which she is pursued and "hopelessly sighed for." Although Gwendolen is hardly an exemplary character, her views are based on the hard truth of a woman's lot in Victorian England. In this novel—perhaps more so than in any of her others—Eliot clearly portrays how women are hemmed in by a patriarchal society. While Gwendolen's aspirations are shallow, the world in which she lives does not offer her much more than a dull life as a wife—masquerading as "the only happy state for a woman," to quote Mrs. Davilow. Gwendolen's uncle, Mr. Gascoigne, sees his niece's potential to rise above her class through marriage. This is why he is willing to help provide a horse—a luxury not afforded to his own daughter. Eliot deliberately politicizes the oppression of women in Daniel Deronda and the view of the Rector who sees women's duty in marriage as both local and national to elevate both the family and the country.

Artists and artistic work are a motif that runs through the novel. Catherine Arrowpoint and her mother are examples of women with strong interests beyond the realm of domesticity, and they can enjoy this luxury because of money. Mrs. Arrowpoint is portrayed as an amateur, but Catherine is a serious musician, or at least a serious student of music by her strict teacher's standards. The Arrowpoints' money has been used to buy the services of the semifamous Herr Klesmer. Nonetheless, Catherine's primary duty remains marriage and the passing on of her parents' property to a spouse and children.

Herr Klesmer's passion for his art will not allow him to engage in vain flattery, and Gwendolen has the uncommon experience of being told she is rather mediocre. Outwardly she takes Klesmer's criticisms with grace, not wanting to humiliate herself, but she is chagrined to learn someone thinks she doesn't sing that well. Still, Klesmer's criticism and her jealousy over Catherine's superior accomplishments don't cut Gwendolen too deeply. To pass the time, she amuses the local gentry with amateur theatrical entertainment, finding an outlet to display her considerable beauty.

The last scene in Chapter 6, in which Gwendolen is startled by the panel in the drawing room that accidentally pops open to reveal a frightening image, shows Gwendolen has a strong imagination and is the victim of a "helpless fear" that overtakes her from time to time. The macabre painting is something she first saw when the family moved into Offendene, but she had locked the panel, so she didn't expect it to open. Yet her fear seems beyond what might normally be expected. Gwendolen understands, at least unconsciously, the precariousness of life and the possibility that things can suddenly turn very bad. Perhaps her fear is also connected with her own strong emotions and bridled rage that seep out occasionally.

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