HomeLiterature Study GuidesDaniel DerondaVolume 1 Book 2 Chapters 16 18 Summary

Daniel Deronda | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Daniel Deronda | Volume 1, Book 2, Chapters 16–18 : Meeting Streams | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 16

Chapter 16 returns to Deronda's childhood. Deronda is a beautiful and intelligent child with a loving disposition and a "thrilling ... voice." He feels offended, however, when Sir Hugo asks him at age 13 if he wants to become a singer. The young boy has begun to puzzle over his parentage, wondering if he is in the class of gentlemen. Young Deronda is relieved to learn that Sir Hugo, whom he thinks is his father, intends him to be educated as an Englishman. After Deronda leaves for Eton, Sir Hugo marries for the first time, rather late in life at age 45. By the time Deronda is ready for Cambridge, Lady Mallinger has produced three daughters. Deronda does very well at university but ends up falling behind in his own studies when he helps his good friend, Hans Meyrick, obtain a classics scholarship. Meyrick is ill for a long time, and Deronda takes care of him and helps him study. As a result Deronda loses interest in his own studies and wishes to go abroad to widen his perspective. Meyrick secretly has written to Sir Hugo to tell him what Deronda has done for him, and as a result Deronda's guardian readily agrees to his plan.

Chapter 17

Deronda, now back in England for at least a year, is living in London on his income from Sir Hugo and has begun reading law, although he is still undecided about his career. He enjoys rowing on the River Thames, and one day he spies a young girl who seems to be too close to the river. When he rows back and passes her again, she is soaking her cloak, which she clearly intends to use as a heavy shroud in which to drown herself. Deronda rescues her in the nick of time and convinces her to accept his protection. He learns she is English born and Jewish. She fears he might be put off by her ethnicity, but he is not. She has come to London looking for her mother and brother. With no means of support and unable to find her relatives, she has been driven to the brink of despair. Deronda fears taking her back to Lady Mallinger's, which might be intimidating, and he decides to take her to the Meyricks instead.

Chapter 18

Mrs. Meyrick keeps a small house with her three daughters. To support themselves, Kate draws illustrations for a publisher, and Amy and Mab embroider silk cushions with their mother. When Deronda arrives, the women are delighted to see him. He explains he'd like them to take charge of "[t]he poor wanderer," whose name is Mirah Lapidoth. They readily agree, and Mirah is grateful to be received by the women.

Analysis

Chapters 16 through 18 provide a long flashback that begins with Deronda as a young teenager being raised as an English gentleman but wondering about his true parentage—a subject he can in no way raise with his guardian. He calls Sir Hugo "uncle" but secretly believes he is his father. Deronda is an ideal protagonist in this novel: physically beautiful, intellectually gifted, and exceptionally empathetic, easily imagining the lives of others and wishing to help in any way he can. According to literary critic Margaret Moan Rowe, the novel blurs boundaries between romance and the novel and between male and female characteristics. Only an androgynous character can embody traditional characteristics assigned to either gender, and an early critic noted when the book was first published that Deronda has the strength and energy of a man along with the tenderness and sympathy of a woman. The realistic Eliot could not imagine an androgynous woman operating effectively in the world, much less able to challenge ethnic and religious categories, says Rowe, which is why she conceives her ideal as a man. Deronda is primed for empathy from childhood, suffering his own feelings of inferiority silently. Although motherless, he has the ability to "mother" others.

The first person he saves is his college friend, Hans Meyrick. Deronda sacrifices his own success to keep Hans afloat so he can receive his scholarship. This act of kindness brings him into the circle of the Meyrick family as an honorary member and also leads him away from the conventional university path. The second person he saves is Mirah Lapidoth, an English-born Jewish woman who would rather commit suicide than sully herself in a strange land. She has come looking for her relatives, but with no money and no friends she has no respectable options for keeping herself alive.

Mirah is identified as a "poor wanderer," a Jew without a home—something etched in the history of the Jewish people of Europe. The motif of the wanderer and the Wandering Jew runs through the novel. According to Christian legend, the Wandering Jew is being punished because he taunted Jesus on the way to his crucifixion and is doomed to wander the earth until the second coming of Christ. In fact, the Jews as a people have a history of wandering, beginning with the Jewish dispersions—first during the Babylonian exile, when the kingdom of Judah was conquered (586 BCE) and later with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. Thereafter the Jews were persecuted from time to time and forced out of places where they had settled. To Eliot, the motif of the wandering Jew is both literal and metaphorical, and no doubt she finds it apt that Christian culture would create a metaphor about wandering that would embody the pervasive prejudice of Christians against Jews. The Jews refused to convert to what Christians considered to be a superior religion, and this is the major reason for the prejudice against them. In the meantime, the Jewish people have been forced to move from place to place as wanderers because of this persecution.

It is interesting that the Meyrick women are self-sufficient and they have no doubt been supporting the university student Hans to some degree. They are able to manage in a small house with two sisters embroidering with their mother and another creating drawings for a publisher. Later there is a reference to one sister also being a teacher. Soon Mirah will be drawn into their circle and be able to make her own living as well. These women hold artistic trades, as do other characters in the novel.

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