HomeLiterature Study GuidesDaniel DerondaVolume 2 Book 3 Chapters 19 21 Summary

Daniel Deronda | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Daniel Deronda | Volume 2, Book 3, Chapters 19–21 : Maidens Choosing | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 19

Deronda is worried that Mirah's meeting with her lost brother and mother may become a calamity. His concern is connected to his own dread about wanting to know about his origins and yet fearing what he might find out. Deronda imagines unpleasant, stereotyped Jews as possible relatives. The narrator notes that if Mirah had been Christian, Deronda's "forebodings would have been fed with wider knowledge." Yet he feels a "prompting of sympathy ... to aid her in the search" for her lost relatives.

Chapter 20

In the morning, the Meyrick sisters leave the house on various errands, and Mrs. Meyrick has a long, private talk with Mirah. Now 19, Mirah had been taken to America by her father Lapidoth at age seven. One day he finds her attempting to write a letter to her mother and tells her the rest of the family is dead. An Italian singer Mirah calls Signora lives with them, and both she and her father become Mirah's tutors. Lapidoth works primarily as a stage manager, and around age nine Mirah is introduced to the stage. Although successful, Mirah's heart is not in it. One day Signora says she doesn't have what it takes to be an artist because "she has no notion of being anybody but herself." Eventually, Signora is replaced by a governess. Mirah pines for her mother and fashions a world inside herself, away from the loud and showy people to which she is exposed. Her father gives her no religious education, but she learns a little from a Jewish landlady. As Mirah grows up, she begins to doubt her father's story about her mother being dead.

When she is a teenager, Mirah and her father move back to Europe. Her father is now training his talented child for the opera, but her master in Vienna says her voice is not strong enough for a public career. Nonetheless, he books singing engagements, and she must now endure unwanted attention from men. Suddenly, her father is thrown into prison, and when Mirah visits him he asks her to fetch a count who has been hanging around them. The count gets her father out of jail, and Mirah realizes her father is complicit in the count's sexual designs on her. When father and daughter travel to Prague, Mirah intuits he intends to unexpectedly leave her with the count. Thus, she sneaks out of her hotel in the middle of the night and makes her way to England. Her little bit of money soon runs out, and she cannot find her relatives. With all hope lost, Mirah turns to the river where Deronda finds her.

When he stops by, Mrs. Meyrick tells Deronda about Mirah's background and declares, "She's just a pearl: the mud has only washed her." The narrator says of Deronda, "Whatever reverence could be shown to [a] woman, he was bent on showing to this girl." He postpones further acquaintance, however, as he is committed to traveling with the Mallingers to Leubronn, where he first meets Gwendolen.

Chapter 21

Chapter 21 returns to the present, finding Gwendolen on her way back to Offendene to face the family's ruin. She is greeted by the "dear beautiful face" of her mother "with fresh lines of sadness in it." Gwendolen learns the family is moving into Sawyer's Cottage, a small dwelling where the taxman has previously lived, and her uncle has found her two possible placements as a governess, one with a bishop's family. Gwendolen rebels against her reversal of fortune and sends a note to Herr Klesmer, asking him to call.

Analysis

Mirah tells Mrs. Meyrick the thing she remembers more than anything is her mother's face when she was a child of seven, demonstrating the importance of a mother's love and the suffering that comes with her loss. Mirah, like Deronda, is a motherless child, and both of them share a surrogate mother in Mrs. Meyrick.

Mirah's father, Lapidoth, has been an actor and teacher, a writer and translator of plays, and a stage manager. But he develops a terrible gambling habit and sinks into a swamp of evil. Much later in the novel, the reader learns Lapidoth had run away from a mountain of debt accumulated from gambling. Eliot sees gambling as a terrible vice since it creates unnecessary want and feeds immoral behavior. When Lapidoth first escapes to America, he does well, but he slowly digs himself into another hole of debt. In the meantime he is grooming his daughter like a trained monkey to be a singer and actress. She has talent but no passion for the art, and when he realizes she will never make him the mountains of gold he imagines he contrives to throw her to the wolfish count (no doubt for a high price) who wishes her to be his mistress and courtesan. Mirah is generally passive and bows to the demands of her elder, but being handed over to the count is going too far, and this gives her the courage to escape to England. Here is a third woman who suffers at the hands of the patriarchy who wishes to use her merely as a sexual object or pawn in a material transaction (the other two being Gwendolen and Lydia Glasher).

Lapidoth is a bad man, but Eliot does not rely on Jewish stereotypes to portray his poor character. Rather, he is a sick gambler who displays the same amoral behaviors of anyone, regardless of religion, caught in the grip of this disease. He is a bad Jew, however, because he spits on his religion and does nothing to teach Mirah about her faith. He is an assimilationist who enjoys making fun of Jews with Christians. Whatever Mirah learns about Judaism, she gathers from strangers. When Deronda hears her story he immediately feels a kinship with her as another motherless child, but as the Englishman he has been raised to be, he fears tracking down her relatives. The narrator states, "His interest had never been practically drawn towards existing Jews, and the facts he knew about them ... were chiefly of a sort most repugnant to him." Yet he had "learned to hate secrecy" because of his own ignorance of his parentage and does not believe any bad facts he could ferret out about Mirah's mother and brother could reflect poorly on her. "All the sweet purity ... clothed her as with a consecrating garment," and despite his fear of exposing her to bad associations, he has tentatively decided to find her relatives.

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