Literature Study GuidesDaniel DerondaVolume 3 Book 5 Chapters 38 40 Summary

Daniel Deronda | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Daniel Deronda | Volume 3, Book 5, Chapters 38–40 : Mordecai | Summary



Chapter 38

While Deronda is curious about Mordecai, a "fervid student" who seems to "[get] his crust by a quiet handicraft," Mordecai has been deeply affected by his meeting with Deronda. For years he has been yearning for a young man to whom he can transmit his spiritual knowledge. Deronda is exactly what he pictures as a worthy Jewish successor—beautiful and strong, with sufficient financial means, "intellectually cultured," and "morally fervid." According to certain mystical notions found in Cabbala (or Kabbala)—Jewish mysticism—a vigorous, blooming soul can incorporate all that is worthy from a second, insufficient soul before its physical existence burns out. Mordecai has been living on the charity of the Cohens, and while he tutors their son Jacob, he believes Deronda has arrived as the vessel to receive his knowledge.

Chapter 39

Herr Klesmer arrives at the Meyricks because Deronda has asked him to listen to Mirah's singing so he may determine if he can recommend her for work. Klesmer initially intimidates the Meyrick women, who fear he will not approve of their protégé, but when he pronounces her a musician they are overjoyed. He advises her to sing only in private drawing rooms and give lessons that will follow upon her exposure to aristocratic patrons.

Chapter 40

Deronda makes his way to the Cohens' neighborhood to see Mordecai and perhaps glean some additional intelligence about the Cohens before he redeems his ring. Coincidentally, when he gets off the boat Mordecai is on the bridge, and they walk back to the bookshop together after the older man remarks he has been waiting for Deronda for five years. A little past 30, Mordecai is ill with consumption (tuberculosis). He tells Deronda he is dying but Deronda has come in time. While Mordecai is English by birth, Holland is the land where his "true life was nourished" and where he learned from a rabbi (Jewish spiritual teacher). After the rabbi died, Mordecai studied in Germany. Mordecai has been inspired since his early youth by the spirit of the prophets who yearn for a center for the "Jewish race." Deronda expresses sympathy as he speaks and offers to help him publish his work. But Mordecai replies Deronda must give him not just a hand but a soul. Deronda reminds his new friend he is not Jewish, but Mordecai says it cannot be true, and Deronda confirms he is unsure of his parentage. He will learn the truth about his heritage, the older man says. Deronda suggests they meet on a regular basis, and Mordecai proposes a neighborhood club, where they can have the parlor to themselves in the evening. When Deronda tries to get further information about the Cohens, Mordecai reveals nothing about them, feeling duty-bound to protect their privacy.


Eliot learned about Cabbala from scholar Christian David Ginsburg, and she breaks with her realism in her portrayal of the visionary Mordecai, a student of Cabbala. Cabbala is a form of Jewish mysticism. Knowledge of Cabbala was first passed down orally to those who were already spiritually mature, and it was later written down. The major text of Cabbala is the Zohar, commentaries on the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). From Ginsburg, Eliot learned about the view of reincarnation found in Cabbala—one soul must unite with another to continue its journey to perfection. The relationship between Mordecai and Deronda is based on this idea. In Chapter 38 Eliot presents Mordecai as a bona fide visionary who has been expecting Daniel to arrive for some five years and is now convinced—despite current evidence to the contrary—he is the Jewish soul he has been waiting for.

What is stranger than Mordecai's idea that Deronda is "the deliverer who was to rescue ... [his] spiritual travail from oblivion, and give it an abiding-place in the best heritage of his people" is Deronda's response to him. There are two explanations for this. The first is that Deronda is the victim of his own capacious sympathetic imagination. Mordecai is clearly in psychological distress, and Deronda wants to help him. When Mordecai says he is dying, Deronda replies, "I rejoice that I am come in time." Critic Margaret Moan Rowe calls Deronda an androgynous figure, and her assertion is confirmed in Mordecai's casting Deronda as the mother soul of the Cabbala who will bring him to the end of the journey. While Deronda fears committing himself to Mordecai's enterprise, "the peculiar appeal to his tenderness overcame the repulsion that most of us experience under a grasp and speech which assumed to dominate." However, the second reason is the reader is meant to take Mordecai's vision at face value. Now that his soul mate has arrived, it follows that Deronda will be open to receiving Mordecai's "inheritance." He mysteriously guesses Deronda does not know his origin. For the first time, Deronda is able to unburden himself to someone about this sorrow, and Mordecai is confirmed in his knowledge that Deronda is a Jew and his heritage will come to light.

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