Literature Study GuidesDaniel DerondaVolume 4 Book 7 Chapters 50 51 Summary

Daniel Deronda | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Daniel Deronda | Volume 4, Book 7, Chapters 50–51 : The Mother and the Son | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 50

Sir Hugo hands Deronda a letter from Leonora Halm-Eberstein, a princess, who announces herself as his mother and says she is ill and now wants to "deliver" what she has "long withheld." Deronda is to go to Genoa and wait for her there. He announces to the Meyricks and Cohens he must leave town for a while but doesn't provide any other details of his business. As Sir Hugo sends Deronda off, he reminds him he remains his oldest friend and couldn't have loved him more than if he had been his own son.

When Deronda is within view of the Italian harbor, he can't help but think of how the Spanish Jews came here centuries before, driven from their homes and made destitute, dying from starvation and disease. More and more he is wishing to discover an ethnic kinship with Mirah and Mordecai, but he pulls himself back, thinking he has no choice in his parentage. Deronda also thinks about his entanglement with Gwendolen, which inspires powerful and dangerous feelings since he has already chosen Mirah in his heart. After three weeks of waiting, his mother finally arrives.

Chapter 51

"You are a beautiful creature!" Deronda's mother says upon meeting him. Deronda now learns his mother was a great opera singer who married her cousin at her father's command. She gave up her son because she wanted to free him from the bondage of being a Jew. "How could you choose my birthright for me?" he asks. She answers she could not have known her son would have the spirit of his grandfather in him. Now that she is dying, she feels this spirit reproaching her, which is why she has called for him.

Deronda's mother now feels obliged to explain the choices she made for him. Judaism was a "frame that got tighter and tighter" as she grew because she was expected to become a good Jewish woman. Her father, named Daniel Charisi, did not want her to become an artist, but her gentle cousin Ephraim promised to allow her to have a career, which is why she agreed to marry him. By the time Deronda was born, Leonora had become "the Alcharisi." Ephraim died when Deronda was still a baby, and Sir Hugo, one of the men madly in love with her, agreed to take little Deronda and bring him up as an Englishman. He believed it was a good idea since Leonora did not wish to be a mother. Sir Hugo also became the trustee of Deronda's fortune, left to him by his father. Unfortunately, Leonora reigned as an artistic queen for only nine years. When her voice gave out she married a Russian noble and had five more children. She made this choice rather than face steady decline and humiliation in her career. But her voice came back, so she had to live with the knowledge that she had retired prematurely.

Deronda learns that the man who buttonholed him in the synagogue in Frankfort was none other than Joseph Kalonymos, his grandfather's best friend, who recognized his resemblance to the dead man. Leonora had told Kalonymos 20 years earlier that little Daniel was dead, and when he realized this was a lie he returned to Leonora to upbraid her for robbing the boy of his birthright. Kalonymos has been holding a chest for Deronda that belonged to his grandfather, and now Leonora gives her son the address of a banking house where he can pick it up. Throughout her tale, Leonora decrees she has no love for her son and he was better off without her. Deronda tries to offer his mother love and protection, but she spurns his attempts to connect in any meaningful way.

Analysis

Deronda faces an avalanche of emotional events in these two chapters, beginning with the revelation that Sir Hugo is not his father as he had thought, and that his mother—whom he has imagined as someone suffering because of the loss of her son—is a princess capable of sending out an imperious call.

On the cusp of the disclosure that Deronda is of Jewish heritage, Eliot references the expulsion of the Spanish Jews in 1492 who landed in Genoa, Italy. Some 200,000 people who refused Christian conversion were kicked out of Spain, and many of them died on difficult voyages or at the hands of corrupt ship captains. As a result, Spanish Jews ended up in Turkey, North Africa, and Italy and became known as Sephardic Jews. It is from this group that Deronda's family originates.

Refugees from Spain arriving in Genoa were allowed to stay only for a few days, since they were thought to have brought the plague. Only well-to-do Jews were welcomed, and even then they faced continual expulsion or threats of expulsion in Genoa until they were granted full equality in the city in 1848. By then the community numbered no more than 1,000. As critic Alan Levenson points out, many Christian Europeans in the 19th century created a false dichotomy between "good Jews" (Sephardim who were "classier" and more easily assimilated) and "bad Jews" (Ashkenazim who clung to their traditions). However, Eliot pointedly rejects this dichotomy by characterizing Deronda's grandfather, Daniel Charisi (a Sephardic Jew), as a devout Jew, and by marrying the Sephardic Deronda to the Ashkenazi Mirah at the end of the novel, while symbolically reuniting the European Jews.

As Deronda waits to see his mother, he is assailed by contradictory feelings that have been lying dormant. First, he considers his origins and wonders if Mordecai's suppositions will turn out to be true. On the one hand, he hopes they will, but on the other he feels disloyal to Sir Hugo, who loves him like a son. Also assailing him are thoughts about Gwendolen. He can't help but worry about her, especially because he has been unable to help her. His feelings of compassion are mixed with sexual attraction, and he admits to himself he could have fallen in love with her if the circumstances had been different and had he not met Mirah. With both Mirah and Gwendolen, Deronda has held back his feelings in fear of violating a trust. He can't help but remember how Gwendolen asked him to remain near her and not forsake her: "How could his feelings for Gwendolen ever be exactly like his feeling for other women, even when there was one by whose side he desired to stand apart from them?" the narrator says.

When Deronda finally meets his mother, she is not interested in claiming a long-lost son but rather in discharging a painful duty weighing on her now that she is close to death. She feels the hand of her dead father on her and the urgency to convey to Deronda the fact he is a Jew. She doesn't make excuses for her decision to abandon him for the life of an artist. As cold as this princess seems to be, it is hard not to sympathize with her desire to escape from the oppression of marriage and motherhood in a period that did not allow a woman to choose her own destiny. The reader can't help but feel that Eliot may also be talking about herself when she says, "You can never imagine what it is to have a man's force of genius in you, and yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl." Of course, to call genius "male" shows that Leonora has herself been tainted with the presuppositions of the patriarchy, as is the author, who finds it difficult to create ambitious and aggressive female characters who are also sympathetic.

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