George Eliot's mother died young, and young Mary Ann Evans (as she was known until she was nearly 40) was raised by her father in a country town. She refused to embrace the fundamentalist religion of her father and, when she was 16, objected to going to church with him; however, she agreed to accompany him as long as she could be free to let her mind wander during the service. Soon after that, she translated THE LIFE OF JESUS by the German theologian David Friedrich Strauss into English--a work that questioned the divinity of Christ. Following the death of her father, George Eliot was free to lead the life of an intellectual and scholar; she moved to London and began to write for, and eventually edit, the Westminster Review. It was there that she met the man with whom she eventually spent most of her life, George Henry Lewes, who was married to another woman--a daring move in Victorian England, which resulted in Eliot's condemnation by her family, including her beloved brother, Isaac. (She explored the complexities of the brother-sister bond in her 1860 novel, THE MILL ON THE FLOSS.) With Lewes's encouragement, Eliot began to write novels and stories, and began publishing them in 1857, taking the pseudonym "George Eliot" largely to avoid the prejudice her public might have toward her unorthodox living arrangements. Upon Lewes's death, Eliot married a much younger man--delighting her family, who finally considered her respectable--but she died six months after the wedding. She became widely celebrated for her fiction, and is considered one of the greatest novelists of all time; D. H. Lawrence called her the first modern novelist. All her life, George Eliot was torn between her reverence for the old ways--religious, political, and social--in which she was raised, and the new, represented by her intellectual agnosticism and bohemian life. Always, she placed the responsibility for a person's life on the moral choices he or she makes, and she believed that the function of the novel is to increase people's sympathy and tolerance for others. As a strictly realist writer, she embraced the doctrine that "all truth and beauty are to be attained by a humble and faithful study of nature, and not by substituting vague forms...in place of definite, substantial reality."
From the Publisher
Daniel Deronda, raised by Gentiles, discovers the truth about his heritage and seeks his Jewish roots, finding that Judaism--and, particularly, Zionism--gives meaning to his life. Daniel's story intersects with that of the beautiful and spoiled Gwendolyn Harleth, who marries the jaded, depraved aristocrat Grandcourt and lives to repent her bad judgment. As the novel's moral center, Daniel provides a role model for Gwendolyn and, eventually, becomes a revered leader of the Zionist movement. DANIEL DERONDA, first published in 1876, is remarkable for its sympathetic and closely observed portrait of its Jewish characters--unusual in the Victorian period, when Jews were routinely vilified or caricatured in fiction. But it is also a deeply intelligent novel that explores two vastly different worlds with subtle acuity, whether the plot takes it to the ascetic study of a Jewish scholar or to the casinos where Gwendolyn routinely gambles away her money. The main characters' two remarkable journeys--Daniel's back to the religion of his people, and Gwendolyn's from selfishness to wisdom--are parallel quests toward what is always Eliot's true subject: the progress of the mind and the heart toward self-discovery, a preoccupation that was more characteristic of modernist fiction than of the novels being written in the mid-19th century.
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