“Daniel relented towards poor Gwendolen in her splendor, and his memory went back, with some penitence for his momentary hardness, over all the signs and confessions that she too needed a rescue, and one much more difficult than that of the wanderer by the river – a rescue for which he himself felt helpless.” These words struck me as I read the novel, and I was pleased to find them again in Rachel Hollander’s article, “Daniel Deronda and the Ethics of Alterity.” Hollander states, “While Daniel indisputably plays an important role in Gwendolen’s shifting sense of self during and after her marriage to Grandcourt, I would disagree with critics who characterize his relationship to her as purely one-sided, appropriative, and controlling” (83) and I am inclined to agree with Hollander. Daniel’s treatment of Gwendolen may have started off as controlling and one-sided, but Gwendolen is later much more independently inspired by him to try and change the negative aspects of her personality.
In Chapter 59, Sir Hugo says, “You have a passion for people who are pelted, Dan,” (667) and this is seen in Daniel’s need to rescue people or do them favors, often with no regard for whether those people want to be helped. Was it right of Daniel to have meddled, if you want to call it that, in the case of Gwendolen’s necklace? The return of the necklace can be seen as a jab, and of course resulted in humiliation for Gwendolen, placing her in the debt of a stranger, and that too someone around whom she wanted to maintain her pride. The erosion of Gwendolen’s haughty demeanor is interesting to watch; her marriage to Grandcourt, her family’s financial troubles and the realization that having Daniel entirely is not as easy as simply getting his attention, or the affections of others, all seem to contribute to the unraveling of her mean and hard-edged personality. Towards the end of the novel, there is a stronger sense of Daniel’s influence being at the heart of her trying to be a good person, than the life events that have buffeted her around and softened her, but also much evidence to show that Gwendolen wanted to be receptive to Daniel’s good influence. In Chapter 36, for instance, Gwendolen shows remorse in gaining from others’ losses and asks Daniel how she can make up for the terrible things she has done (marrying Grandcourt in spite of Lydia’s request, namely). In Chapter 64, Gwendolen finally apologizes to her mother and says that she realizes that she is being punished for her wickedness. In Chapter 65: Daniel’s “words were like the touch of a miraculous hand to Gwendolen. Mingled emotions streamed through her frame with a strength that seemed the beginning of a new existence” (716) and she tells him that she will remember what he believes about her. There are other reassurances from Gwendolen that she is trying to be a kinder human being, and subsequent encouragement from Daniel. Although Daniel is fixated on the rescuing aspect of the relationship, the presence of tender, caring words and Gwendolen’s own openness to change that make the transformation much less appropriative as critics would suggest. It is ultimately not Daniel’s manipulative behavior that causes Gwendolen to re-examine her life, but her feelings for him, and her desire to win his approval and respect, that provide the driving force for her transformation.
Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.
Hollander, Rachel. “Daniel Deronda And The Ethics Of Alterity.” Literature Interpretation Theory 16 (2005): 75-99.