by George Eliot
Speech and Dialogue
One of the most interesting ways that George Eliot helps us learn more about the characters of the novel is by drawing attention to the ways in which they communicate with one another. The character with whom we see speech used most frequently as a characterization tool is Gwendolen. We watch Gwen transform over the course of the novel from a proud, spoiled, and often-thoughtless girl to someone who becomes more and more introspective and thoughtful. In instances where we see how mean Gwendolen can be, we often see the narrator draw attention to what Gwendolen says. She speaks her mind without thinking about how her words affect others. When she meets Grandcourt, though, she learns that she's not as powerful with him as she is with other people. How does the narrator show us this change? By pointing out how for the first time Gwendolen pays careful attention to the words that come out of her mouth. When things get really bad with Grandcourt, Gwendolen doesn't feel like she can speak at all.
Daniel Deronda is a book that pays a lot of attention to "otherness," and one of the major ways that the narrator achieves this effect is by taking a close look at the way that certain characters appear physically. Most of the characters in Daniel Deronda are high-society British people, and we actually don't get too much description of what they look like except for trivial details – some of them are fat, some of them are tall, and some of them have white hair. Some of them look young, and some of them look wrinkled. The takeaway seems to be that it's a pretty homogeneous society. Then we get characters like Klesmer and Mordecai who just don't seem to fit in, and we get a lot of descriptions of their interesting appearances. They're just different. In fact, the narrator comes out and says that they stand out. Klesmer has wild hair and an exotic look about him; Mordecai has piercing, intense eyes and yellowish skin. We might have a hard time imagining what some of the characters of this novel look like, but that's definitely not the case with these two. By making these guys stand out to us, the narrator helps us to remember that they also stand out in the society in which they live.
We don't just know the characters of the novel as individuals – we also know them in terms of the family to which they belong. The ways that the characters interact with their families shows us a lot about who they are, both as individuals and as part of a group. Let's take Gwendolen, for instance. We learn so much about her personality through the way that she treats her mother and her sisters. Sure, we know that Gwendolen likes nice things and that she loves to be spoiled, but we see really get the best sense of just how spoiled Gwendolen is when we see her interact with the other members of her family. She is so dismissive of her sisters that even we start to think that they don't really matter all that much. Gwendolen's mom also lets her boss her around, largely because Gwendolen reminds her of a happier time in her life. She's willing to give her whatever she wants.
We won't go into detail about every single family in the novel, but one interesting thing to think about while you're reading Daniel Deronda and getting to know the characters is that, for every "traditional" Mom-Dad-and-the-Kids family we get, we also see a fair number of fractured or nontraditional families. Sir Hugo adopts Daniel even before he marries Lady Mallinger; Lydia Glasher has four kids out of wedlock; Mrs. Meyrick and Mrs. Davilow are both widowed; Mirah's family is split in half when her dad steals her away. The characters of the novel often feel a strong sense of obligation to their family members, but their attitudes toward themselves and others are often shaped by both their positive and negative experiences in their families.