When we first meet our two major players, Daniel and Gwendolen, they're at the casino at Leubronn. It's in the middle of the novel's chronology – that is, we're going to undergo a flashback in just a little bit in order to figure out how we got to this exact point that opens the novel. Even though it is not the first moment that the characters experience chronologically, it seems pretty key that Eliot opens her novel with this scene. The two central characters, whose stories are largely unrelated, meet for the first time.
Being a young adult isn't always everything that it's cracked up to be, especially when you realize that you have to start taking care of things yourself. Gwendolen can't pretend to be the sheltered, spoiled little girl that she used to be. She has to take responsibility for helping her family out of poverty. Gwendolen has never worked a day in her life, but she will probably have to go become a governess now that her family has lost everything (poor baby). She feels torn – she could have fixed everything by marrying Grandcourt, but she didn't want to because she promised Lydia Glasher that she wouldn't. Even so, when it becomes apparent that Grandcourt is still interested, Gwendolen has to come to a decision between breaking her promise to Lydia and helping her family out.
In the meantime, Daniel meets Mirah, who seems to turn his world upside-down. Daniel, who has always seemed to have an interest in learning about different people and ways of life, chooses to intervene in Mirah's suicide attempt. All of a sudden, his life is about more than just his own problems – he has someone else with potentially much bigger problems.
Gwendolen decides to go for it and marry Grandcourt – she can't stand to see her mother and sisters having to work too hard for too little money, and Gwendolen doesn't to go work as a governess because she feels that it is beneath her. Of course, Lydia Glasher stirs up Gwendolen's feelings of guilt. Gwendolen broke her promise to her, and Lydia isn't afraid to throw that in Gwendolen's face (we mean, what does she really have to lose?). Gwendolen finds herself in a really tough spot. She has to choose between her honor and her family. She chooses her family, but is plagued by the idea that she has done something really wicked. Gwendolen finds herself in a really unhappy position and she doesn't know how to make it better.
Daniel, meanwhile, finds himself increasingly interested in Jewish culture. He also takes it upon himself to try to find Mirah's family. Interestingly, these two pursuits come together when he meets Mordecai. Mordecai is convinced that Daniel is Jewish and that he is the person who will continue Mordecai's work after he dies. Daniel struggles to figure out how he feels about that pursuit. He is still fairly convinced that Sir Hugo is his dad, and he finds it really hard to take when people make assumptions about his identity. When he finds out that Mordecai and Mirah – two of the most important people in his life – are related, he seems to feel an even bigger pull towards identifying with Judaism. Still, he doesn't know who he really is, so those feelings of wanting to participate in their culture also remind him of how painful it is not to know his family's identity.
All of a sudden, the conflicts that have most haunted our two main characters come to their highest points in a couple of really intense moments. Daniel, who has been searching his whole life for his roots, doesn't just find out who his mom is – he meets her and finds out that he is actually Jewish. This moment feels especially momentous because Daniel has been developing a greater sympathy for, and interest in, Judaism ever since he met Mirah (and let's face it – it's great for Daniel because he has been hot for Mirah all this time and she won't marry someone unless he's Jewish).
As for Gwendolen, Grandcourt's death is a complicated and nerve-wracking event. On one hand, it means that she's finally free from him – he's been wielding power over her ever since they got married, and she's been tormented by knowing everything about Lydia. On the other hand, Gwendolen feels like a murderer. She feels as though her inaction killed Grandcourt. If she had tried to save him sooner, he might not have drowned. Instead, she watched for a while and then jumped in the water after him. These moments are among the most tense of the novel.
Right when we think things couldn't get any crazier, Mirah's worst fear comes true – her dad finds her and comes after her. It's hard to say what she and Mordecai are going to do. Mirah's feelings towards her father are really complex. On one hand, she fears him – he stole her away from her mother and brother at a young age, forced her into a career on the stage, and tried to marry her off to a sleazy Count. On the other hand, Mirah wonders about what her mother would have done in this situation. She's convinced that her mom would not have snubbed him. Mirah struggles with what to do about her dad.
In the meantime, Gwendolen is still calming down from Grandcourt's death. She doesn't mourn him (and neither do we – he's the biggest jerk around), but she can't help but feel like she's to blame for his death. Gwendolen adds Grandcourt's death to her big list of Bad Things Gwendolen Has Done. She's still trying to deal with her guilt over breaking her promise to Lydia Glasher, and now she feels like she has something even more damning hanging over her head.
Daniel gets back to London and tells Mirah and Mordecai that he's Jewish. Of course, they're totally overjoyed. Now that there's no question about Daniel's religion or background, Mirah can accept him as a husband (she will only marry a Jewish man). Our two separate story lines start to come together when Daniel goes to tell Gwendolen about his identity and plans for marriage. Gwendolen doesn't take the news too well – we get the vibe that she thought she'd somehow end up with Daniel. As the novel begins to come to a close, Eliot ties up the loose ends that were left hanging this whole time; she also shows that Daniel's marriage is one of the ways that our two competing story lines can be brought together.
The novel comes to its resolution. This whole time, we've been building up towards Mordecai's death. Now that it's certain that Daniel both can and will carry on Mordecai's legacy, he can stop suffering and let go. We've seen our characters through to this transformation: Daniel finally knows who he is and finds his mission in life. Gwendolen, meanwhile, stops being the spoiled child we met in Book I and vows to become a better person.