by George Eliot
Where It All Goes Down
London and Surrounding Areas, 1864-1866
George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda in the mid 1870s, but the novel itself is set a decade earlier in the 1860s. While it might seem like a little bit of a throwback – having a distance of ten whole years between the time in which story takes place and when it was actually written – Daniel Deronda is actually George Eliot's only novel to take place at a time that was pretty close to her own experiences. All of her other novels are better classified as historical fiction, with a pretty sizeable gap in time between the time they take place and the time they were actually written.
Daniel Deronda is set at a time known commonly as the Victorian period. At this time, social rules were pretty tight. People in Victorian England really valued proper behavior and actions, especially out in public. This is not a period in literature where we see too much sex or wild behavior. It was largely thought that women should behave as sweet, docile creatures and defer to their husbands. We can easily see the kinds of social constraints that our characters feel when they're out in society – everyone is worried about what others will say about them, and behavior is often really fake and artificial. Still, it's interesting to watch the ways in which the women of the novel try to gain power and demonstrate their independence – we can really see them fighting against the boundaries that society forces on them.
Although some of the most important scenes of Daniel Deronda take place on the European continent in Germany and Italy, the novel is set for the most part in England. The action goes back and forth between the city of London and the countryside of Wessex. Out in the country, social boundaries seem a little bit more set. The characters engage themselves in "refined" activities like horseback riding and archery. In London, society still has a lot of constraints, but we also see how cities are a bit more diverse and accepting of different ways of life. In London, for example, Daniel is able to learn a lot more about Jewish culture and interacts with people that he never would have had the chance to meet out in the gentrified country.