by George Eliot
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Performance seems to be a pretty big deal in Daniel Deronda – we mean, even every party seems to feature someone sitting down at the piano and singing, for crying out loud. Beyond that, though, we see three different women – Mirah, Daniel's mother, and Gwendolen – have very different relationships to life on the stage. When we first meet Mirah, we learn that she was stolen away by her father at a young age and was forced to perform onstage against her will as an actress and singer. She hated this way of life, and getting away from it was one of several reasons why she ran away.
Gwendolen's relationship towards the stage is totally different. She needs to make some money for her family – and fast. She doesn't want to have to marry Grandcourt. Plus, she's gotten a few compliments on her mad acting skills during a game of charades, so she figures she must have what it takes to be the next it-girl. Klesmer swiftly squashes her dreams, telling her that her acting is mediocre at best – for an amateur. In fact, he tells her that she could maybe try to pay to be allowed on stage. Harsh. Gwendolen's perspective of the stage is a romanticized one. She is so used to being admired by the people around her in everyday life – of course she'll be a natural on the stage! She'll just make money by being admired by her adoring fans…right.
Princess Alcharisi, a.k.a. Leonora Halm-Eberstein, a.k.a. Daniel's mom, is also an actress. She had what it took to make it on the stage, but her father didn't want her to be an actress because he didn't want her to display herself. For her, being on the stage wasn't just about making money; it was about rebelling against a tyrannical father. These three examples are all strikingly different, but they tell us a great deal about these characters: we don't only about them characters as individuals, but also as examples of the very limited options open to women in the Victorian era.