Study Guide

Daniel Deronda Family

By George Eliot

Family

It was always arranged, when possible, that [Gwendolen] should have a small bed in her mamma's room; for Mrs. Davilow's motherly tenderness clung chiefly to her eldest girl, who had been born in a happier time. (3.9)

Gwendolen's family dynamic is an interesting one. Even though Gwendolen can be rude and hateful, her mother still gives her the most devotion because she reminds her of a better time of her life. Isn't it interesting that we actually don't really know anything about her sisters, even though they're around all the time? They just sort of float around in the background.

Mr. Middleton was persuaded to play various grave parts, Gwendolen having flattered him on his enviable immobility of countenance; and at first a little pained and jealous at her comradeship with Rex, he presently drew encouragement from the thought that this sort of cousinly familiarity excluded any serious passion. (6.24)

As far as Mr. Middleton is concerned, there's no way that there's anything romantic going on between Gwendolen and Rex because they're cousins. We think Rex would beg to differ.

No one was better aware than [Sir Hugo] that Daniel was generally suspected to be his own son. But he was pleased with that suspicion; and his imagination had never once been troubled with the way in which the boy himself might be affected, either then or in the future, by the enigmatic aspect of his circumstances. (16.44)

We get a whole lot of information in this quote. Sir Hugo is happy that people think that Daniel is his son, but this gives us, the readers, the hint that Daniel is not Sir Hugo's son. This moment also reminds us that Sir Hugo doesn't have any sons in the first place, and that's why Grandcourt gets to just show up and assume that he'll inherit all of Sir Hugo's property someday.

The desire to know his own mother, or to know about her, was constantly haunted with dread; and in imagining what might befall Mirah it quickly occurred to him that finding the mother and brother from whom she had been parted when she was a little one might turn out to be a calamity. When she was in the boat she said that her mother and brother were good; but the goodness might have been chiefly in her own ignorant innocence and yearning memory, and the ten or twelve years since the parting had been time enough for much worsening. (19.3)

It's interesting to compare and contrast Daniel and Mirah's experiences with their mothers and the attitudes that they have towards them. Daniel never met his mother, while Mirah was separated from hers at a young age. Daniel doesn't have any memory of his mother on which to base his opinions. His dread over what kind of woman his mother is makes him worry furthermore that Mirah's mom might actually not be all that great. Does this seem unfounded to you, or do you think he might have a point?

"I was forced to fly from my father; but if he came back in age and weakness and want, and needed me, should I say, 'This is not my father'? If he had shame, I must share it. It was he who was to me for my father, and not another." (32.90)

Mirah's feelings towards her father are complex. On one hand, she's terrified by him and ran away from him. Still, she insists, he's her dad. She seems to suggest that the fact that they are family is more important than the fact that her dad tried to exploit her for his own gains.

"I have never known my mother. I have no knowledge about her. I have never called any man father. But I am convinced that my father is an Englishman." (40.47)

So, here we see Daniel admitting that he hasn't really known either of his parents for sure, but he's sure that Sir Hugo is his father. In a way, though, can't we argue that Sir Hugo has acted as a father figure to him regardless of whether or not Sir Hugo is his real dad?

"Ezra," [Mirah] said, in exactly the same tone as when she was telling of her mother's call to him.

Mordecai with a sudden movement advanced and laid his hands on her shoulders. He was the head taller, and looked down at her tenderly while she said, "That was our mother's voice. You remember her calling me?"

"Yes, and how you answered her—'Mother!'—and I knew you loved her." Mirah threw her arms round her brother's neck, clasped her little hands behind it, and drew down his face, kissing it with childlike lavishness. (47.31-33)

OK, who isn't heartwarmed by this moment of family reunion? This moment shows us that, even after twelve years of separation, Mirah and Mordecai are still united by their family bond and their mutual love of their mother. They share a family tie, but they also share memories.

"God bless you, Dan!" Sir Hugo had said, when they shook hands. "Whatever else changes for you, it can't change my being the oldest friend you have known, and the one who has all along felt the most for you. I couldn't have loved you better if you'd been my own—only I should have been better pleased with thinking of you always as the future master of the Abbey instead of my fine nephew; and then you would have seen it necessary for you to take a political line." (50.13)

Everyone – Daniel, we the readers, and the other characters in the novel – wonders at some point whether Daniel is really Sir Hugo's son or not. This moment pushes us to think about family in a different way. The word "family" doesn't just signify the people you're related to by blood; it also refers to the people that you care about and who love you back. Sir Hugo demonstrates that concept by showing that he couldn't love Daniel any more if he had actually been his son.

"No," she began; "I did not send for you to comfort me. I could not know beforehand—I don't know now—what you will feel towards me. I have not the foolish notion that you can love me merely because I am your mother, when you have never seen or heard of me all your life. But I thought I chose something better for you than being with me. I did not think that I deprived you of anything worth having." (51.10)

Daniel's mother shows us another side of family: being related to someone by blood doesn't necessarily mean that you love them or have to love them.

"Mirah, my sister, leave us!" said Ezra, in a tone of authority.

She looked at her brother falteringly, beseechingly—in awe of his decision, yet unable to go without making a plea for this father who was like something that had grown in her flesh with pain, but that she could never have cut away without worse pain. She went close to her brother, and putting her hand in his, said, in a low voice, but not so low as to be unheard by Lapidoth, "Remember, Ezra—you said my mother would not have shut him out." (66.16-17)

Mirah's feelings towards her father are complex. On one hand, she fears him and wants to run away from him. On the other hand, she feels obligated to look out for his interests because he's still her father, after all. Mordecai (Ezra here, since that's what Mirah calls him) doesn't feel the same obligation toward their father. As a result, Mirah pleads with him to remember their mother and to think about what she would have done in this situation.