Study Guide

Daniel Deronda Gender

By George Eliot

Gender

[Gwendolen] had begun to believe in her luck, others had begun to believe in it: she had visions of being followed by a cortege who would worship her as a goddess of luck and watch her play as a directing augury. Such things had been known of male gamblers; why should not a woman have a like supremacy? (1.8)

Sometimes we get the vibe that Gwendolen lives in a world that's not quite ready for her yet. She doesn't want to have to play according to the rules that society dictates for women.

Mrs. Davilow shook her head silently. "It was only last night she said to me, 'Mamma, I wonder how girls manage to fall in love. It is easy to make them do it in books. But men are too ridiculous.'" (7.99)

What's interesting here is the way that Gwendolen shows a distinction between women and men – she finds men ridiculous. She doesn't want to have to fulfill what society tells her is the duty of a woman – to fall in love and get married – because she's not exactly down with the fate that it creates for her.

Anna had risen from her seat, and used the feminine argument of going closer to her papa as she spoke. He did not smile, but he drew her on his knee and held her there, as if to put her gently out of the question while he spoke to Rex. (8.28)

Poor Anna. Sure, she's also young, but we get the impression that her dad doesn't take her hopes and ambitions as seriously as he takes Rex's, mainly because Anna is a woman. She's supposed to sit there and look pretty.

In the ladies' dining-room it was evident that Gwendolen was not a general favourite with her own sex; there were no beginnings of intimacy between her and other girls, and in conversation they rather noticed what she said than spoke to her in free exchange. Perhaps it was that she was not much interested in them, and when left alone in their company had a sense of empty benches. Mrs. Vulcany once remarked that Miss Harleth was too fond of the gentlemen; but we know that she was not in the least fond of them—she was only fond of their homage. (11.49)

There's one of those girls in every group – the one who has a hard time getting along with other girls. It happened then, and it happens today (just think Mean Girls).

There was every reason to believe that a woman of well-regulated mind would be happy with Grandcourt. (13.80)

So, basically, if a woman doesn't think for herself and knows her place, she'll be cool with marrying Grandcourt. That bodes well.

"You are very attractive, Miss Harleth. But when he first knew me, I too was young. Since then my life has been broken up and embittered. It is not fair that he should be happy and I miserable, and my boy thrust out of sight for another."

These words were uttered with a biting accent, but with a determined abstinence from anything violent in tone or manner. Gwendolen, watching Mrs. Glasher's face while she spoke, felt a sort of terror: it was as if some ghastly vision had come to her in a dream and said, "I am a woman's life." (14.47-48)

Lydia Glasher may seem like the exception to the rule – her lifestyle is off the beaten path, compared with the other women we meet in this book – but she does bring up a point: men in Victorian society had many more options and much more freedom than women did. She's left in ruin largely because women in her position have very few choices. Grandcourt, on the other hand, can pretty much wipe his slate clean and start his life over as he sees fit.

"He has never seemed to me a very sensible man," said Lady Mallinger, in excuse of herself. She had a secret objection to meeting Grandcourt, who was little else to her than a large living sign of what she felt to be her failure as a wife—the not having presented Sir Hugo with a son. (25.4)

We don't get to know Lady Mallinger extremely well, but one thing that we do know about her is that she feels bad for not bearing Sir Hugo a son (though modern science actually puts the blame on the dudes). Her concerns teach us all about the ways that Victorian society often privileged men and left women in the dust – even though Grandcourt is only Sir Hugo's cousin, he gets to inherit all of his property because he's a man.

Perhaps the person least complacently disposed towards [Grandcourt] at that moment was Lady Mallinger, to whom going in procession up this country-dance with Grandcourt was a blazonment of herself as the infelicitous wife who had produced nothing but daughters, little better than no children, poor dear things, except for her own fondness and for Sir Hugo's wonderful goodness to them. (36.81)

Lady Mallinger and her daughters are in a rough spot, because as soon as Sir Hugo dies, they'll be stuck having to kiss up to Grandcourt in order to make sure they have a home over their heads. Life for women in the Victorian era was not always tea parties and sunshine.

"Though my own experience has been quite different, I enter into the painfulness of your struggle. I can imagine the hardship of an enforced renunciation."

"No," said the Princess, shaking her head, and folding her arms with an air of decision. "You are not a woman. You may try—but you can never imagine what it is to have a man's force of genius in you, and yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl. To have a pattern cut out—'this is the Jewish woman; this is what you must be; this is what you are wanted for; a woman's heart must be of such a size and no larger, else it must be pressed small, like Chinese feet; her happiness is to be made as cakes are, by a fixed receipt.' That was what my father wanted. He wished I had been a son; he cared for me as a makeshift link. His heart was set on Judaism. He hated that Jewish women should be thought of by the Christian world as a sort of ware to make public singers and actresses of. As if we were not the more enviable for that! That is a chance of escaping from bondage." (51.35-36)

Sorry Dan, you can't relate to the choices women in your time have to make.

[The miniature] was her own in all the fire of youth, and as Deronda looked at it with admiring sadness, she said, "Had I not a rightful claim to be something more than a mere daughter and mother? The voice and the genius matched the face. Whatever else was wrong, acknowledge that I had a right to be an artist, though my father's will was against it. My nature gave me a charter." (53.49)

Here, Daniel's birth mother tells him about how her gender conflicted with her ambitions. By going for the life she wanted, she defied the rules that society – and her father – laid out for her.