Study Guide

Daniel Deronda Secrets

By George Eliot

Secrets

To avoid meeting [Lush] [Gwendolen] turned aside and walked with her back towards the stand of carriages, opening the letter. It contained these words—

'If Miss Harleth is in doubt whether she should accept Mr. Grandcourt, let her break from her party after they have passed the Whispering Stones and return to that spot. She will then hear something to decide her, but she can only hear it by keeping this letter a strict secret from every one. If she does not act according to this letter, she will repent, as the woman who writes it has repented. The secrecy Miss Harleth will feel herself bound in honour to guard.'

Gwendolen felt an inward shock, but her immediate thought was, "It is come in time." (14.29-31)

What story would be complete without a little intrigue? Here, Gwendolen finds herself involved in a secret agreement with Lydia Glasher, whose secrets have the power to sway Gwendolen's decision as to whether or not she should marry Grandcourt.

Daniel felt the presence of a new guest who seemed to come with an enigmatic veiled face, and to carry dimly-conjectured, dreaded revelations. The ardour which he had given to the imaginary world in his books suddenly rushed towards his own history and spent its pictorial energy there, explaining what he knew, representing the unknown. The uncle whom he loved very dearly took the aspect of a father who held secrets about him—who had done him a wrong—yes, a wrong: and what had become of his mother, from whom he must have been taken away?—secrets about which he, Daniel, could never inquire; for to speak or be spoken to about these new thoughts seemed like falling flakes of fire to his imagination. (16.10)

Here, we sense that Daniel feels a little bit trapped. He knows that something's up, but he feels like he can't ask about the thing that bothers him most – his true identity.

But the summing up of all his fluctuating experience at this epoch was, that a secret impression had come to him which had given him something like a new sense in relation to all the elements of his life. And the idea that others probably knew things concerning him which they did not choose to mention, and which he would not have had them mention, set up in him a premature reserve which helped to intensify his inward experience. His ears were open now to words which before that July day would have passed by him unnoted; and round every trivial incident which imagination could connect with his suspicions, a newly-roused set of feelings were ready to cluster themselves. (16.12)

Doesn't it stink when you realize that someone knows something that you don't? Well, yeah, especially when it's something as personal as your own identity. Here we see Daniel becoming extra-vigilant, trying to uncover some clues that will help him figure out who he is.

[Daniel] had learned to hate secrecy about the grand ties and obligations of his life—to hate it the more because a strong spell of interwoven sensibilities hindered him from breaking such secrecy. Deronda had made a vow to himself that—since the truths which disgrace mortals are not all of their own making—the truth should never be made a disgrace to another by his act. (19.4)

Secrets have played a major part in Daniel's own tribulations. When he meets Mirah, he realizes that she's someone who is also living with a secret identity – that is, she's hiding from her dad. He recognizes her as someone who is in the same boat, and he vows not to hurt her by betraying her secrets.

[Gwendolen] had burnt Lydia Glasher's letter with an instantaneous terror lest other eyes should see it, and had tenaciously concealed from Grandcourt that there was any other cause of her violent hysterics than the excitement and fatigue of the day: she had been urged into an implied falsehood. (35.125)

Gwendolen is also controlled by secrets – not only is she affected by Grandcourt's secret family, but she is also stuck with keeping her knowledge a secret.

That scene was now like an accusing apparition: she dreaded that Grandcourt should know of it—so far out of her sight now was that possibility she had once satisfied herself with, of speaking to him about Mrs. Glasher and her children, and making them rich amends. Any endurance seemed easier than the mortal humiliation of confessing that she knew all before she married him, and in marrying him had broken her word. (35.126)

One reason why Gwendolen has to keep her knowledge of Lydia Glasher a secret is that it seems kind of ridiculous, but also damnable, that she knew what she was getting into when she married Grandcourt but went through with it anyway.

In spite of remorse, it still seemed the worst result of her marriage that she should in any way make a spectacle of herself; and her humiliation was lightened by her thinking that only Mrs. Glasher was aware of the fact which caused it. For Gwendolen had never referred the interview at the Whispering Stones to Lush's agency; her disposition to vague terror investing with shadowy omnipresence any threat of fatal power over her, and so hindering her from imagining plans and channels by which news had been conveyed to the woman who had the poisoning skill of a sorceress. To Gwendolen's mind the secret lay with Mrs. Glasher, and there were words in the horrible letter which implied that Mrs. Glasher would dread disclosure to the husband, as much as the usurping Mrs. Grandcourt. (44.47)

Poor Gwendolen – she thinks that she's the only one who knows that Lydia told her everything. Little does she know that Grandcourt knows that she knows his secrets, and that he's been using this knowledge to manipulate her.

"Is it not possible that I could be near you often and comfort you?" said Deronda. He was under that stress of pity that propels us on sacrifices.

"No, not possible," she answered, lifting up her head again and withdrawing her hand as if she wished him to move away. "I have a husband and five children. None of them know of your existence." (51.68-69)

Just when Daniel's background is no longer a secret to him, he realizes that he's been hidden from everyone else. His mother has a new husband and five other kids – his siblings – that she has raised traditionally. Daniel continues to be his mother's biggest secret.

"But ought I now to tell Ezra that I have seen my father?" said Mirah, with deprecation in her tone.

"No," Mrs. Meyrick answered dubitatively. "I don't know that it is necessary to do that. Your father may go away with the birds. It is not clear that he came after you; you may never see him again. And then your brother will have been spared a useless anxiety. But promise me that if your father sees you—gets hold of you in any way again—you will let us all know. Promise me that solemnly, Mirah. I have a right to ask it." (52.31-32)

Mrs. Meyrick seems to be saying that it's OK to keep secrets from people until it's absolutely necessary to spill.

Grandcourt felt towards Gwendolen and Deronda as if he knew them to be in a conspiracy against him, and here was an event in league with them. What he took for clearly certain—and so far he divined the truth—was that Gwendolen was now counting on an interview with Deronda whenever her husband's back was turned. (54.37)

Well, this is only partially true. He's right that Gwendolen has been seeking Daniel out, but it's hard to say that the two of them are in any kind of "conspiracy" against Grandcourt. Still, it's interesting to watch someone realize that someone else is keeping secrets from him.