George Eliot pp 80-100 | Cite as

Europe and Beyond: Romola, Daniel Deronda

  • Alan W. Bellringer
Part of the Macmillan Modern Novelists book series (MONO)


George Eliot’s international outlook soon strikes the reader. She can take a world-look while dwelling on very provincial matters. Though she never travelled outside Europe, her narrator’s allusions in the novels often roam through Europe and other areas, especially the Middle East. After her first trip abroad in 1849, she revisited the Continent as many as sixteen times in a quarter of a century, sometimes for several months at a time. Her total time spent in Germany and Austria was two years.1 These journeys were part of her study of English culture in its wider context. Her reading in the classics, in Jewish and Christian writings, in post-Renaissance literature and philosophy in the principal modern European languages, gave her a deep insight into both geography and history. She was, of course, particularly concerned about the progress of democratic and nationalist politics in nineteenth-century Europe. Without quite foreseeing the disastrous turns these movements would take in the next century, George Eliot treated them soberly. She devoted two novels to such problems, one set in Renaissance Italy, the other in the mid-Victorian present with the future of Europe’s Jews as a major concern.


Friendly Character Nationalist Politics Christian Writing Cordial Response Early Modern World 
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  1. 1.
    A. McCobb, George Eliot’s Knowledge of German Life and Letters (Salzburg: University of Salzburg Press, 1982), Salzburg Studies in English Literature: Romantic Reassessment, 102, p. 76.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    D. Barrett, in Vocation and Desire: George Elio’s Heroines (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1989), p. 83, notes George Eliot’s concern in Romola with economic evolution as the base on which philosophical evolution takes place. F. Bonaparte, however, sees Bratti as ‘another symptom of the moral disintegration of Florence’, mentioning that he was based on an actual merchant who reputedly died in great prosperity; see her The Triptych and the Cross: The Central Myths of George Elio’s Poetic Imagination (Brighton: Harvester, 1979), p. 164.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    W.J. Harvey, in The Art of George Eliot (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961), pp. 182–83, argues tendentiously that Romola is a character ‘inadequately placed in any real contact with the network of other characters in the novel’, She ‘illuminates and realizes others without being realized or illuminated herself.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    J. K. Gezari, in ‘Romola and the myth of Apocalypse’, in George Eliot: Centenary Essays and an Unpublished Fragment, ed. A. Smith (London: Vision Press, 1980), pp. 79 and 91, comments that, though Dino’s vision of Romola’s arid marriage does anticipate the frustration of her moral yearnings which that will involve, its effect is spoiled by intolerance. J. Gezari detects also in Romola’s reservations about Savonarola the influence of Feuerbach’s view of faith as intolerant. Compare L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (1841), tr. George Eliot (1854), Harper Torchbook (New York: Harper, 1957), p. 255, ‘faith is essentially a spirit of partisanship … it understands no neutrality; it is preoccupied only with itself. Faith is essentially intolerant, essentially, because with faith is always associated the illusion that its cause is the cause of God, its honour his honour … God himself is interested: the interest of faith is the nearest interest of God’.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Palmerston’s government had discussed plans for an autonomous Jewish settlement in the Middle East. In 1865 the Palestine Exploration Society was founded. In the Jewish Chronicle of January 1875 George Eliot noticed advertisements for plots of land for sale near the agricultural school at Jaffa; see W. Baker, George Eliot and Judaism (Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1975), pp. 9 and 136–39. The historical background to Deronda’s plan is clear, but whether George Eliot foresaw the international problems caused by Zionism is disputed. J. Bennett’s view that the ‘claims of the Arabs in Palestine did not enter her head’ (George Eliot: Her Mind and her Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), p. 186 is countered by W. Allen’s point that Deronda’s reference to Arab nationalism shows that George Eliot was ‘certainly thinking’ (George Eliot, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965, p. 166).Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Deronda certainly might have been made to be more explicit on this point, though an early detractor (A. V. Dicey), who found Deronda ‘incurably weak’, is surely hypercritical in commenting that when ‘Deronda wanders off to the East we feel sure that he will travel about year after year doing deeds of kindness and cherishing noble aspirations, but further removed than even a passionate dreamer like Mordecai from working out any deliverance either for his people or for mankind’; unsigned review of Daniel Deronda in Nation, vol. XXIII,, pp. 245–46 (19 October 1876). See D. Carroll, George Eliot: The Critical Heritage (London: Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1971), p. 404. The association of Deronda with portraits by Titian, especially his ‘Young Man with a Glove’, is explored by H. Witemeyer in his George Eliot and the Visual Arts (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 101–4.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    G. Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (London: Secker and Warburg, 1938), p. 314. George Eliot and G. H. Lewes had visited Hampshire and Wiltshire for locations for the country scenes of Daniel Deronda in 1874. For four years they were searching for a country residence of their own, mainly in the Haslemere area of south-west Surrey, before settling on ‘The Heights’ at Witley, nearer Guildford, in 1876; there they had eight or nine acres of ground. See Biography, pp. 462, 474–75 and 499–500.Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    W. Wordsworth, The Prelude, (1850), book I, l. 460.Google Scholar

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© Alan W. Bellringer 1993

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