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George Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda, tells of the eponymous Deronda’s
discovery of his Jewish roots and of the moral coming-of-age he inspires in a British
gentlewoman named Gwendolyn Harleth. Published in 1876, the novel took its British
audience to a terra incognita: to the Judengasse, to the synagogue, to the Sabbath table, and
to the inner sanctuaries of Jewish thought. Eliot, who had much earlier abandoned her
Anglican upbringing as well as her belief in a divine Authority, nonetheless remained
throughout her life intensely interested in religion and in the relationship between morals and
the human spirit (Paris 420).
A student of languages, belief systems, history, and many
contemporary Victorian issues, she was stimulated intellectually to understand Judaism and
to counter British anti-Semitism.