From Egocentrism to Selflessness: Gwendolen Harleth’s Moral Rebirth in Daniel Deronda
Mentor:Constance Fulmer, Associate Dean of Teaching and Assessment, Pepperdine University
In spite of the fact that George Eliot claimed that she was an atheist, her novels are all concerned with moral issues. Her last novel Daniel Deronda follows the moral journey of a heroine whose own egotism renders her incapable of the self-sacrifice and benevolence which characterize Eliot’s morally mature characters. Gwedolen Harleth’s fateful punishment for her egotism is an abusively dominant husband who allows her no freedom of will. After her husband’s unexpected drowning, Gwendolen is overwhelmed with guilt and misery; however, Deronda exerts a stabilizing influence which inspires and facilitates Gwendolen’s moral rebirth. They are four key factors in her growing selflessness. The first two are demonstrated through Gwendolen’s desire to do good, seeking generosity above all things; her attitude of selflessness ultimately develops into an altruistic disposition of heart. The last two indications of her moral growth are mirrored in Deronda’s unselfishness. By encouraging her to grow as a plant, innocent and reborn, Deronda helps her to free herself from the societal strictures that imprison her, ultimately giving her hope for her future. Deronda then imparts to her a calling, that she may live a life of purpose. In bestowing these specific words of encouragement, Gwendolen is compelled to go forth and help others, finding renewed vigor for living with the simple goal of being useful. Gwendolen Harleth achieves George Eliot’s version of true moral redemption; she has found significance in something other than herself.