Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lee Behlman

Committee Member

Patricia Matthew

Committee Member

Jim Nash


Following recent attempts in Victorian Studies to retrieve the broad critical rubric of liberalism, this essay aims to identify the substance under cultivation in the character of Gwendolen Harleth as many-sidedness. Gwendolen’s bildung has as its telos a disposition attaining to a regulative ideal of liberal agency; that is, she grows into a woman who aspires to sympathize with other vantage points. The ascesis which Eliot’s supreme egoist finally practices evidences not a being divested of her animating spirit and characterized by lack as other critics have argued, but one who has learned from Daniel to aspire to Goethe’s “lofty point of observation.” Daniel is a representation of an extreme of many-sidedness and detachment about which Eliot was ambivalent. His recognition in the novel’s penultimate chapter that “[Gwendolen] was the victim of his happiness” (DD 805) sounds like self-rebuke, and is akin to his disapprobation of Gwendolen’s gambling which revolves on the view that gaining from another’s loss is always immoral. However, this moment marks the conclusion of a relationship which has been educative for both; while Gwendolen has learned to aspire to what was for Daniel the natural result of uncertainty about his origins, Daniel is made to recognize that the Jewish identity he has claimed obviates the kind of detachment which had previously allowed him to be a man for everyone. Daniel Deronda represents both George Eliot’s negotiation of the problematic ideals of liberal agency, and her struggle to reconcile the claims of community and tradition on individuals who are called to participation in an ever-broadening world.

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