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'I meant everything in the book to be related to everything else,' wrote George Eliot of her last novel. Daniel Deronda opens with one of the most memorable encounters in fiction: Gwendolen Harleth, alluring yet unsettling, is poised at the roulette-table in Leubronn, observed by Daniel Deronda, a young man groomed in the finest tradition of the English upper classes, and now searching for his path in life. While Gwendolen becomes trapped in the oppressive marriage, a series of dramatic encounters draws Deronda into ever deeper sympathy with Jewish aspirations to cultural and natural identity. Remote as Gwendolen's country-house world may seem from the world of Mirah, the lost daughter, and Mordecai, the visionary, George Eliot weaves these strands of her plot intimately together, daring the readers of Adam Bede and Middlemarch to open their eyes to areas of experience wholly new to the Victorian novel.
George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans Cross) was born on November 22, 1819 at Arbury Farm, Warwickshire, England. She received an ordinary education and, upon leaving school at the age of sixteen, embarked on a program of independent study to further her intellectual growth. In 1841 she moved with her father to Coventry, where the influences of "skeptics and rationalists" swayed her from an intense religious devoutness to an eventual break with the church. The death of her father in 1849 left her with a small legacy and the freedom to pursue her literary inclinations. In 1851 she became the assistant editor of the Westminster Review, a position she held for three years. In 1854 came the fated meeting with George Henry Lewes, the gifted editor of The Leader, who was to become her adviser and companion for the next twenty-four years. Her first book, Scenes of a Clerical Life (1858), was followed by Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Middlemarch (1872). The death of Lewes, in 1878, left her stricken and lonely. On May 6, 1880, she married John Cross, a friend of long standing, and after a brief illness she died on December 22 of that year, in London.