Sometimes I think this book should have been called Gwendolyn Grandcourt, for she is the character that changes most throughout the book. She is first seen in a casino losing a precious necklace to the passion of gambling. The necklace is restored to her by the title character, and thus starts a relationship which perseveres throughout the book. Gwendolyn is an interesting person. Selfish and self-centered, she comes to value Deronda as she does no other person.
When her mother loses all her money, and the family is forced to live on the scant charity of other family members, Gwendolyn marries a rich man who promises to support her mother. The agreement is that Gwendolyn is not to invite her mother to visit while her husband is home. This is the least of his cruelties, for he has fathered several children by his mistress. When he insists that the mistress return a necklace that belongs to the family, the mistress does it in person with a letter making known her relationship to him. He knows the pain that causes Gwendolyn and forces her to wear the necklace on several occasions.
Meanwhile the noble Daniel has rescued a young woman from drowning and taken her to a respectable woman friend, who takes Mirah in to live with her family. Mirah has been searching for her brother and mother, who had become estranged from her father. Her father lives off her meager earnings on the stage, and Mirah cannot take it any longer. Mirah is a Jew, and holds to her religion in spite of societal pressures.
Daniel, who has been adopted by a wealthy family, feels himself falling in love with Mirah, but her religion prevents her from considering a relationship with a gentile. Daniel helps her to search for her brother, whom he finds. He as drawn to the brother, Mordechai, as he is to the sister. He starts studying Hebrew and Jewish law with Mordechai.
Meanwhile, Gwendolyn’s life goes from bad to worse. Her husband is sadistic and takes pleasure in isolating Gwendolyn from her friends and family. He takes particular exception to her friendship with the noble Daniel. It all comes to a head in Genoa, where Daniel has discovered his mother is alive and wants to see him. She has momentous news: she is a Jew, and therefore he, too, is Jewish. Nothing stands between him and Mirah. Except possibly Gwendolyn.
Gwendolyn’s husband insists on the two of them going out on a two-person boat, in spite of Gwendolyn’s objections that she doesn’t feel competent. He is knocked overboard and drowns. His will leaves everything but a pittance to his mistress and son, a final bit of cruelty to his lawful wife. Gwendolyn doesn’t care. She is now free to marry Daniel. Unfortunately for her, Daniel has declared his love for Mirah and asked her to marry him.
Mirah accepts, her brother dies of tuberculosis having given his blessing to them both, and they take off for an extended trip to the east.
Gwendolyn is left with a resolution to be a better woman that she has heretofore been, and the book ends.
If I had the ability, I would write a fan-fic sequel, giving Gwendolyn the happy ending she deserves, challenging her husband’s will and getting enough money to support her in living the life she deserves. She should devote her life to the cause of helping women in abusive marriages and irregular relationship gain their independence and find purpose in life other than mooning over Daniel.