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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Eliot (George) and the Jews - Post #1

Eventually, in reading Daniel Deronda, we have to face the question: Was Eliot (George, that is) anti-Semitic? I'll probably post a few times on this, but to start let's get some basic ideas down. First, I think she was incredibly brave to take on the issue of anti-Semitism and to have significant Jewish characters and a narrative line about Judaism - really unique in its time I think (Scott had a Jewish character, which Eliot mentions, but there are not many or maybe not any others in the Victorian era). Second, the eponymous Deronda is at least initially not only sympathetic to Jews and their suffering, he also becomes a heroic rescuer of the young "jewess," Mirah, who is extremely surprised that young Christian man of good breeding and some wealth we not "despise" her and in fact helps get her a place to live with some family friends. But he's more than that: through his encounter with Mirah he develops a true curiosity about and interest in the Jews in general and the Jews of London in particular. While traveling in Europe, he takes the time to visit the Jewish "gasse" (ghetto?) in Frankfort, to buy a book on Judaism, even to attend a service. Later, home in London, he ventures into the Jewish quarter - ostensibly in search of Mirah's long-estranged brother, Ezra Cohen, but it's also like a field trip for DD - he buys more books and makes anthropological observations about the Jewish culture. So, on this level, clearly, no - Eliot is not at all anti-Semitic. But there's more.

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