Saturday, November 12, 2016
Eliot (George) and the Jews - Post #4
Past 3 posts looked at George Eliot's relation to Jewish people and Judaism as depicted in Daniel Deronda - sympathetic and deeply interested in anti-Semitism, a perpetrator of anti-Semitic insights, or entrapped in condescension? There's a 4th aspect as well, which will be my last post on this topic at least for a while (still only about 2/3 through the novel): There are obvious hints throughout the novel that the eponymous DD may himself be Jewish - the fact that he really doesn't know his parentage, at least one of the Jewish shopkeepers he visits asks if he is "one of us," his inexplicable fascination with not only the beautiful Jewess Mirah but w/ her entire Jewish culture. In fact, at one point I thought DD might be Mirah's long-lost brother, Ezra - though that doesn't seem likely at the moment (the coincidence of that would be absurd, actually - though not out of the realm of, say, Dickens). But whether he's Jewish or not, at least one of the Jews he meets - Mordecai - has singled him out as some sort of Messiah-like figure - the one to bring the message of the Jewish people to the world. So what does it mean that Eliot has made the central figure in her novel possibly a Jew by birth or at the least a prophet adopted by the Jewish people to lead them to the Promised Land (I believe the novel will take up the issue of 19th-century Zionism)? Every character - but especially the lead characters - is some version of the consciousness of the author: so much of the author's thoughts, feelings, experiences, and studies go into the establishment and development of a character, it's impossible that the lead character does not in some many represent a version of the author herself (or himself, as the case may be) - which is one reason why there are so few successful novels in which authors write about a community or set of characters entirely alien to their experiences. For ex., I think I could never write a novel about a black community, but I have written about black characters and - whether readers have found them credible of not, I don't know - but I think they represent aspects of my own (mediated) experiences and ideas. Same - on a much grander scale - for Eliot and Daniel Deronda: inevitably, he is in part a transformation into words of Eliot's personality and experiences - she is, herself, a Jew, or can at least imagine herself as "one of us."