Saturday, November 19, 2016
Is the homeland solution (in Daniel Deronda) actually anti-Semitic?
Daniel Deronda tells his friend? master? mentor? charity case? obsession? Mordecai that he has made a major discovery and has a significant announcement to make - and the reactions to this declaration are telling - telling about the course of this novel, about the Victorian age, and about Eliot (George). First reaction: Mordecai expects that DD will tell him he's learned of his parentage and that he is in fact a Jew. This, however, is not to be (yet, anyway) and has nothing to do w/ the announcement. Then, the Cohen family that has sheltered and provided for the somewhat mentally deranged Mordecai hopes and expects that DD is about to tell them that Mordecai has inherited a fortune. (Ha ha - typical of Eliot's condescending if not anti-Semitic attitudes). Then, DD tells them: he has found Mordecai's long-lost sister, Mirah. (He doesn't tell that he saved Mirah from drowning, nor that he is in love w/ Mirah.) This leads to much discussion about the future course of Mordecai's life: DD and Mrs. Meyrick - mother of his college friend, Hans, and the one who has more or less adopted Mirah into her family - take care of all the practicalities, renting a place for Mordecai not far from Meyrick household - so they've more or less taken over Mordecai's life and care. But to what end? Will Mirah now give up her music career to take care of her brother? And will Mordecai give up his dream of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine now that he can settle into a life free of financial worry? Eliot has really slowed the pace in this section of the novel, delaying the inevitable big scene of reunion of brother and sister - partly to build tension of course, but perhaps she has other twists and surprises to build into the plot. On the periphery - it's clear that both DD and his best friend, Hans, have fallen for the beautiful Mirah; these developments could lead to the dissolution of their friendship as well as to the increasing isolation and self-sacrifice of Mirah. We have to believe that Mordecai's instincts were correct as well - we still don't know anything about DD's parentage, and it would make sense if he were to learn that he's of Jewish descent - although that would also seal the fate of the novel, which at least on some level suggests that mistreatment of the Jews is an issue for all of the British, not for Jews only. (Whether emigration to Palestine is a proper solution is another matter - as the homeland idea represents not really support for the English Jews but the complete rejection of the Jewish culture, as with the idea, espoused by Lincoln himself, of sending freed slaves to a homeland in Africa.)