top of page
< Back

George Eliot: Her Jewish Associations - A Centenary Tribute

Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">George Eliot: Her Jewish Associations? A Centenary Tribute* BETH-ZION LASK ABRAHAMS From antiquity Jews have figured in the writings of the peoples among whom they have lived?and, as we know to our cost, references in the main have been of a nature which we Jews have found objectionable. In regard to English literature we have only to remember Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Dickens, to name but these great writers, to appreciate all the more those writers who have treated Jews and the Jewish theme with understanding in an effort to undo the harm and hate of ages. The foremost among these has been George Eliot, whose great work Daniel Der onda was published just one hundred years ago. At the time of its publication George Eliot was one of the foremost English novelists of the day?and this, her last novel, caused immediate controversy. It came as a shock to most of her readers that she should have abandoned the English provincial life and background on which her popularity and reputation as a novelist were founded, though Romola, her story of fifteenth century Florence, had appeared 13 years earlier, in 1863. Yet Daniel Deronda, her only novel of contem? porary life, had as one of its main themes, Jews, Judaism, and thejewish destiny. But one must ask: How did it come about that George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda? Was there any? thing in her previous writings to indicate more than a passing superficial interest in Jews, and in their resur? rection as a viable nation in their ancient homeland once again? For the story is distinctly divided into two parts?that of the development of Gwendolen Har leth from a vain young girl shaped by experience into a serious responsible woman, and the Jewish part foretelling almost prophetically political Zionism and the re-establishment of Israel as a State once more? with Daniel Deronda as the link connecting the two parts. To trace George Eliot's passage from the active dislike of Jews so evident in her early letters to the keenest interest and understanding, it is necessary to begin with her birth. She was born on 22 November 1819 in Warwickshire and named Mary Anne. Her father, Robert Evans, had by his ability raised himself from a carpenter-builder to land agent of the local squire. He was part Welsh, while her mother was English of yeoman stock. She was born before the * Paper delivered to the Society on 17 November 1976. time of the Industrial Revolution, before railways brought towns and villages closer, when England was still largely rural. This was the background from which she drew the scenes of her early tales?and on which her popularity as a writer was based. Her upbringing was that of her class?set on Church and Constitution. In her early teens she came under the influence of a keenly evangelical teacher, and read avidly works Biblical and theological. It is of interest that on her first visit to London, in August 1838, she refused to go with her brother Isaac to the theatre, but stayed in her hotel room reading Josephus's History of the Jews. She planned to draw up a chart of ecclesiasti? cal history. And in an early letter, when faith was strong, she wrote to her teacher of her determination no longer to indulge in oratorios, of which she was fond, for she regarded it as 'little less than blasphemy that the words, 'Now then we are ambassadors for Christ,' to be on the lips of such a man as Braham?and he, a Jew, too!' But, alas, this very serious evangelical young lady was soon to lose her faith, when, on removing to Coventry, she came under the influence of new friends who were free-thinkers. She gave up attending church. Attempts were made by the family and her father in particular to get her to return to the fold? and when the argument was used of the condition of the Jewish people in exile as confirmation of Biblical prophecy, she retorted: 'Don't talk to me of thejews! To think that they were deluded into expectations of a temporal deliverer, and then punished because they couldn't understand that it was a spiritual deliverer that was intended!' She had much to say in her letters of Benjamin Disraeli, then better known as a writer of romances than as a politician: 'Disraeli is unquestionably an able man,' she writes in 1848,'. . . As to his theory of races, it has not a leg to stand on, and can only be buoyed up by such windy eloquence as?You chubby-faced, squabby-nosed Europeans owe your commerce, your arts, your religion, to the Hebrews,?nay the Hebrews lead your armies: in proof of which he can tell us that Massena, a second-rate general of Napo? leon's was a Jew whose real name is Manasseh.' And she adds the words which have been so often quoted: 'The fellowship of race, to which DTsraeli so exult 53</page><page sequence="2">54 Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams ingly refers ... is ... an inferior impulse . . . that I wonder even he, Jew as he is, dares to boast of it. My gentile nature kicks most resolutely against any assumption of superiority in the Jews, and is almost ready to echo Voltaire's vituperation. I bow to the supremacy of Hebrew poetry, but much of their early mythology and almost all their history is utterly revolting. Their stock has produced a Moses and a Jesus: but Moses was impregnated with Egyptian phi? losophy, and Jesus is venerated and adored by us only for that wherein He transcended or resisted Judaism . . . Everything specifically Jewish is of a low grade.' There can be no doubt of the antipathy so clearly expressed. It is doubtful if at this period Mary Anne Evans had come into contact with any Jewish person; and one wonders, when after her father's death she spent some months in Switzerland, if she knew that the kind hearted Mrs. Nagle Lock she met in her hotel, who gave her motherly advice about improving her per? sonal appearance, was of Jewish descent. She remarks in a letter that Mrs. Lock was of the same family as Sir Francis Head, the well-known traveller and writer, but did not add that he was the grandson of Moses Mendez, the first Anglo-Jewish poet and dramatist. In his turn, the last-named was grandson of Dr. Moses Mendez, physician to Charles II's Portuguese Queen, whom he had accompanied to England when she came as a bride. Mrs. Lock spoke sadly of her daughter married so unhappily to a French nobleman. It was on her return to England that George Eliot's career as a writer began when through her Coventry friends she became acquainted with John Chapman, owner of the Westminster Review, an advanced journal of the period, and became his editorial assistant. She thus was soon part of the London literary world, and it was then that she got to know George Henry Lewes, a versatile writer, critic, dramatist, would-be actor, who was to change the course of her life?and become its dominating influence. This is not the place to dwell on their union except to state that owing to the then prevailing laws Lewes could not divorce his wife, despite her adultery. George Eliot regarded their union, which incidentally lasted 25 years, as a moral marriage and always referred to Lewes as her husband. There can be no doubt that as a result of this union and the influence he exerted came the emergence and flowering of George Eliot the novelist. In particular, from the Jewish angle, it was of para? mount importance, for from the 35-year-old spinster already known for her literary ability and her philo? sophical bent developed the writer known by the pen-name of George Eliot. From the day in 1854 when they made public their union by going together to Germany, her knowledge of Jews and Judaism broadened. In Berlin, where the atmosphere was heavy with Teutonic learning?which she favoured rather than the lighter French style?they mixed in a circle where Jews were prominent. Lewes renewed old friendships, for this was not his first visit to Berlin. He met again Varnhagen von Ense, widower of Rahel, famed for her salon and the part she played in the early years of the German literary revival. They met the Jewish novelist Fanny Lewald; the leading actor Leo? pold Dessoir, born Dessauer, who invited them to see him act in Lessing's Nathan der Weise. This play made a profound impression and deflected her mind from former mental attitudes to new acceptances. 'Our hearts swelled and tears came into our eyes,' she relates, 'as we listened to the noble words of dear Lessing whose great spirit lives immortally in this crowning work of his.' '. . . this play,' she wrote in a letter at the same time, 'is a sort of dramatic apologue the moral of which is religious tolerance. It thrilled me to think that Lessing dared nearly a hundred years ago to write the grand sentiments and profound thoughts which this play contains . . .' Edward Magnus, the portrait painter, was another new friend. She describes him as an acute, intelligent, kind-hearted man, with real talent. 'He was the only German we met with who seemed conscious of his countrymen's deficiencies The eight months spent in Germany were happy and busy, and towards the end of their stay they went to Frankfort. Inevitably the Judengasse drew them. So impressed was George Eliot by this ancient Jewish quarter that 20 years later she made the synagogue there the setting for Daniel Deronda's dramatic encounter with Joseph Kalonymus, which marked the beginning of the former's discovery of his Jewish birth and his identification with Jewry. With their return to London in 1855 came the realities of everyday life. George Eliot resumed her Westminster Review editorial work, and one of her essays is on Heinrich Heine, whose poetry and prose she greatly admired, but she had little understanding of his essential Jewishness. In 'German Wit?Heinrich Heine,' published 1856, occurs the paragraph, after? wards omitted in the 1884 edition of her essays: 'The history and literature of the ancient Hebrews gives the idea of a people who went about their business and their pleasure as gravely as a society of beavers; the smile and the laugh are often mentioned metaphori? cally, but the smile is one of complacency, the laugh is one of scorn . . .' But, surprisingly, in view of her habitually careful array of facts, in the course of the same essay she refers</page><page sequence="3">George Eliot: Her Jewish Associations?A Centenary Tribute 55 to Heine as a German born. 'True,' she writes, 'this bright German wit is half a Hebrew; but he and his ancestors spent their youth in German air.' Again, later, 'He seems to have been very happy in his mother, who was not of Hebrew but Teutonic blood Despite this error of fact, in another essay she refers to 'an admirable Hebrew myth arisen since the Chris? tian era re Abraham and God's rebuke?the tolerance it breathes is unknown to the Books of the Law.' And of a tale, 'Adonijah, a tale of the Jewish Dispersion,' in the essay Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, in the West? minster Review (1856), she deals with easy conversion in the method 'approved by the Society for Promot? ing the Conversion of the Jews'. No doubt she knew of this society from her evangelical days, and else? where, earlier, she refers to it in a letter when, having no special news, she writes, '. . . I have nothing better than that the Society for the Conversion of the Jews' has converted one Jew during the last year and has spent ?4400.' In September 1856, as noted by her, a new era opened for her?her life as a writer of novels began. Encouraged by Lewes, who recognised her literary talent in her essays, she began 'Scenes of Clerical Life'?and it is without doubt due to his keen percep? tion, his encouragement, and the way he acted as her agent in the business side of publishing, thus shielding her sensitivity, that she became, almost overnight, the leading novelist of her day. The scenes and back? ground of her first stories recalled the early decades of the century; and the rural setting of the pre-industrial days appealed to nostalgic memories. From this time on she used the pen-name George Eliot. Success came, bringing not only financial ease but also respectability to the two hard-working writers? they were socially received and their company courted. In 1858 they were again in Germany. There is a mystifying note in Anne Freemantle's biography of George Eliot which states that while in Munich she received a visit from a Moldavian Jew 'who was possessed of the idea of national redemption'. This incident, she suggests might have been the germ which later grew into the story of Daniel Deronda. Who could this Moldavian Jew have been? And how came it that he approached George Eliot, who at this time was at the beginning of her fame? It is an intrigu? ing but unanswered query. It is but fair to add that the idea of the national redemption of Israel was not new. There had been during the century English and French works, mainly religious, advocating the return of the Jews to the Holy Land. A year later, in July 1859, George Eliot's short story 'The Lifted Veil' appeared in Blackwood''s Magazine. It is the tale of a gifted young man, Larimer, who suffers from pre-vision and foresees future evils which he does not try to avoid or avert. Part of the story is based on the Prague visit of 1858 recorded in her journal, in which she writes that after breakfast one morning she and Lewes wandered about 'that wonderful old city . . . The most interesting things we saw were the Jewish burial ground (the Alter Friedhof) and the old Synagogue. We saw a lovely dark-eyed Jewish child here, which we were glad to kiss in all its dirt. Then came the sombre old synagogue, with its smoky groin, and lamp forever burning. An intelligent Jew was our cicerone and read us some Hebrew out of the precious old books of the Law/ This visit made an indelible impression, for George Eliot used this very extract from her journal in 'The Lifted Veil'. The place was also the scene of the escape from her rascally father of Mirah, thejewish heroine in Daniel Deronda. Four years later, in Romola, her Florentine book, we find the next Jewish references. The heavy style of the story, packed with historical detail which must have been the result of many hours of research, does not make easy reading for our time and is generally regarded as the least appealing of her novels. T began it as a young woman?I finished it as an old one,' she herself declared. For us, however, it has interest for its Jewish refer? ences, as when Bratti, the boatman, addresses his pas? senger as he lands: 'Ah! young man! You're not a Hebrew, eh??come from Spain or Naples, eh? Let me tell you that Frati Minori are trying to make Florence as hot as Spain for those dogs of hell that want to get all the profits of usury to themselves and leave none for Christians; and when you walk in the Calimara with a piece of yellow cloth in your cap, it will spoil your beauty more than a sword-cut across that smooth olive cheek of yours . . .'?stressing here the compulsory wearing of yellow material by Jews. Towards the end of the tale, Romola, escaping the plague, comes across some dead bodies. She hears a baby crying and, lifting the babe in her arms, 'bent to look at the bodies to see if they were really dead. The strongly marked type of race in their features and their peculiar garb made her conjecture that they were Spanish or Portuguese Jews, who had perhaps been put ashore and abandoned there by rapacious sailors, to whom their property remains as a prey. Such things were happening continually to Jews compelled to abandon their homes by the Inquisition; the cruelty of greed thrust them from the sea, and the cruelty of superstition thrust them back to it.' From references to Jews and the Inquisition it is clear that in her thorough way George Eliot had been</page><page sequence="4">56 Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams studying Jewish post-Biblical history. Her knowledge of German had helped her in this by giving her access to the publications of the German-Jewish scholars active at that time. She names in her journal several books on the history of the Jews in Spain. In illustration of these studies there is the publica? tion of The Spanish Gypsy one year later. It is a verse-drama of the struggle of Spanish gypsies to recover their independence and freedom, and love and the pull of opposing duty are interwoven on the model of classic plays. But George Eliot was no poet. She was under the illusion that poetry could be con? structed metre on a mathematical basis, and did, in fact, study Professor James Joseph Sylvester's Laws of Verse, to the horror of Tennyson, when she informed him of this. She followed Sylvester's career through the years and has several references to him in her letters. The Spanish Gypsy is a drama in which is expressed, according to her, . . . the sorrow unredeemed Of races outcast, scorned and wandering. These words surely have a familiar ring about them, and it is not surprising to learn that at first George Eliot had intended Jews to be the subject of the drama. However, despite the central theme of the gypsies, there are several Jewish allusions. The theme is that of the return of gypsies conquered by Granada to their homeland in North Africa, under the leadership of Zarca and his daughter Fedelma. She, because of in? herited memory and the tradition which shapes one's destiny, gives up love and marriage in order to help lead her people to revolt?and thus back to their national homeland. In the opening pages, Mine Host, who at the age of 10 was forcibly converted to Christianity at the same time as his father, speaks of this terrible period of Spanish-Jewish history, when he had To doff the awe he learned as Ephraim, And suit his manners to a Christian name. The extent of George Eliot's Jewish studies may be gauged by her frequent references, as when Sephardo the Jew answers the query of Don Silva, the Governor of Badamer, . . . Kings of Spain Like me have found their refuge in a Jew, And trusted in his counsel. You will help me? Sephardo answers: Yes, my lord, I will help you. Israel Is to the nations as the body's heart: Thus writes our Jehuda. I will act So that no man may ever say through me 'Your Israel is nought,' and make my deeds The mud they fling upon my brethren. I am a Jew, and not that infamous life That takes on bastardy and will know no father. Here he refers to the Marranos and forcibly con /erted Spanish Jews. Later, after various other Jewish references, comes Sephardo's proud My people's livery, whose yellow badge Marks them for Christian scorn. I will not say Man is first man to me, then Jew or Gentile: That suits the rich marranos; but to me My father is first father and then man . . . 'Tis true at least I am no Catholic But Salomo Sephardo, a born Jew . . . Willing to serve Don Silva. In the note at the end of the drama George Eliot appends an explanation of the word Marrano: 'The lofty derivation from the word Maran-atha the Lord cometh seems hardly called for, seeing that marrano is Spanish for pig. The "old Christians" learned to use the word as a term of contempt for the "new Chris? tians", or converted Jews and their descendants . . .' The theme of a race returning to its ancient home? land after ages of wandering was to be enlarged years later in Daniel Deronda. While dwelling on The Spanish Gypsy, George Eliot's most ambitious venture in verse, I should like to interpose the scarcely known verses The Death of Moses, which reveal not only the extent of her studies but no less her sympathetic understanding of Jewish and Rabbinical tradition: this poem is based on the well-known medrash on the death of Israel's greatest leader, who had spoken to God face to face. The time has come for Moses to die and the angels, the Divine messengers, are sent to take his soul, but return with their task undone, abashed at the enormity of taking the soul from so great a man. Even the Angel of Death could not bring himself to fulfil this task. So to God Himself fell the duty. I quote in part: . . . Moses, pausing, in the air serene Heard now that mystic whisper, far yet near, The all-penetrating Voice, that said to him, 'Moses, the hour is come and thou must die.' 'Lord, I obey; but thou rememberest How thou, Ineffable, didst take me once Within thy orb of light untouched by death.' Then the voice answered, 'Be no more afraid: With me shall be thy death and burial.' So Moses waited, ready now to die.</page><page sequence="5">George Eliot: Her Jewish Associations?A Centenary Tribute 57 And the Lord came, invisible as a thought . . . And the Voice said to Moses: 'Close thine eyes.' He closed them. 'Lay thine hand upon thine heart, And draw thy feet together.' He obeyed. And the Lord said, 'O spirit! child of mine! A hundred years and twenty thou hast dwelt Within this tabernacle wrought of clay. This is the end: come forth and flee to heaven' . . . Yet hesitating, fluttering like the bird With young wing weak and dubious, the soul Stayed. But behold! upon the death-dewed hps A kiss descended, pure, unspeakable? The bodiless Love without embracing Love That lingered in the body, drew it forth With heavenly strength and carried it to heaven . . . And from the westward sea was heard a wail, A dirge as from the isles of Javanim, Crying, 'Who now is left upon the earth Like him to teach the right and smite the wrong?' And from the East, far o'er the Syrian waste, Came slowlier, sadlier, the answering dirge: 'No prophet like him lives or shall arise In Israel or the world for evermore.' But Israel waited, looking toward the mount, Till with the deepening eve the elders came Saying, 'His burial is hid with God. We stood far off and saw the angels lift His corpse aloft until they seemed a star That burnt itself away within the sky.' The people answered with mute orphaned gaze Looking for what had vanished evermore. Then through the gloom without them and within The spirit's shaping light, mysterious speech, Invisible Will wrought clear in sculptured sound, The thought-begotten daughter of the voice, Thrilled on their listening sense: 'He has no tomb. He dwells not with you dead, but lives as Law.' This poem I count as a great Jewish poem which no born Jew could have bettered. However, I cannot omit to refer to certain expres? sions in Middlemarch (1872) which gave offence to Jews, though it is only fair to point out that these were terms in reported speech. They concern Will Ladis law, who eventually marries Dorothea Brooks, the central character of what is generally regarded as George Eliot's greatest novel. Ladislaw is referred to as the 'grandson of a thieving Jew pawnbroker'; and also, of his origin, as having 'any cursed alien blood, Jew, Corsican or gypsy'; even the insulting, unfinished phrase:'. . . a rebellious Polish fiddler?an old clo'?.' This is offset by Dorothea's idea of a delightful mar riage, which is 'that where your husband was a sort of father and could teach you even Hebrew if you wished it'. It is the raffish Will who in the course of the story changes Dorothea's inexperienced idealistic attitude to life and marriage. Now widely recognised, George Eliot and Lewes had their Sunday afternoon gatherings, where eminent people came, among them leading members of the Jewish community. They were to be seen everywhere?at theatres, concerts?and, always fond of music, they were often at the Benzons' musical evenings, where many German Jews forgathered, in? cluding the Lehmanns, Felix Moscheles and his mother, and Henschel. (The bookplate of Ernest Leo? pold Schlesinger Benzon, to give him his full name, is to be found in the Society's volume Anglo-Jewish Notabilities. He was a steel magnate and the father of Ernst Benzon, known as the Jubilee Plunger, who wrote a book, How I Lost ?250,000 in Two Years, which was an unedifying account of losses by gam? bling.) It was at the Benzons' that the Leweses first met Emanuel Oscar Menachem Deutsch, the great Hebrew and Oriental scholar best remembered for his remarkable essay 'The Talmud,' in The Quarterly Review for October 1867, which was reprinted six times, unprecedented for any learned journal.1 A close friendship developed between the scholar and the novelist and he gave her weekly lessons in Hebrew, of which she already had a rudimentary knowledge, as well as advising her on Jewish matters and what books to study to further her knowledge. At the same time connected with this friendship was Lady Strangford, who, after Deutsch's early death in 1873, consulted George Eliot when writing the biographical introduc? tion to his Literary Remains. Soon the two were on intimate terms, and when George Eliot planned the writing of Daniel Deronda she consulted Lady Strang? ford, who had toured the Middle East and spent some time in Jerusalem in 1858. There she became friendly with Elizabeth Ann Finn, wife of James Finn, H.B.M. Consul at Jerusalem, and daughter of Alexander McCaul, the missionary to the Jews?all of whom have their place in Jewish history both English and general. George Eliot applied to Lady Strangford for par? ticulars of Jewish life in the Holy Land, and received this reply, dated 23 April 1874, which clearly shows the influence of Mrs. Finn and was later used in Daniel Deronda: 'Nothing had been done before 1863,' wrote Lady Strangford, 'because the Rabbis inculcated the doc? trine that all Jews who return to Palestine are saints, and that "they and their descendants should be entirely</page><page sequence="6">58 Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams supported by the alms of the faithful elsewhere." They teach that it is irreligious of a Jew in Jerusalem to work . . ., because then the faithful would be slower of sending the money for their support through the hands of the Rabbis.' From another of Lady Strangford's letters it appears that in order to gain local colour George Eliot con? templated a journey to the Middle East, but in the event this did not materialise. The story Daniel Deronda, begun in 1874, took two years to write. It has long been a puzzle how the name Deronda originated, for George Eliot was known to be fond of using historically known names, and there are many such in the story. Recently I came across a late seventeenth-century religious work and was struck by the author's name, David Derodon?D-e-r o-d-o-n. Could this be the origin of Deronda? It is very close. Be this as it may, the tale, as stated earlier, had a mixed reception?enthusiastic on the part of Jews, puzzlement and disappointment mostly from her Christian readers. It is divided into two interests: the growth in moral stature of Gwendolen Harleth and the Jewish theme dominated by the discovery of Daniel Deronda's Jewish birth and the return of Jews to the Land of Israel and what is called their polity, meaning in today's terms political independence. This is elaborated in chapter 42 in the speech of Mordecai at the Hand and Banner Club, at which different types of Jews are present, each giving varying views on matters Jewish. The club scene is an elaboration of an account given by George Henry Lewes in The Fortnightly Review, 1866, of the Philosophers' Club, where various arti? sans discuss philosophy and Spinoza, chief among them being a Jewish watchmaker, Cohn by name. From here the similarity departs. Mordecai in his impassioned speech voices the longing for the Return which has lived in Jewish hearts since the beginning of the Dispersion?and which prophetically voiced what Political Zionism was to echo decades later. His speech, ending with 'The vision is there: it will be fulfilled', gave emphasis to the still living faith of the sons of Israel. Even though Mordecai, like Emanuel Deutsch, died before reaching the Holy Land, he knew that the message and the work would be carried on by Daniel Deronda. Among Jews and in the Jewish press the question arose: how was it that a non-Jewish person knew so much about Jewish matters and could write of these with such understanding? Some said that Lewes was of Jewish birth and that George Eliot wrote the story to please him. Others, that she herself was of Jewish descent, as her aquiline profile indicated?this and suchlike was widely assumed, Anne Freemantle, who, in her biography already referred to, was impressed by the manifest sympathy displayed in her later writings, says: 'Gradually Judaism took an ever greater hold on her imagination, until, although she never outwardly adhered to thejewish faith, she may be said to have accepted its ethics and ideals.' George Eliot herself was emphatic, declaring in a letter, 'I was brought up in the Church of England and have never joined any other religious society.' After her first and early declared dislike of Jews, it is clear that Daniel Deronda resulted from later interest in Jewish history and in Judaism coloured by her early evangelicalism and Bible knowledge, strengthened by her broadening sympathy after she became acquainted with the cultured and scholarly Jewish circles in Ger? many, and followed by the cosmopolitan musical and artistic Jewish groups in London. And in particular by the encouragement and help she received from Emanuel Deutsch. By reason of his great Jewish schol? arship and learning he was able to direct her studies, and when he died she perpetuated their affectionate friendship and regard by modelling Mordecai in Daniel Deronda on him, as was recognised by many friends. Parallels have been sought also for other characters in the story. There was Klesmer, the temperamental musician, who was based on Anton Rubenstein, the pianist, who had been introduced to the Leweses by Liszt in the days of their first Berlin visit. Mirah, the somewhat colourless Jewish heroine, whom Deronda chose as his bride in contrast to the vital Gwendolen, was said to be based on Sarah Phoebe Marks, a fre? quent visitor to the Lewes's Sunday gatherings, whom George Eliot called Marky, or Marquis. The only point of resemblance was a certain incisiveness of speech which was common to both and made her and Mirah's English sound somewhat foreign. Through the generosity of friends Sarah was enabled to study at Girton, and George Eliot was among those who con? tributed to the fund set up for her benefit.2 In the attempt to trace originals and sources, there has grown up among Jewish writers the legend that the Zionist interest in Daniel Deronda is due to Moses Hess. It will be recalled that his Rome and Jerusalem was published in 1866, and it has been stated that Lewes and Hess had been associated and were friendly when the latter was in Paris in pre-George Eliot days, and on the strength of this supposed Paris friendship came the Zionist message of Daniel Deronda. Nahum Sokolow states this in his History of Zionism and Chibbath Zion. Israel Cohen followed, as did Sir Isaiah Berlin in his lecture on Moses Hess to this Society. Even this year an Israeli writer on George Eliot's Jewish connections</page><page sequence="7">George Eliot: Her Jewish Associations?A Centenary Tribute 59 made the same statement. But this is mere wishful thinking, for there is nothing as far as I have been able to discover to verify any Lewes-Hess-Eliot connec? tion. Daniel Deronda was written because of the urge within herself that spurred George Eliot, as she herself wrote in a letter to Mrs. Beecher Stowe on 29 November 1876, after the publication of the novel, '. . . to treat Jews with such sympathy and understand? ing as my nature could attain to . . .' She adds further, 'I was happily independent of material things and felt no temptation to accommodate my writing to any standard except that of trying to do my best in what seemed to me most needful to be done . . .' Indeed, she was independent of financial considerations; she received ?7,000 on publication of Daniel Deronda, proof of her position among the leading writers of her day. Decidedly, though, the hero, Daniel Deronda, in particular, was not popular among English readers, Robert Louis Stevenson going as far as to call him 'The melancholy puppy and humbug . . . the Prince of Prigs; the literary abomination of. . . manhood', and more in like vein. Another critic called the story a kind of nightmare. And Swinburne damned it with no praise. However, her publisher, John Blackwood, of Edinburgh, declared (2 March 1876): 'The whole tribe of Israel should fall down and worship her.' But it was different in Jewry. Full extracts were published in Jewish journals here and abroad, lectures were given, letters poured in from all parts of the world. Overnight George Eliot became an oracle, a celebrity in Jewry. It was the appreciation which came so copiously from Jews which most pleased George Eliot. To Dr. Abraham Benisch, Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who as a young man in his native Bohemia had helped form an association for the return of Jews to the Holy Land, she wrote (12 December 1876): 'Nothing could have caused me to regret my work except the evidence that Jews of high character and culture felt my presentation to be unreal and unjust.' She felt, as she asserted in her letter to Mrs. Beecher Stowe, that 'towards the Hebrews Western Christians have a debt to repay.' Among those deeply stirred by Daniel Deronda was Joseph Jacobs, one of the founders and an early Presi? dent of our Society. Twenty-two years of age, he was newly over from Australia, and, brim-full of enthu? siasm, he wrote what he himself afterwards called a gushing article in defence against the attacks on Daniel Deronda, on the strength of which he was invited to one of the Lewes's Sunday gatherings. He wrote later in his Jewish Ideals (1896): 'George Eliot's influence on me counterbalanced that of Spinoza, by directing my attention, henceforth, to the historic development of Judaism. Spinoza envisaged for me thejewish ideals in their static form, George Eliot transferred my atten? tion to them in their dynamic development. Hence? forth I turned to Jewish history as the key to thejewish problem.' With what effect members of the Society will appreciate, in view of Joseph Jacobs's pioneer work for Anglo and general Jewish history. Some years later, when Turgenieff, the great Rus? sian writer, sent an impression of a Hebrew seal, she asked Jacobs to translate it for her?further proof of her limited knowledge of Hebrew. One writer had gone as far as to say that she read the Talmud in the original! James Picciotto, whose Sketches of Anglo-Jewish His? tory (1875) (which is, by the way, in the Lewes Collec? tion in Doctor Williams Library, Bloomsbury), pub? lished a favourable review in the Gentleman's Maga? zine. 'Daniel Deronda,' he wrote, 'has never breathed, and may never live, but Jews have arisen and will again rise who . . . will . . . equal him in love of race and in ardour for the national cause.' He deals with the phenomenon of the singer Alcharisi, the Princess Halm-Eberstein, the mother of Daniel himself, and her sneer at the ease with which some Jews change their family names in order to disguise their Jewish identity. This gives him the opportunity to add his own observation, and is pertinent even today: 'There is a growing tendency in this country among a certain class of the Jewish Community to adopt strange patronymics as if they were desirous of concealing their Semitic origin. It must be stated at the same time that the Israelites of Spanish and Portuguese descent are above this weakness; they have carefully preserved through generations and ages their ancient family names, and are proud of them.' Later, he suggests that Deronda himself belongs to the Sephardim, the 'blue blood' of thejewish nobility. A long essay in German by the learned Professor David Kaufmann, of the Jewish Theological Semin? ary, Budapest, pleased George Eliot very much. She sent this to her publisher, John Black wood, who had it translated and published as a separate work?George Eliot and Judaism.'. . . it is a Jewish heart alone that can feel the entire magic of a creation woven from the highest hopes ofthat nation's soul,' writes Kaufmann. In particular, George Eliot was pleased when Kauf? mann sent her a German translation of a Hebrew poem dedicated jointly to her and Lessing by Simon Bacher, the great Hungarian scholar. I am indebted to Dr. I. Gottlieb for drawing my attention to Bacher's tribute, 'The Hope of Israel', and for his translation from the original into English. The poem is dedicated 'To the highly praiseworthy Lady Eliot of London renowned for her novel Daniel Deronda, who asked</page><page sequence="8">60 Beth-Zion Lask Abrahams through her friend David Kaufmann for my Hebrew translation of Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing at the centenary of its publication': Thy tale Deronda is no ordinary story Thy heartfelt words call with urgency In the hand of a woman God revealed the future Through a Christian He revealed to Jews its hidden aspirations. Redeemer of Israel, true as the words of thy Prophets From the far-off isles thy name's praises will be told; The day will come when Christians will call, 'Go and ascend to Zion.' The nations will gather the Jews and bring them to their homeland. In place of their ancestors' hatred they will toil for their welfare. When the redeemed will ascend to Zion from all the lands The names of Lessing and Eliot will be proclaimed! The Jewish Chronicle, in reporting the death (30 June 1882) of the convert Lady Charlemont, writes: '. . . She was one of the greatest patrons of literature and the arts. Her friendship for the late George Eliot was founded on their mutual admiration for the Jews; and the Chief Rabbi Adler, who knew them both, has often been heard to say that he knew not which of the two ladies might be accounted the most fervent sup? porter of the Hebrew doctrine?George Eliot the freethinker or Lady Charlemont the convert.' Among certain Anglicised members of the Jewish community there was, however, hostility to Daniel Deronda. Mathilde Blind, born Cohen, and step? daughter of Karl Blind, an early Socialist who had fled to England after the abortive 1848 uprising in Baden, Germany, in the first biography written, in 1883, after George Eliot's death, has this to say: 'This notion that the Jews should return to Palestine in a body, and once more constitute themselves into a distinct nation, is curiously repugnant to modern feelings. As repugnant as that other doctrine, which is also implied in the book, that Jewish separateness should be still further insured by strictly adhering to their own race in mar? riage Amy Levy, poet and novelist, writing in the Jewish Chronicle (June 1886), declares, 'In Daniel Deronda a sincere and respectful attempt was made to portray the features of modern Judaism, But which of us will not acknowledge with a sigh, that the noble spirit which conceived Mirah, Daniel and Mordecai, was more royal than the king. It was, alas! no picture of Jewish contemporary life, that of the little group of enthu? siasts, with their yearnings after the Holy Land, and dreams of a separate nation ... As a novel treating of modern Jews, Daniel Deronda cannot be said to be a success.' Three years later, in Reuben Sachs, her own story of contemporary Anglo-Jewish life, Amy Levy has this to say in a conversation between some of the charac? ters regarding the visit of a non-Jew: T wonder,' cried Rose, . . . 'what Mr. Lee-Harrison thought of it all.' T think,' said Leo, 'that he was shocked at finding us so little like the people in Daniel Deronda.' 'Did he expect,' cried Esther, 'to see our boxes in the hall, ready packed and labelled PalestineV T have always been touched,' said Leo, 'at the immense good faith with which George Eliot carried out the elaborate misconception of hers.' In Jewish Portraits, Lady Magnus, reviewing David Kaufmann's George Eliot and Judaism, which had so delighted George Eliot, declares that Daniel Deronda had 'produced a certain sense of discord', and asks 'what Jews themselves think of the story'. She suggests that 'at present. . . the majority of the Jews see the "future of Judaism" not in the form of a centralised and localised nationality, but rather in the des? tiny ... in which Israel will be greatest when she labours under every zone . . .' And ends that 'in the very circumstance of dispersion may he fulfilment'. In the United States Daniel Deronda proved a great success, edition following edition, while in California the story was adapted for the stage.3 Among those profoundly affected was the poet Emma Lazarus, who is today chiefly remembered for her noble words engraved on the Statue of Liberty gracing New York harbour, which welcomes the homeless, fleeing refu? gees from oppression to the land of liberty and free? dom. Her Jewish consciousness was roused by reading Daniel Deronda, and she dedicated her historical drama Dance to Death, 'In profound veneration and respect to the memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer, who did most amongst the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit of Jewish national? ity.' In an article in the Century magazine, February 1883, Emma boldly declares that all solutions of the Jewish problem other than a restored and independent nationhood are temporary palliatives. 'The idea for? mulated by George Eliot,' she emphasises further, 'has already sunk into the minds of many Jewish enthu? siasts, and it germinates with miraculous rapidity . . . Could the noble prophetess . . . have lived but till today to see the ever increasing necessity of adopting her inspired counsel. . . she would have been herself astonished at the flame enkindled by her seed of fire, and the practical shape which the movement projected by her in poetic vision is beginning to assume.' Emma</page><page sequence="9">George Eliot: Her Jewish Associations?A Centenary Tribute 61 Lazurus's reference here is to the mass exodus of Rus? sian and other East European Jews to America and also to the setting up of Jewish colonies in Palestine? beginning of the movement which was to cascade in our day in the State of Israel. Since the publication of Daniel Deronda pheno? menal events have happened to the Jewish people: the catastrophe of the Nazi slaughter of millions of our people, and the resurrection of the State of Israel in the ancient Land of Israel, the confirmation and the fulfil? ment of Mordecai's inspired, prophetic vision: his deep and passionate conviction so nobly uttered, 'The vision is there: it will be fulfilled.' I cannot omit to mention George Eliot's last pub? lished work (1879), The Impressions of Theophrastus Such, a series of essays. The last of these, 'The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!', is an essential part of her evaluation of and considered conclusion regarding Jews and Judaism. She chooses the title of this essay from that terrible cry of the Crusaders when attacking Jews? and which centuries after was used by the German hordes in their anti-Jewish riots. It is thought by some to be the initial letters of Hierosolyma est perdita. In one of the earlier essays, when stating that one cannot command veracity at will, she remarks, 'as an ancient Rabbi has solemnly said, "the penalty of un? truth is untruth". ' She pre-dates Jung when querying complete fusion with the people among whom they live, 'losing every remnant of a distinctive consciousness as Jews', which together with an intense feeling of separateness 'and . . . the organised memory of a national con? sciousness actually exists in the world-wide Jewish communities'. She recognises 'that the preservation of national memories is an element and a means of national greatness Echoes of specific sentiments enunciated in Daniel Deronda abound: 'Every Jew should be conscious that he is one of a multitude possessing . . . ancestors who have transmitted to them a physical and mental type strong enough in faculties, pregnant enough with peculiar promise, to constitute a new beneficent indi? viduality among the nations And, in the voice of Mordecai, stressing that the bond of human action is feeling, she insists that 'the worthy child of a people owning the triple name of Hebrew, Israelite and Jew, feels his kinship with the glories and the sorrows, the degradation, and the possible renovation of his national family'. Israel exists, a viable Jewish State, a nation among nations; and there George Eliot's name and memory are honoured, not only in the numerous streets named after her, but in the studies of her writings and per? sonality, which have grown with the passage of the years. Above all, she has a secure place in the hearts of the Jewish people, honoured indeed among the Righteous Gentiles who have helped alleviate the wrongs committed against Jewry throughout the ages. A writer in the Jewish Chronicle on the 50th anniver? sary of the publication of Daniel Deronda expressed the hope that this work of George Eliot's would still be a treasured part of Jewish literature on its 100th anniver? sary. I hope that, however inadequately expressed, in paying this centenary tribute, my words will persuade those to whom Daniel Deronda, though known by name, is still a closed book, will read it and get to know it, and thus in this way pay the regard and gratitude we Jews owe to that great and noble Englishwoman George Eliot, who wished well to Jewry and Jewry's future. NOTES 1 See my paper on Deutsch in Trans.JHSE, XXIII (1971). 2 During the First World War, 1914-18, certain of Sarah Phoebe Marks's (then Mrs. Hertha Ayrton) scientific inven? tions were used by the British. 3 George Henry Lewes, in his diary (28 April 1878), wrote: 'Schemed a scenario from Daniel Deronda. Sketched a scene and characters for stage version . . .' Nothing came of this idea.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page