Anglo-Jewish Identity and the Politics Of Cultivation in Hazlitt, Aguilar, and Disraeli
In 1830, William Cobbett challenged his readers to “produce a Jew who ever dug, who went to the plough, or who ever made his own coat or his own shoes, or who did anything at all, except get all the money he could from the pockets of the people.”1 Cobbett repeats the old canard that Jews, as international vagabonds, have no connection to the land and thus cannot be legitimate Britons. Cobbett resented Jews for allegedly refusing to do real work, and he also feared that if unfettered, Jews would buy up and degrade the land meant for others to work. In response to the sort of worldview promoted by Cobbett (if not in direct response to him), writers more friendly to Jews and Judaism made land and cultivation central to their sense of Jewish identity in nineteenth-century Britain.2 These writers returned to the biblical notion of the Jews as cultivators of fields and vineyards, and presented Jews as adaptors of ancient traditions to contemporary Britain. Beginning with William Hazlitt’s passionate defense of Jewish emancipation in 1831 and looking at several prints of “Jewish” country houses, I chart the centrality of “the land” and ownership to the position of Jews in Britain. Such writers as Grace Aguilar and Benjamin Disraeli use narrative scenes of gardening and agriculture to negotiate the slippery terrain of British-Jewish identity in the early- to mid-nineteenth century. Paradoxically, though, the connection to the land in Aguilar leads to an affirmation of Anglo-Jewish identity, while Disraeli’s contrast between the landscapes of England and Palestine makes accommodation more difficult.
KeywordsJewish Community JEWISH Identity Country House Narrative Voice Thick Tree
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