Ante-Anti-Semitism: George Eliot’s Impressions of Theophrastus Such
For some time now, literary critics have addressed Daniel Deronda and the eighteenth chapter of Impressions of Theophrastus Such — ‘The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!’ — as important treatments of anti-Semitism in Victorian culture.1 But should it matter to us that George Eliot never used the term anti-Semitism? Does it make a difference to our description of these works that her attempt to identify and articulate the historical manifestations of Jew-hating came before their conceptual synthesis within a single category? The case of ‘The Modern Hep!’ suggests that the use of the now-current term ‘anti-Semitism’ is an obstacle to our interpretation of Eliot’s writing about Jews in late nineteenth-century England, oversimplifying and distorting her historical understanding of how inherited texts and habits combined to shape the national character of England, a character she thought was troubled by a history of irrational hatred.
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