“[T]o give new elements … as vivid as … long familiar types”: Heroic Jewish Men, Dangerous Egyptian Women, and Equivocal Emancipation in George Eliot’s Novels
In February 1876, in the midst of writing Daniel Deronda and sending portions of it to John Blackwood to publish in Blackwood’s Magazine, Eliot told Blackwood, who was “doubtful” about the Jewish character Mordecai, that she was trying “to give new elements” in the creation of this important character, to give readers something different in Mordecai than what author Benjamin Disraeli had given with Sidonia, the Jewish character in Coningsby (1844) (Eliot, Letters 6:223). Yet, Eliot recognized that giving new elements, using “elements not already used up—in forms as vivid as those of long familiar types,” was “the most difficult thing in art,” and she expected that “the wider public of novel-readers must feel more interest in Sidonia than in Mordecai” (223). In fact, Daniel Deronda was well received by the Jewish community (Himmelfarb 123–24), but its reception by the wider public was a real concern for Eliot during its serialization in Blackwood’s. Eliot’s anxiety is well documented in her letters and journal, and although her “husband” George Henry Lewes did what he could to protect her from the reviews, he, Eliot, and Blackwood regularly commented on the “unsympathetic” reaction to the “Jewish element” in the novel in their letters (6:294, 301, 305). Further, Eliot wrote in her journal in December 1876, after serialization ended, that she had been “made aware of much repugnance or else indifference towards the Jewish part of Deronda, and of some hostile as well as adverse reviewing” (6:314).
KeywordsJewish Community Jewish Identity Western Woman Egyptian Woman Jewish Heritage
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