A History of English Literature

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Ahasuerus, as he is sometimes called, in the early ballads was a "cursed shoemaker" who churlishly refused to allow Jesus to rest on a stone when he was on his way to Golgotha, and for this was made to wander the world forever. As the Jew who lives on eternally to testify to the salvation offered to the world, he is by no means an unsympathetic figure. In later romantic literature, particularly in poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley Queen Mab , and Wordsworth "Song for the Wandering Jew ," , he finally symbolizes universal wisdom and experience.

The anonymous interlude Jacob and Esau first published in includes acting directions which state that the players "are to be considered to be Hebrews, and so should be apparalled with attire. The portrait of the Jew therefore becomes ambiguous: he is both hero and villain, angel and devil. There is more of the devil than the angel in the early portraits, but the balance varies. What is lacking is the middle, neutral ground of everyday reality, for little attempt is made to visualize the Jew in his ordinary environment. It is, however, worth noting certain speeches in The Merchant of Venice , especially Shylock's famous lines beginning, "I am a Jew.

Hath not a Jew eyes? Jews are usually referred to by writers of the Elizabethan and succeeding periods in derogatory terms, the very word Jew invariably suggesting extortioner, beggar, thief, or devil's accomplice. But the resettlement of the Jews in England after and the new undogmatic character of 17 th -century Anglicanism led to some change. Herbert was imitated a few years later by Henry Vaughan who, in an equally passionate poem of the same title, prays that he "might live to see the Olive bear her proper branches.

Milton's Samson Agonistes presents a picture which is in part that of the heroic Jew of the Bible, in part a self-portrait of the poet himself. This marks a new phenomenon: the subjective projection of the author into the portrait of the Jew, and it was not to be repeated until much later, by such 19 th -century poets as Byron and Coleridge, and by James Joyce in the figure of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses In 18 th -century drama the Jew continued to be portrayed as either utterly evil and depraved or else completely virtuous. The hero of an anonymous play, The Israelites , is a Mr.

Israel, who practices all the virtues that the Christians only profess.

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In fiction there was a similar tendency to extremes. The vicious and criminal Jew painted by Daniel Defoe in Roxana is balanced in Tobias Smollett's novel The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom , where the benevolent Joshuah Manasseh insists on lending the hero money without interest. Yet Smollett himself had a few years earlier in The Adventures of Roderick Random , drawn a no less exaggerated portrait of the Jewish usurer in Isaac Rapine, whose name suggests his character.

The same duality in the portrait of the Jew is noticeable in the 19 th century. Maria Edgeworth , having produced a gallery of rascally Jews in her early Moral Tales , compensated for those in Harrington , a novel largely devoted to the rehabilitation of the Jews, whom she represents as noble, generous, and worthy of respect and affection.


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All this was part of the new liberal attitude generated by the French Revolution and the spread of the belief in human equality and perfectibility. To entertain anti-Jewish prejudices was to subscribe to outmoded social and ethical forms. Thus, "Imperfect Sympathies," one of the Essays of Elia —33 by Charles Lamb , expresses mild reservations about "Jews Christianizing, Christians Judaizing," Lamb having little time for Jewish conversion or assimilation. The novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott introduces Isaac of York, the medieval usurer who, though described as "mean and unamiable," is in fact radically humanized in line with the new conceptions.

He has become grey rather than black, and his daughter Rebecca is entirely white, good, and beautiful. Scott has come a long way from the earlier stereotypes, and the Jews, far from being murderers, preach peace and respect for human life to the murderous Christian knights. In later 19 th -century English novels there are many Jewish portraits. William Makepeace Thackeray always pictures his Jews as given to deceit and as suitable objects for social satire. In his Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo … , which includes the record of a visit to the Holy Land , Thackeray indulges in a rather more emphatic strain of antisemitism.

Kingsley's bad Jews are to be found in Alton Locke , and his good Jew in Hypatia , while Dickens introduces Fagin, the corrupter of youth and receiver of stolen goods, in Oliver Twist —38 , and Mr. Riah, the benefactor of society and ally of the innocent, in Our Mutual Friend — Charles Reade has as the central character of his novel It is Never too Late to Mend a Jew, Isaac Levi, who initially more sinned against than sinning, ends by taking a terrible revenge on his rascally foe. He used a Hebrew title for Targum , a collection of translations, and in his most famous work, The Bible in Spain , recorded his encounter with the alleged leader of Spain's surviving Marranos and included his own verse translation of Adon Olam.

This shows the Jews not merely as worthy of sympathy, but as having within them a spiritual energy through which mankind may one day be saved and made whole.

A Brief History of English Literature

The 19 th -century belief in race and nationality as a source of vital inspiration has here combined with a certain moral idealism to produce a remarkable vision of the Jewish renaissance, in some measure prophetic of what was to come after the rise of Herzlian Zionism. In Tancred and his biography of Lord George Bentinck he maintained his belief that the Jews were "the aristocrats of mankind. Svengali, the evil Jew in his novel Trilby , is the eternal alien, mysterious and sinister, a sorcerer whose occult powers give the novel the character of a Gothic thriller.

Svengali belongs, of course, to an "inferior race," and his exploits are ultimately designed to corrupt the "pure white race" personified in the novel's heroine, Trilby. Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine also showed unstinted sympathy and admiration for the Jew in his novel of Jewish life in Morocco, The Scapegoat , although his account is not without some inner contradictions. The poets Wordsworth and Byron were drawn to the romantic glamour of the Jewish past, the former in a touching descriptive lyric, "A Jewish Family" , the latter in the more famous Hebrew Melodies.

Like Blake, Shelley was repelled by the Old Testament's stress on the Law and the Commandments — his instinct being toward free love and anarchism — but was drawn to the figure of the Wandering Jew. Samuel Taylor Coleridge , too, in his "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in Lyrical Ballads , shows an interest in the same theme evidently derived from his reading of M.

Lewis' gruesome novel The Monk English poets of the 20 th century have shown less interest in Jews. Chesterton , and Graham Greene , there is a similar rendering of the dark image of the Jew. Belloc, an anti-capitalist, held that the Jews and Protestants were the arch-enemies of civilization and evolved a belief in a "Jewish conspiracy" The Jews , Greene revived the medieval connection between Judas and the Devil in A Gun for Sale and Orient Express , and in Brighton Rock , where the Jewish gang-leader Colleoni — one of the most sinister villains in English literature — leads the hero, Pinkie, to damnation.

Frankly antisemitic portraits can also be found in the writings of D.

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Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis. A more mild and benevolent portraiture emerges from the biblical dramas of James Bridie, Laurence Housman, and Christopher Fry. An important development in the 20 th century was the attempt to abandon the old stereotype and depict Jews in natural, human terms.

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John Galsworthy took the lead in his novels and more particularly in his play Loyalties Here the Jew, Ferdinand de Levis, is the victim of a robbery at a country-house party. The other guests band together to defend the thief because he is one of them, whereas the Jew is an alien. Galsworthy has carefully purged his imagination of the kind of emotional attitudes that determined the reaction of Shakespeare and his audience to the basically similar situation in The Merchant of Venice , and the result is an objective study in social psychology.

A similarly unemotional approach is to be found in James Joyce 's Ulysses , where the central character, Leopold Bloom, is neither exactly hero nor anti-hero but something in between.

History of English Literature and How to Remember It

Less flamboyant Jewish characters appear in novels by E. Forster, The Longest Journey ; and C. The latter's The Conscience of the Rich is devoted to the affairs of a Jewish family who differ from the English upper class around them only in an extra touch of gregariousness and more tenacious adherence to tradition.

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Ever since medieval times English writers have recorded impressions of their visits to the Holy Land or written imaginative works based on Jewish historical themes. One of the earliest books of this kind was the Voiage —71 of the 14 th -century Anglo-French traveler Sir John Mandeville. Palestine and Syria — by Marmaduke William Pickthall. Britain's Mandate in Palestine, which led to a political confrontation with the yishuv , and the State of Israel found wide reflection in English fiction, generally of inferior merit. Chesterton , an antisemite who condoned massacres of Jews during the First Crusade as "a form of democratic violence," was nevertheless attracted to the Zionist ideal of emancipation through physical toil, recording his impressions of a visit to the Holy Land in The New Jerusalem Crozier's The Letters of Pontius Pilate Some writers were intensely pro-Zionist, others violently hostile and pro-Arab.

Before the Expulsion of , the Jews of England were culturally an integral part of medieval French Jewry, speaking Norman French , and conducting their business affairs in Hebrew or Latin and their literary activities almost exclusively in Hebrew. Berechiah's "Fox Fables" compiled from a variety of Jewish, Oriental, and other medieval sources, were both popular and influential, partly determining the shape of later medieval bestiaries. Their influence may also be seen in the Latin Gesta Romanorum , first compiled in England c. An important literary figure of the Elizabethan period, John Florio ?

It was not until nearly a hundred years after the readmission of the Jews in that they began to play any significant part in English literary affairs. His ballad-opera, The Double Disappointment , was the first work written for the theater by an English Jew. He also wrote The Battiad , a satire, in collaboration with Dr.

Jael Mendes Pye d. Many of the Anglo-Jewish writers of the 18 th and 19 th centuries were either remote from Jewish life or actually abandoned Judaism. From the early 19 th century onward, many Anglo-Jewish writers devoted a large part of their talent to Jewish themes. Several of these committed authors were women. The sisters Celia Moss Levetus — and Marion Moss Hartog — , who ran a private school for 40 years, together published a collection of poems, Early Efforts 1 , 2 ; a three-volume Romance of Jewish History ; Tales of Jewish History ; and a short-lived Jewish Sabbath Journal Two other women writers were Alice Lucas — and Nina Davis Salaman — , both of whom wrote poetry; Nina Salaman also translated medieval Hebrew verse.


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Novels on Jewish themes proliferated from the latter half of the 19 th century. Although Zangwill wrote many books on non-Jewish themes, he is best remembered for his "ghetto" stories — Children of the Ghetto , Ghetto Tragedies , The King of Schnorrers , and Dreamers of the Ghetto Their books had little impact outside the Jewish community, but their common central theme — mixed marriage — became increasingly popular.

This was the case with the novelist G. Other Jewish writers included S. A number of Jewish writers also became eminent as literary scholars and critics. Cohen d. In the mid th century a new dimension was given to the problem of Jewish existence both by the European Holocaust and its aftermath and by the birth and consolidation of the State of Israel. These momentous events, shattering old illusions, in time created a new sense of tragedy and peril, in which the Jew became the focus of a universal situation.

This feeling can be detected in several Anglo-Jewish writers, although none of them was as significant as such U.

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