From apology to revolt: Benjamin Farjeon, Amy Levy and the Post-emancipation Anglo-Jewish novel, 1880-1900*

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By the 1880s, with large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe, a post emancipation 'Jewish question' was being debated, calling into question the liberal verities according to which British Jews had been granted full civil and political rights in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Anglo-Jewish novel had helped to promote the liberal image of the Jew as a good British citizen in the decades leading up to emancipation. However, by the 1880s, many Anglo-Jewish novelists moved from a position of apology, to 'revolt' against Anglo-Jewry's image of itself. In this paper I want to concentrate on Benjamin Farjeon (1838-1903) and Amy Levy (1861-89), as their fiction represents the extremes of apology and 'revolt' respectively. These writers will be discussed in relation to other Anglo-Jewish novelists and in terms of Anglo-Jewry's official pronouncements on the role of the Anglo-Jewish novel.

The earliest Anglo-Jewish novels were a product of the debate surrounding the struggle for the Jewish civil and political rights in Britain from the 1830s until the 1850 s. The aim of these novels-especially those by Grace Aguilar (1816-47), Charlotte Montefiore (1818-54) and Celia and Marion Moss (1819-73 and i82i-i907)-was to portray Jews as particularly moral in character so that they could be considered 'deserving' of emancipation. A study of nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish fiction has rightly concluded that these novels were 'propaganda fiction', intended to demonstrate to the English reader that they had nothing to 'fear' from the emancipated Jew.((L. Zatlin, The Nineteenth-Century Anglo Jewish Novel (New York 1981) chap. 3.)) The novels of Grace Aguilar, for instance, have been described as being 'shaped and limited' by the 'plea for English sympathy and tolerance of Jews_' The preface to the fiction of Celia and Marion Moss similarly reflected the apologist nature of the early Anglo-Jewish novel. They aimed 'to awaken their readers' curiosity to know more of [Jewish] records; fuller of instances of fervent piety, courage, endurance and constancy under suffering than those of any other people.'((Ibid. 33-40. Celia and Marion Moss, Tales of Jewish History (London 1843) 1-3.)) And Charlotte Montefiore's novels were described by a near contemporary as 'pervaded with a moral atmosphere'. Such fiction portrayed the Jew as 'different from the Victorian Englishman only in his religion... these novelists stress[ed] the 'Englishness' of the Jew, presenting him generally as a product of the middle class, in manners if not in wealth.'((Zatlin (see n. 1) 55 and 73. See also Edward Calisch, The Jew in English Literature as Subject and as Author (Richmond 1909) 163.)) The earliest Anglo-Jewish novels were, therefore, explicitly apologetic, aiming to present Jews 'sympa? thetically' as ideal 'good citizens'-that is, as middle-class Victorian English? men. The emancipated Jew was brought to life as an 'Englishman of the Jewish persuasion' or, in the often-repeated words of the Jewish Chronicle, an 'English Jewish gentleman with his English feelings and English heart'.((S. G. Bayme, 'Jewish Leadership and Anti-Semitism in Britian, 1898-1918' (Unpub? lished PhD Thesis, Columbia University, 1977) 34 and chap. 2.)) Above all, it was the values of

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