From antiquity Jews have figured in the writings of the peoples among whom they have lived?and, as we know to our cost, references in the main have been of a nature which we Jews have found objectionable. In regard to English literature we have only to remember Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Dickens, to name but these great writers, to appreciate all the more those writers who have treated Jews and the Jewish theme with understanding in an effort to undo the harm and hate of ages. The foremost among these has been George Eliot, whose great work Daniel Der onda was published just one hundred years ago.
At the time of its publication George Eliot was one of the foremost English novelists of the day?and this, her last novel, caused immediate controversy. It came as a shock to most of her readers that she should have abandoned the English provincial life and background on which her popularity and reputation as a novelist were founded, though Romola, her story of fifteenth century Florence, had appeared 13 years earlier, in 1863. Yet Daniel Deronda, her only novel of contem? porary life, had as one of its main themes, Jews, Judaism, and thejewish destiny.
But one must ask: How did it come about that George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda? Was there any? thing in her previous writings to indicate more than a passing superficial interest in Jews, and in their resur? rection as a viable nation in their ancient homeland once again? For the story is distinctly divided into two parts?that of the development of Gwendolen Har leth from a vain young girl shaped by experience into a serious responsible woman, and the Jewish part foretelling almost prophetically political Zionism and the re-establishment of Israel as a State once more? with Daniel Deronda as the link connecting the two parts.
To trace George Eliot's passage from the active dislike of Jews so evident in her early letters to the keenest interest and understanding, it is necessary to begin with her birth. She was born on 22 November 1819 in Warwickshire and named Mary Anne. Her father, Robert Evans, had by his ability raised himself from a carpenter-builder to land agent of the local squire. He was part Welsh, while her mother was English of yeoman stock. She was born before the time of the Industrial Revolution, before railways brought towns and villages closer, when England was still largely rural. This was the background from which she drew the scenes of her early tales?and on which her popularity as a writer was based. Her upbringing was that of her class?set on Church and Constitution. In her early teens she came under the influence of a keenly evangelical teacher, and read avidly works Biblical and theological. It is of interest that on her first visit to London, in August 1838, she refused to go with her brother Isaac to the theatre, but stayed in her hotel room reading Josephus's History of the Jews. She planned to draw up