BOOK REVIEW / Do they not bleed?: 'Constructions of 'The Jew' in English Literature and Society' - Bryan Cheyette, Cambridge, 35 pounds

IN THE 19th century, liberal ideas rejected feudal notions of a closed society and turned Jews into 'Englishmen of the Mosaic Persuasion', allowing them into parliament and granting them full civil status. But, as Bryan Cheyette argues, in relinquishing a narrow definition of 'Englishness' and embracing the alien 'other', liberals constructed a split in their perception of Jewish identity, absorbing the idealised (but attenuated) component and repudiating what was left.

Hebraism was modulated by Hellenism in Matthew Arnold's famous vision of society: 'What have we not learned and gained from the people whom we have been excluding all these years]', he wrote, on the occasion of the ennoblement of the first Jewish peer, Sir Nathaniel Rothschild. Yet 12 years earlier he had characterised 'this petty, unsuccessful, unamiable people' as 'without politics, without science, without art, without charm. . .'

Rather than finding a single anti-Semitic stereotype in his material, Cheyette sees a paradoxical 'Semitic Discourse' in which Jews come to represent opposite poles of human experience. They are seen as both the embodiment of liberal progress and as the vestiges of an outdated medievalism; as a bastion of empire and one of the main threats to empire; as prefiguring a socialist world state and as a key force preventing its development; as the ideal economic man and the incarnation of

corrupt worldliness.

Trollope's Jews are biologically degraded and psychologically shifty - never quite what they seem. Their very greasiness betokens the impossibility of pinning them down - they are the personification of indeterminacy. In addition, through some curious genetic quirk, the eyes of the male are invariably small and too close together (their faces being all nose), whilst their womenfolk have large, bright and erotically alluring eyes, set against beautifully clear and dark skin.

George Eliot depicted perhaps the best of a meagre bunch of 'good' Jews in English Literature, in the form of Daniel Deronda. But he is poorly characterised, a transcendental cipher, far away from the reality of everyday life. Though she received words of gratitude from around the world, her portrait of real Jews and Jewesses was far from sympathetic. Throughout the novel, Cheyette reminds us, Daniel himself (and many other characters) continually note the 'ugly', 'vulgar', 'narrow unpoetic' or 'unrefined' nature of Jews and Judaism.

A similar polarity can be found in Disraeli. For him Jewishness (of which Christianity represented one form) was the mysterious essence of natural aristocracy, an almost sacred racial bulwark; yet he simultaneously detected men of Jewish race at the head of every communist society allied against all he held most dear - '. . . the peculiar and chosen race touch the hand of all the scum and low castes of Europe]' John Buchan and Rudyard Kipling followed in his wake, the former adopting a passionate 'Zionism', the latter a belief in 'Jewish World Conspiracy'.

If the 19th century emancipated Jews, the 20th exacted a cruel price. Socialists like Shaw and H G Wells identified their capitalist enemy in the form of the Jew. Fascists like Pound, on the other hand, saw the Jew as irredeemably messy, a threat to all basic values. Eliot's anti-Semitism was also rooted in this fear.

Hilaire Belloc, Anglo-French Catholic, anti-socialist, radical anti-capitalist, even managed to implicate Jews in the Reformation - a 'largely Judaic' fall from Grace, leading to the dominance of an English landlord-mercantile plutocracy. It is this easy plasticity, Cheyette insists, the way that Jews are pressed into representing anything and everything, that is the common principle. It is the tragic misfortune of Jews to have stood in people's minds for the hated, inexorable and disruptive onward march of history itself.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones