Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, is George Eliot’s final—and most controversial novel. Eliot had spent much of her life exploring the connections and separations between cultures and faiths. Her interest in Judaism and the Jewish people of England is played out in this work as she advocates for a Jewish homeland and offers characters that give voice to Jewish philosophy and history. Her portrayals of Jewish characters is controversial: early English critics felt the work would be improved with the Jewish sections cut completely (FR Leavis) while Jewish scholars called for the gentile sections to be removed. It seems only Eliot had the vision and the investment (and faith?) to find a way to weave late Victorian British culture with the Jewish English community. Eliot’s characters advocate for a Jewish state that disregards the reality that the homeland was already home to the Palestinians.
As Paul Owen writes in an article in the Guardian on the continuing relevance of Daniel Deronda:
“For those today who find Zionism difficult to understand, Eliot\’s depiction of its origins is evocative and powerful. Mordecai both describes and embodies the wandering Jew, forever an alien in a foreign land, never at home, “a people who kept and enlarged their spiritual store at the very time when they were hunted with a hatred so fierce as the forest fires that chase the wild beast from his covert”. But neither Eliot nor Mordecai acknowledge that Palestine was already populated; as such Mordecai\’s optimistic vision of a future Israel as “a new Judea, poised between East and West – a covenant of reconciliation – a halting-place of enmities, a neutral ground for the East” cannot help but read as grimly ironic today.”
The struggle between nations and tribes, between the perception of ‘us’ and ‘them’ continues to cause bloodshed and agony. The Salon seeks to provide a space that considers the history and social stage of these questions in a particular world and time setting. Our discussions inspire reflections on how we are in the world today—how individual identities overlap with national identity—how this impacts and challenges us and how we might overcome the limiting aspects of our humanity. A writer like George Eliot, who weaves romance and realism, social critique and human redemption, may offer illumination in our chaotic times.
- Eight week study
- Recommended edition: Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, Oxford World Classics (2014), Graham Handley, editor; introduced by K.M. Newton. ISBN-13: 978-0199682867
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