Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 17 (1986)
The identification of a source for Julius Klesmer, the expatriate pianist-composer in Daniel Deronda, has long provided a mild tease for readers and scholars. In 1885 Lord Acton pronounced him 'the embodiment of Liszt, in the knowledge that George Eliot and Lewes had met the great virtuoso during their visit to Weimar in 1854-5. Broadly, the parallels between the two are obvious, and the matching generally held until in 1968 the late Gordon Haight published an essay in Imagined Worlds (ed. Maynard Mack), which made a strong case for the Russian Jew Anton Rubinstein, another Weimar acquaintance, who shared Klesmer's mane of hair and acerbic brusqueness. More recently, in The Listener (23 Sept. 1976), Marghanita Laski put forward the violinist Joseph Joachim, on the grounds that he was a more immediate presence in George Eliot's circle.
What is interesting about this is the underlying assumption that the source for such a peculiarly vivid, even grotesque figure must have been an actual living person. I would like to propose, for the first time, that the primary source was fictional, namely Johannes Kreisler, the pianist-composer who appears in E. T.A. Hoffmann's sketches and stories Kreisleriana and in his unfinished novel Kater Murr, written over his concentrated period of literary creativity, 1810-21.