English, Department of


Date of this Version


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The George Eliot Review 19 (1988)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


George Eliot: The Jewish Connection, published in Israel in 1975, has recently come to our attention for review. Ruth Levitt, who lives in Israel, had read and admired Daniel Deronda, and was encouraged by George Eliot's sympathetic treatment of the Jewish characters in the novel, to attempt to show that Theodore Herzl, one of the founders of modern Zionism, was himself inspired by the fictional Daniel Deronda. As Mrs. Levitt tells us in her Preface, the attempt failed, and for this reason the effect of her book is diminished.

Undaunted, the author persevered with a modified theme, convinced that George Eliot's powers of generating feeling among her readers had a particular effect on the furthering of political Zionism. Mrs. Levitt recognises that Daniel Derond a is a complex novel, with the 'Jewish element' only part of the whole, but she concentrates her attention on those chapters dealing with Mordecai's vision of the return of the Jews to Zion and Daniel's assumption of his 'mission'.

There is no doubt that George Eliot felt sympathy with the Jewish people in their enforced 'separateness'. In 'The Modern Help! Help! Help!" from Impressions of Theophrastus Such. she analysed the historical reasons for this 'separateness', and approved the Jewish people's sense of a corporate existence which she considered was the basis for the formation of a nation. With piercing irony, George Eliot denounced persecution and the results of conquest which degraded and corrupted a proud people. At the current state of man's development, she thought that national feeling, a sense of belonging somewhere as part of a group, was a source of goodness. If I understand her correctly, she thought that man might eventually be capable of something better, but not yet. She wrote, "A common humanity is not yet enough to feed the rich blood of various activity which makes a complete man." The Modern Help! Help! Help!, used by Mrs. Levitt to support her theme, contains generalities as well as particularities.