Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 10 (1951-1952)

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DANIEL DERONDA
(On the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of its Publication)
By
S o l L i p t z i n
T
HE publication of George Eliot’s novel
Daniel Deronda
seventy-five years ago was an important landmark in the
growth of Zionist ideology and in the development of the English
legend of the Jew.
In the consciousness of every English-speaking person there is
deeply embedded a complex legend of the Jew, even before he
ever encounters a Jewish man or woman, and it is on the founda-
tions of this legend that any new impression is superimposed. The
legend is complex and contradictory because, ever since the days
of the Romans, the many generations have deposited ever new
layers upon old layers. As new attitudes towards the Jew rose to
dominance, older attitudes did not disappear. They rather became
recessive and could be called back to the light of day whenever
conditions were ripe and the soil favorable.
The most important layers that made up the English legend of
the Jew were, in chronological order, the theological, the economic,
the romantic, and the realistic. To these four,
Daniel Deronda
added a fifth layer, the heroic, and in the three quarters of a
century since the appearance of the novel this layer has come ever
more to the fore.
The earliest layer, the theological, was the substratum upon
which all other layers were deposited. Long before there were any
Jews in England, the Angles and Saxons knew of the biblical
people as the people chosen by God so that of its midst there
should arise His only son. But the heathen convert to Christianity
in Britain also heard that this people was not only chosen but
also accursed, that it had killed Christ and had therefore been
condemned to be an object of scorn and to wander eternally.
The second layer of the legend was added during the Norman
and Angevin periods. It had its source in economics. It was based
on the first contacts with Jews in the flesh. These were merchants
and money-lenders, who were forced to engage in usury for the
profit of the Crown. During the two centuries between the Battle
of Hastings and the final expulsion in 1290, the legend of the Jew
as usurer and capitalist, a legend based upon the Jew’s historic