Britannia Waives the Rules Antisemitism in England

By Alexander, Edward | Midstream, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Britannia Waives the Rules Antisemitism in England


Alexander, Edward, Midstream


Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Antisemitism in England, by Anthony Julius, Oxford University Press, 2010, 811pp., $45.00

In a famous letter of 1838 to his friend John Forster, Charles Dickens wrote that "the Jew" (Fagin), who dominates a novel named after a far less interesting character than himself, is "such an out-and-outer that I don't know what to make of him." At first, the remark sounds odd: if the writer who made Fagin doesn't know "what to make of him," who should? But Dickens, in a very real sense, did not make Fagin, a character who emanates from historical myth and was dredged up by Dickens out of the English folk imagination, an archetypal figure. Fagin insistently called "the Jew" in the original edition (1837-39) of the novel--coming out of centuries of myth, hatred, and fear. Fagin, "a loathsome reptile" with red hair, is the descendant of Satan and Judas but also, especially for Dickens' English audience, of Shakespeare's Shylock, just as Shylock is the descendant of the "cursed Jew" in Chaucer's "Prioress' Tale." Oliver Twist also descends directly from the seven-year old boy who in the Norwich blood libel makes the fatal error of singing a hymn in praise of the Virgin while walking through the Jewish ghetto, where his throat is cut and his body dumped in an open pit.

English antisemites, the subject of Anthony Julius' luminous and comprehensive history, have been reinforced in their bitter contempt for Jews by having the three pre-eminent authors of their country's literary canon also shine forth as the pre-eminent authors of England's literary antisemitic canon. It is an open secret that Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens are the greatest writers in a great literary tradition and also its most potent promoters of antisemitism. This literary insight is at the core of Julius's book. The author also wrote a significant book about T. S. Eliot. Nevertheless, Julius seems to be best known as the lawyer of Princess Diana in her divorce proceedings and of Deborah Lipstadt in her legal contest with David Irving, a typically English "liar-historian" and also a Holocaust-denier. In sum, Anthony Julius is not only a lawyer, but also a literary critic of great insight, and perfect pitch.

Literature has the power not only to elevate and transform but alas to degrade and damage. The dominant anti-Jewish libel in England has been the blood libel, permeating all literary genres and making England's literary antisemitism more abundant and flagrant than that of any other country.

   The master-trope supposes a well-intentioned Christian
   placed in peril by a sinister Jew or Jews. The Christian is
   often a boy: When caught, the victim does not protest, and
   submits to the malevolent attentions of the Jew; if the victim
   escapes death, it is by a miracle; if he dies, the facts of the
   crime, and the location of his body, are revealed by a miracle;
   the Jew or Jews are often apprehended and punished.

Of the blood libel, one may say Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Still today drawing on the essential details of the ancient libel are England's "anti-Zionist" versions of the ancient hailed, such as the versified eruption of Oxford poetaster Tom Paulin about alleged child murder by Israeli soldiers and the ten-minute play by Caryl Churchill entitled Seven Jewish Children--A Play for Gaza (2009). In his critique of Paulin's 2001 poem, "Killed in Crossfire," about the (phony) story of the little Arab boy (Mohammed al-Dura) reported killed in Gaza by Israeli gunfire, Julius observes: "The most vulgar anti-Semitism speaks in 'Crossfire.' The poem has several specifically literary antisemitic resonances. In the theme of the killing of Gentile children by perfidious Jews, and the miraculous disclosure of these crimes, the poem alludes to 'Little Sir Hugh' and The Prioress' Tale." But whereas Dickens had no intent to harm Jews and so might plausibly have expressed puzzlement about "what to make of [Fagin]," Paulin vociferously urged that Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria "should be shot dead. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Britannia Waives the Rules Antisemitism in England
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.