Here’s the backstory. George Eliot is friends with/admires Benjamin Disraeli, the British politician of Jewish descent who is the prime minister who buys the Suez Canal for good ol’ England. She writes a novel, Daniel Deronda, which features a sympathetic Jewish character.
This isn’t unique. Rebecca Gratz is widely thought to be the inspiration for the character Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe”. And, of course, the grandfather of the “Jew as human being like all of us, maybe even wiser” genre of literature is Gotthold Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise.” The inspiration here is Moses Mendelsohn, grandfather of Felix and Fanny, godfather to the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment movement that signaled the collision between European Judaism and modernity.
I’ve read Ivanhoe many times. Outside of Stefan Heym and Heinrich Böll, I tend to avoid German literature. And about once a year or so, George Eliot comes up in conversation between my wife and I and we ask, “you’ve read ‘Daniel Deronda, haven’t you?” Somebody had to do it. And despite the fact that one is halfway through the novel before the focus shifts for more than a paragraph at a time from a very spoiled Englishwoman, I did.
If you like George Eliot and Victorian-era novels, this is great stuff. That’s why I’m sharing it here. Eliot actually spent some time getting to know something about Judaism, enough so that the high culture musician of “German, Slavic, or Jewish” descent is called Professor Klesmer (read the last name as though it is German). I gotta wonder if klezmer music was considered as low class in Victorian-era England as it was in twentieth-century US. If so, that adds a sly wink to the rest of the story. The tale is also influenced very much by that Austrian fellow (or his peers) who was just starting to agitate for a return to the Jewish homeland as a way of curing the Jewish problem.
As for the story? Lots of psychological insight. Lots of interesting pictures of upper class English life. Lots of nick of time acts of God and coincidence. A romp. Check it out.