Richard Melson

July 2006

Sard Harker: novel

John Masefield (1878 - 1967)

John Edward Masefield, OM, (1 June 1878 – 12 May 1967),

was an English poet and writer, and Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967.

Sard Harker (1924)
A novel by John Masefield

This is a powerful, poetic tale, on the edge of the supernatural, of a sailor who tries to meet again his childhood sweetheart. In doing so he runs up against a desperate and desperately evil gang intent on kidnapping her. 'Sard' (for 'sardonic') Harker goes through punishing physical adventure to reach his goal.

The book begins: Santa Barbara lies far to leeward, with a coast facing to the north and east. It is the richest of the sugar countries. Plantations cover all the lowland along its seven hundred miles of seaboard, then above the lowland is foothill, covered with forest, rising to the Sierras of the Three Kings, which make the country's frontier. The city of Santa Barbara lies at the angle of the coast in the bight of a bay. The old town covers the southern, the new town the northern, horn of the bay: in between are the docks and quays.

Antisemitic comments and a kind of "Jew-bashing" were normal

and routine in British fiction from Trollope through Agatha Christie.

(by way Fagin in Oliver Twist, of course)

Before the second world war, such (antisemitic) sentiments were

commonplace, not least in the "Clubland Hero"

thrillers of Buchan, Sapper and Dornford Yates.

" Bolshevik Jews" were responsible for many of the

villainous conspiracies frustrated by Richard Hannay,

(protagonist of "The Thirty-Nine Steps", made into a famous Hitchcock thriller)

Bulldog Drummond (jingoistic hero of Sapper’s thrillers)

and Jonah Mansell, before they gave the culprits a good flogging.

Agatha Christie & the Jews:

Agatha Christie continues this antisemitic vein, as the following comment sees:

In its ugliest moments, Christie’s conservatism
crossed over into a
contempt for Jews, who are so

often associated with rationalist political
philosophies and a ‘
cosmopolitanism’ that is
antithetical to the Burkean paradigm of the English
village. There is a streak of
anti-Semitism running
through the pre-1950s novels which cannot be denied
even by her admirers. ‘The Mysterious Mr Quinn’ has an
ugly passage about "men of
Hebraic extraction, sallow
men with hooked noses, wearing flamboyant jewellery."
‘Peril At End House’ has a character referred to as
"the long-nosed Mr Lazarus", of whom somebody says,
"he’s a
Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one."
Against this, it is worth pointing out that her novel
‘Giant’s Bread’ (written under the pseudonym of Mary
Westmacott) features an extremely sympathetic portrait
of the Levinnes, a
Jewish family who suffer from

anti-Semitism in England. Christie’s hostility to Jews
was, I suspect, more political than personal (and no
less reprehensible for that).

England Your England anti-Semitism in Britain



THERE are about 400,000 known Jews in Britain, and in addition some thousands or, at most, scores of thousands of Jewish refugees who have entered the country from 1934 onwards. The Jewish population is almost entirely concentrated in half a dozen big towns and is mostly employed in the food, clothing and furniture trades. A few of the big monopolies, such as the I.C.I., one or two leading newspapers and at least one big chain of department stores are Jewish-owned or partly Jewish-owned, but it would be very far from the truth to say that British business life is dominated by Jews. The Jews seem, on the contrary, to have failed to keep up with the modern tendency towards big amalgamations and to have remained fixed in those trades which are necessarily carried out on a small scale and by old-fashioned methods.

I start off with these background facts, which are already known to any well-informed person, in order to emphasise that there is no real Jewish "problem" in England. The Jews are not numerous or powerful enough, and it is only in what are loosely called "intellectual circles" that they have any noticeable influence. Yet it is generally admitted that anti-Semitism is on the increase, that it has been greatly exacerbated by the war, and that humane and enlightened people are not immune to it. It does not take violent forms (English people are almost invariably gentle and law-abiding), but it is ill-natured enough, and in favourable circumstances it could have political results. Here are some samples of anti-Semitic remarks that have been made to me during the past year or two:

Middle-aged office employee: "I generally come to work by bus. It takes longer, but I don’t care about using the Underground from Golders Green nowadays. There’s too many of the Chosen Race travelling on that line."

Tobacconist (woman): "No, I’ve got no matches for you. I should try the lady down the street. She’s always got matches. One of the Chosen Race, you see."

Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: "No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not anti-Semitic, of course."

Middle-class woman: "Well, no one could call me anti-Semitic, but I do think the way these Jews behave is too absolutely stinking. The way they push their way to the head of queues, and so on. They’re so abominably selfish. I think they’re responsible for a lot of what happens to them."

Milk roundsman: "A Jew don’t do no work, not the same as what an Englishman does. ’E’s too clever. We work with this ’ere" (flexes his biceps). "They work with that there" (taps his forehead).

Chartered accountant, intelligent, left-wing in an undirected way: "These bloody Yids are all pro-German. They’d change sides tomorrow if the Nazis got here. I see a lot of them in my business. They admire Hitler at the bottom of their hearts. They’ll always suck up to anyone who kicks them."

Intelligent woman, on being offered a book dealing with anti-Semitism and German atrocities: "Don’t show it me, please don’t show it to me. It’ll only make me hate the Jews more than ever."

I could fill pages with similar remarks, but these will do to go on with. Two facts emerge from them. One—which is very important and which I must return to in a moment—is that above a certain intellectual level people are ashamed of being anti-Semitic and are careful to draw a distinction between "anti-Semitism" and "disliking Jews". The other is that anti-Semitism is an irrational thing. The Jews are accused of specific offences (for instance, bad behaviour in food queues) which the person speaking feels strongly about, but it is obvious that these accusations merely rationalise some deep-rooted prejudice. To attempt to counter them with facts and statistics is useless, and may sometimes be worse than useless. As the last of the above-quoted remarks shows, people can remain anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.

It so happens that the war has encouraged the growth of anti-Semitism and even, in the eyes of many ordinary people, given some justification for it. To begin with, the Jews are one people of whom it can be said with complete certainty that they will benefit by an Allied victory. Consequently the theory that "this is a Jewish war" has a certain plausibility, all the more so because the Jewish war effort seldom gets its fair share of recognition. The British Empire is a huge heterogeneous organisation held together largely by mutual consent, and it is often necessary to flatter the less reliable elements at the expense of the more loyal ones. To publicise the exploits of Jewish soldiers, or even to admit the existence of a considerable Jewish army in the Middle East, rouses hostility in South Africa, the Arab countries and elsewhere: it is easier to ignore the whole subject and allow the man in the street to go on thinking that Jews are exceptionally clever at dodging military service. Then again, Jews are to be found in exactly those trades which are bound to incur unpopularity with the civilian public in war-time. Jews are mostly concerned with selling food, clothes, furniture and tobacco—exactly the commodities of which there is a chronic shortage, with consequent overcharging, black-marketing and favouritism. And again, the common charge that Jews behave in an exceptionally cowardly way during air raids was given a certain amount of colour by the big raids of 1940. As it happened, the Jewish quarter of Whitechapel was one of the first areas to be heavily blitzed, with the natural result that swarms of Jewish refugees distributed themselves all over London. If one judged merely from these war-time phenomena, it would be easy to imagine that anti-Semitism is a quasi-rational thing, founded on mistaken premises. And naturally the anti-Semite thinks of himself as a reasonable being. Whenever I have touched on this subject in a newspaper article, I have always had a considerable "come-back", and invariably some of the letters are from well-balanced, middling people—doctors, for example—with no apparent economic grievance. These people always say (as Hitler says in Mein Kampf) that they started out with no anti-Jewish prejudice but were driven into their present position by mere observation of the facts. Yet one of the marks of anti-Semitism is an ability to believe stories that could not possibly be true. One could see a good example of this in the strange accident that occurred in London in 1942, when a crowd, frightened by a bomb-burst nearby, fled into the mouth of an Underground station, with the result that something over a hundred people were crushed to death. The very same day it was repeated all over London that "the Jews were responsible". Clearly, if people will believe this kind of thing, one will not get much further by arguing with them. The only useful approach is to discover why they can swallow absurdities on one particular subject while remaining sane on others.

But now let me come back to that point I mentioned earlier—that there is widespread awareness of the prevalence of anti-Semitic feeling, and unwillingness to admit sharing it. Among educated people, anti-Semitism is held to be an unforgivable sin and in a quite different category from other kinds of racial prejudice. People will go to remarkable lengths to demonstrate that they are not anti-Semitic. Thus, in 1943 an intercession service on behalf of the Polish Jews was held in a synagogue in St John’s Wood. The local authorities declared themselves anxious to participate in it, and the service was attended by the mayor of the borough in his robes and chain, by representatives of all the churches, and by detachments of RAF, Home Guards, nurses, Boy Scouts and what not. On the surface it was a touching demonstration of solidarity with the suffering Jews. But it was essentially a conscious effort to behave decently by people whose subjective feelings must in many cases have been very different. That quarter of London is partly Jewish, anti-Semitism is rife there, and, as I well knew, some of the men sitting round me in the synagogue were tinged by it. Indeed, the commander of my own platoon of Home Guards, who had been especially keen beforehand that we should "make a good show" at the intercession service, was an ex-member of Mosley’s Blackshirts. While this division of feeling exists, tolerance of mass violence against Jews, or, what is more important, anti-Semitic legislation, are not possible in England. It is not at present possible, indeed, that anti-Semitism should become respectable. But this is less of an advantage than it might appear.

One effect of the persecutions in Germany has been to prevent anti-Semitism from being seriously studied. In England a brief inadequate survey was made by Mass Observation a year or two ago, but if there has been any other investigation of the subject, then its findings have been kept strictly secret. At the same time there has been conscious suppression, by all thoughtful people, of anything likely to wound Jewish susceptibilities. After 1934 the Jew joke disappeared as though by magic from postcards, periodicals and the music-hall stage, and to put an unsympathetic Jewish character into a novel or short story came to be regarded as anti-Semitism. On the Palestine issue, too, it was de rigueur among enlightened people to accept the Jewish case as proved and avoid examining the claims of the Arabs—a decision which might be correct on its own merits, but which was adopted primarily because the Jews were in trouble and it was felt that one must not criticise them. Thanks to Hitler, therefore, you had a situation in which the press was in effect censored in favour of the Jews while in private anti-Semitism was on the up-grade, even, to some extent, among sensitive and intelligent people. This was particularly noticeable in 1940 at the time of the internment of the refugees. Naturally, every thinking person felt that it was his duty to protest against the wholesale locking-up of unfortunate foreigners who for the most part were only in England because they were opponents of Hitler. Privately, however, one heard very different sentiments expressed. A minority of the refugees behaved in an exceedingly tactless way, and the feeling against them necessarily had an anti-Semitic undercurrent, since they were largely Jews. A very eminent figure in the Labour Party—I won’t name him, but he is one of the most respected people in England—said to me quite violently: "We never asked these people to come to this country. If they choose to come here, let them take the consequences." Yet this man would as a matter of course have associated himself with any kind of petition or manifesto against the internment of aliens. This feeling that anti-Semitism is something sinful and disgraceful, something that a civilised person does not suffer from, is unfavourable to a scientific approach, and indeed many people will admit that they are frightened of probing too deeply into the subject. They are frightened, that is to say, of discovering not only that anti-Semitism is spreading, but that they themselves are infected by it.

To see this in perspective one must look back a few decades, to the days when Hitler was an out-of-work house-painter whom nobody had heard of. One would then find that though anti-Semitism is sufficiently in evidence now, it is probably less prevalent in England than it was thirty years ago. It is true that anti-Semitism as a fully thought-out racial or religious doctrine has never flourished in England. There has never been much feeling against inter-marriage, or against Jews taking a prominent part in public life. Nevertheless, thirty years ago it was accepted more or less as a law of nature that a Jew was a figure of fun and—though superior in intelligence—slightly deficient in "character". In theory a Jew suffered from no legal disabilities, but in effect he was debarred from certain professions. He would probably not have been accepted as an officer in the navy, for instance, nor in what is called a "smart" regiment in the army. A Jewish boy at a public school almost invariably had a bad time. He could, of course, live down his Jewishness if he was exceptionally charming or athletic, but it was an initial disability comparable to a stammer or a birthmark. Wealthy Jews tended to disguise themselves under aristocratic English or Scottish names, and to the average person it seemed quite natural that they should do this, just as it seems natural for a criminal to change his identity if possible. About twenty years ago, in Rangoon, I was getting into a taxi with a friend when a small ragged boy of fair complexion rushed up to us and began a complicated story about having arrived from Colombo on a ship and wanting money to get back. His manner and appearance were difficult to "place", and I said to him:

"You speak very good English. What nationality are you?"

He answered eagerly in his chi-chi accent: "I am a Joo, sir!"

And I remember turning to my companion and saying, only partly in joke, "He admits it openly." All the Jews I had known till then were people who were ashamed of being Jews, or at any rate preferred not to talk about their ancestry, and if forced to do so tended to use the word "Hebrew".

The working-class attitude was no better. The Jew who grew up in Whitechapel took it for granted that he would be assaulted, or at least hooted at, if he ventured into one of the Christian slums nearby, and the "Jew joke" of the music halls and the comic papers was almost consistently ill-natured.1 There was also literary Jew-baiting, which in the hands of Belloc, Chesterton and their followers reached an almost continental level of scurrility. Non-Catholic writers were sometimes guilty of the same thing in a milder form. There has been a perceptible anti-Semitic strain in English literature from Chaucer onwards, and without even getting up from this table to consult a book I can think of passages which if written now would be stigmatised as anti-Semitism, in the works of Shakespeare, Smollett, Thackeray, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and various others. Offhand, the only English writers I can think of who, before the days of Hitler, made a definite effort to stick up for Jews are Dickens and Charles Reade. And however little the average intellectual may have agreed with the opinions of Belloc and Chesterton, he did not acutely disapprove of them. Chesterton’s endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts, never got him into trouble—indeed Chesterton was one of the most generally respected figures in English literary life. Anyone who wrote in that strain now would bring down a storm of abuse upon himself, or more probably would find it impossible to get his writings published.

If, as I suggest, prejudice against Jews has always been pretty widespread in England, there is no reason to think that Hitler has genuinely diminished it. He has merely caused a sharp division between the politically conscious person who realises that this is not a time to throw stones at the Jews, and the unconscious person whose native anti-Semitism is increased by the nervous strain of the war. One can assume, therefore, that many people who would perish rather than admit to anti-Semitic feelings are secretly prone to them. I have already indicated that I believe anti-Semitism to be essentially a neurosis, but of course it has its rationalisations, which are sincerely believed in and are partly true. The rationalisation put forward by the common man is that the Jew is an exploiter. The partial justification for this is that the Jew, in England, is generally a small businessman—that is to say a person whose depredations are more obvious and intelligible than those of, say, a bank or an insurance company. Higher up the intellectual scale, anti-Semitism is rationalised by saying that the Jew is a person who spreads disaffection and weakens national morale. Again there is some superficial justification for this. During the past twenty-five years the activities of what are called "intellectuals" have been largely mischievous. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that if the "intellectuals" had done their work a little more thoroughly, Britain would have surrendered in 1940. But the disaffected intelligentsia inevitably included a large number of Jews. With some plausibility it can be said that the Jews are the enemies of our native culture and our national morale. Carefully examined, the claim is seen to be nonsense, but there are always a few prominent individuals who can be cited in support of it. During the past few years there has been what amounts to a counter-attack against the rather shallow Leftism which was fashionable in the previous decade and which was exemplified by such organisations as the Left Book Club. This counter-attack (see for instance such books as Arnold Lutin’s The Good Gorilla or Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags) has an anti-Semitic strain, and it would probably be more marked if the subject were not so obviously dangerous. It so happens that for some decades past Britain has had no nationalist intelligentsia worth bothering about. But British nationalism, i.e. nationalism of an intellectual kind, may revive, and probably will revive if Britain comes out of the present war greatly weakened.

In that case the kind of anti-Semitism which flourished among the anti-Dreyfusards in France, and which Chesterton and Belloc tried to import into this country, might get a foothold.

I have no hard-and-fast theory about the origins of anti-Semitism. The two current explanations, that it is due to economic causes, or on the other hand, that it is a legacy from the Middle Ages, seem to me unsatisfactory, though I admit that if one combines them they can be made to cover the facts. All I would say with confidence is that anti-Semitism is part of the larger problem of nationalism, which has not yet been seriously examined, and that the Jew is evidently a scapegoat, though for what he is a scapegoat we do not yet know. In this essay I have relied almost entirely on my own limited experience, and perhaps every one of my conclusions would be negatived by other observers. The fact is that there are almost no data on this subject. But for what they are worth I will summarise my opinions. Boiled down, they amount to this:

There is more anti-Semitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in terms of decades rather than years.

It does not at present lead to open persecution, but it has the effect of making people callous to the sufferings of Jews in other countries.

It is at bottom quite irrational and will not yield to argument.

The persecutions in Germany have caused much concealment of anti-Semitic feeling and thus obscured the whole picture.

The subject needs serious investigation.

Only the last point is worth expanding. To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income. What vitiates nearly all that is written about anti-Semitism is the assumption in the writer’s mind that he himself is immune to it. "Since I know that anti-Semitism is irrational," he argues, "it follows that I do not share it." He thus fails to start his investigation in the one place where he could get hold of some reliable evidence—that is, in his own mind.

It seems to me a safe assumption that the disease loosely called nationalism is now almost universal. Anti-Semitism is only one manifestation of nationalism, and not everyone will have the disease in that particular form. A Jew, for example, would not be anti-Semitic: but then many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely anti-Semites turned upside-down, just as many Indians and Negroes display the normal colour prejudices in an inverted form. The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilisation, and as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his own mind without coming upon nationalistic loyalties and hatreds of one kind or another. It is the fact that he can feel the emotional tug of such things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are, that gives him his status as an intellectual. It will be seen, therefore, that the starting point for any investigation of anti-Semitism should not be "Why does this obviously irrational belief appeal to other people?" but "Why does anti-Semitism appeal to me? What is there about it that I feel to be true?" If one asks this question one at least discovers one’s own rationalisations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath them. anti-Semitism should be investigated—and I will not say by anti-Semites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion. When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start not by debunking anti-Semitism, but by marshalling all the justifications for it that can be found, in one’s own mind or anybody else’s. In that way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots. But that anti-Semitism will be definitively cured, without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.

1. It is interesting to compare the "Jew joke" with that other stand-by of the music halls, the "Scotch joke", which superficially it resembles. Occasionally a story is told (e.g. the Jew and the Scotsman who went into a pub together and both died of thirst) which puts both races on an equality, but in general the Jew is credited merely with cunning and avarice while the Scotsman is credited with physical hardihood as well. This is seen, for example, in the story of the Jew and the Scotsman who go together to a meeting which has been advertised as free. Unexpectedly there is a collection, and to avoid this the Jew faints and the Scotsman carries him out. Here the Scotsman performs the athletic feat of carrying the other. It would seem vaguely wrong if it were the other way about.


Anti-Semitism in Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels

Because Anthony Trollope belonged to the Liberal party, one would assume that he would be less concerned with the glorification of a specific social class to the neglect of any other. Yet, of the major novelists of the Victorian period, none was more infatuated with the code of the gentleman than Trollope. His political beliefs, which might seem to conflict with those of a Liberal, are best defined by his own description of himself as "an advanced, but still a conservative Liberal" (Autobiography 291). This left-centrist attitude serves as the basis for the moral standard of his novels and is embodied by the various "gentlemen" in his work. Trollope idealized the gentleman more than Fielding and as much as, if not more, than Thackeray. The characters in his novels judge each other by their interpretations of this standard, which may or may not coincide with Trollope's definition. This discrepancy between Trollope and his characters is very interesting, but in some instances can be misleading.

Nineteenth-century Europe, sparked by the Enlightenment's notion of equality, underwent numerous revolutions, both political and social. In England this was represented by the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832 and the repeal of the Corn Laws. Both were huge victories for the Liberal, then Whig, cause, regardless of which party was in control of the government at the time. Trollope's stance on such issues can be seen in his treatment of similar measures, some fictitious, others real, in the novels that comprise his Palliser series. In England during this time, the quest for equal treatment under the law for all residents was gaining popularity. Bills were passed which legalized Catholicism and which made citizens of the Jews living in England. As anti-semitism was a more thorough prejudice than that of Anglicans against other Protestants and Catholics, it is of interest to examine how one of the more, if not the most, realistic novelists of the time portrayed English Jews.

As Trollope mainly concerns himself with upper-class society, social movement is necessarily a major issue in his novels, and added to his predisposition to prejudicial class awareness, Trollope behaves very questionably with regard to his non-English characters, particularly his Jewish characters. European Jews have consistently been oppressed throughout their history on the continent. The most widespread slurs used against Jews, then and now, are founded in resentment of the fact that Jews, in Europe, have historically found employment in banking, pawnbroking, and usury. (It is interesting to note that European Christians forced this occupation on the Jews, as many Christians thought it sinful to profit by lending money, or otherwise working specifically with money.) With the onset of the Enlightenment, European anti-semitism began to become less fashionable but was still prevalent.

The placement of Jews in fiscal-related employment appears in many novels of the Victorian period, but an examination of the way in which these characters are portrayed can help to clarify society's general attitude toward the Jews. At the height of the Victorian period, Benjamin Disraeli, of Jewish descent, was able to become Prime Minister of the most powerful country in the world, and did so as a Conservative.

Yet, in the Palliser novels, Trollope appears to diverge from the popular, liberal trend of dismissing anti-semitism, which allowed Disraeli to come to power. The books seem to reek of anti-semitism.

In the Palliser novels there are three main Jewish characters, or rather three main characters with Jewish descriptions: Madam Max Goesler, Joseph Emilius, and Ferdinand Lopez. Of the three, only Emilius is confirmed as actually being Jewish. Madam Max and Lopez are derogatorily called Jewish by other characters, but their origins are never revealed. Why does Trollope allow for such degrading and stereotypical characterization of these characters? Why are Emilius and Lopez two of the most wretched characters in the Trollopian catalogue? Is Trollope just another Victorian anti-semite, or is he trying to get his audience to see how unjust and illiberal the accepted anti-semitism of Victorian society was? In reading such an entertaining and self-aware author as Anthony Trollope, I constantly search for proof against the charge of anti-semitism. However, I cannot say that I am convinced that my quest has been wholly satisfactory.

Madam Max Goesler is introduced in the second novel, Phineas Finn, and plays a major part in the rest of the Palliser series. Her physical description follows along the lines of what would be considered a stereotypical characterization of a Jewess.

She has thick black hair.... Her eyes were large, of a dark blue color, and very bright,--and she used them in a manner which is as yet hardly common with Englishwomen. She seemed to intend that you should know that she employed them to conquer you.... Her nose was not classically beautiful ... not perfectly straight in its line ... perhaps her great beauty was in the brilliant clearness of her dark complexion.... She was somewhat tall ... and was so thin as to be almost meager in her proportions. (Phineas Finn 30-31)

When compared to the physical descriptions of Emilius and Lopez, detailed below, many of the same characteristics are repeated. Madam Max is only rarely referred to as a "Jewess," but from her physical description, it seems as if Trollope purposefully made her ethnicity ambiguous. She is the widow of a Jewish Swiss banker, but other than that her background is mysterious, which adds to the feeling of uncertainty about her. Like Madam Max, both Emilius and Lopez have mysterious backgrounds where little is known and what is known is but mere rumor. By leaving their histories vague and obscure, Trollope's attitude toward their Jewishness is left ambiguous: Is he displaying disgust with hypocritical Jewish conscientiousness, or is he satirizing anti-semitic fear?

Of the three, Madam Max is the only one who develops into a respectable and lovable character. She uses her money with taste, she conducts herself with taste, and she responds to the obligations of Society with taste. However, she is differentiated from English Society in Phineas Redux by travelling across the continent in search of evidence that will free Phineas in his trial. People talk about this behavior as if it is a result of her mysterious past. Yet Madam Max is a lady and she, in contrast to Emilius and Lopez, is rich. Emilius and Lopez are both poor and try to lift themselves in the eyes of society by conducting themselves strictly by the accepted social code, whereas because of her wealth, Madam Max has already been accepted and can bend her adherence to that code. The issues of class and wealth complicate a discussion of anti-semitism in the Palliser novels by compounding these two issues in his Jewish, or seemingly Jewish, characters. All three of these characters marry money. Madam Max marries and is widowed before she is introduced, but Trollope does not offer any speculation as to her motives in her first marriage. Emilius is chiefly after money in his pursuit of Lizzie Eustace and worries little about concealing this fact. Lopez marries out of love, as the narrator stresses, but he is conscious, or rather quickly becomes conscious, that Emily Wharton is wealthy and that her money will become available to him when they are married. That each of these characters marries "up" is suggestive of a typical anti-semitic feeling against alleged Jewish pushiness and, as a result, leaves the reader questioning Trollope's motives.

Of the three main Jewish characters in the Palliser novels, Joseph Emilius is the most "Jewish" and the only one who is ever positively identified as such. Trollope gives him terribly stereotypical characteristics, describing him as a "dark, hookey-nosed, well made man, with an exuberance of greasy hair, who would have been considered handsome" if not for a squint in one of his eyes (Eustace Diamonds 311), and further as a "nasty, greasy, squinting Jew preacher; an impostor, a creature to loathe because he was greasy and a liar" (Eustace Diamonds 314). In addition to these descriptions, he is found to be a bigot who merely lusts after money. Emilius is the least developed of the main Jewish characters and as a result fits into his extremely stereotypical role. The irony of The Eustace Diamonds is that the diamonds are, for all practical purposes, useless. It is interesting to note that the name Emilius also can be seen as a similar play on pronunciation and can be read as "emulus," which sounds like a mutation of the word "emulate." As many characters wear paste jewels, which serve as decoration almost as well as real diamonds, so Trollope uses Emilius as their social parallel, representative of how a "paste" gentleman, although similar from a distance, is no replacement for a true one. Gentlemanly characteristics may seem to be worthless, or rather intangible, but Trollope strives to show how, although it is not always perceptible at first glance, the true gentleman's worth will always outshine any emulation. That Trollope equates a fake gentleman with a Jew is a noticeable fact, and not a favorable one. Emilius, as an Anglican clergyman, has the position of a gentleman, but it seems that specifically because of his ethnicity Trollope has barred him from this hallowed status. The gentleman, as Trollope understands him, is a modification of the chivalrous, medieval knight and should be as pure, strong, and "true" as a diamond.

Possibly the most interesting of these characters is Ferdinand Lopez. As Trollope devotes much of The Prime Minister to his life, he becomes a tragic antagonist. This role needs not much consideration here, but that his life runs a tragic course parallels the anti-semitic worries spawned in the reader by Trollope's treatment of Emilius. Like Joseph Hexam in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Lopez is aware and ashamed of his familial background. He is not a "purebred" Englishman, and his Portuguese ancestry brings no notion of pride to him, but rather alienates him from the opportunity to realize his goal of becoming a true English gentleman. When Lopez first presses his suit for the hand of Emily Wharton, Mr. Wharton, a Tory, objects not only because of his parentage but also because "he thought that he detected Jewish signs" (Prime Minister 28). As Mr. Wharton is a sympathetic character, the question of Trollope's anti-semitism is again raised.

Trollope was not the only Victorian novelist to take up the issue of anti-semitism. George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is a pro-Jewish novel in which Deronda discovers his Jewish ethnicity, marries a Jewish woman, and moves to Palestine. Dickens gives a more varied picture of Jews in nineteenth-century England. In Oliver Twist he creates a wretchedly stereotypical Jew in Fagin. However, in response to readers' criticism of his portrayal of Fagin, Dickens constructed the humble, caring Jew, Mr. Riah, for Our Mutual Friend. Mr. Riah is in the business of lending money, but he is merely the cover for the English owner of the business, Fascination Fledgeby. In creating Fledgeby Dickens simply took all of the stereotypical Jewish characteristics and placed them on an Englishman. This does not make for an extremely interesting character, but it does make a strong statement against anti-semitism. Mr. Riah is an interesting comparison to the Jews in Trollope's novels. Whereas Dickens confronts anti-semitism head-on by switching the social roles of Riah and Fledgeby, Trollope's Jewish characters retain typical social positions, and in doing so leave his motives open for interpretation.

The three characters, Madam Max, Emilius, and Lopez, are not the only Jewish characters in the Palliser novels; there are a few more, but the others are generally only mentioned in passing. Trollope's treatment of these other Jews is very stereotyped; they all either work in banking, in jewelry, or in the City; in other words, they all work primarily with money.

In The Eustace Diamonds, Trollope creates his most stereotypical Jew of the Palliser series in Mr. Benjamin, of the lending firm Harter and Benjamin. Benjamin is the mastermind behind both the attempted and successful robberies. He really possesses the "Jewish" debasement and avarice and is similar to the projection constructed of Mr. Riah by Fledgeby in Our Mutual Friend. That Trollope creates such a characte--in a book that already has a villainous Jew--is suspect. Throughout the book there is often talk of going to "the Jews" and getting a loan at thirty percent (see, for example, Lord George's comment [Eustace Diamonds 209]).

With the two vile Jews in The Eustace Diamonds, a defense against the charge of anti-semitism in benefit of Trollope seems hard-pressed for validity. One could say that many of these derogatory comments are made by less than admirable characters, which do not necessarily echo either the narrator's opinion or Trollope's. Yet why does Trollope place Jews in the exact same roles which anti-semites usually ridicule them for possessing? Trollope prided himself on being an astute realist, and in realism social virtues must come with their corresponding social evils. Anti-semitism was prevalent in Victorian society; therefore Trollope had to represent it, regardless of whether he was anti-semitic or not.

How prevalent was anti-semitism in Victorian society? If it were "so" prevalent, as prevalent as racism is in the American South, would not Trollope (most likely) be affected? Southern racism is not an either-or sentiment; those prejudices hold people in varying degrees. However, many (most?) white Southerners are, at least, somewhat affected--affected, in the sense that, although they might not consciously discriminate, their worldviews are nourished in a still-segregated society and, as a result, are stained with racism. Although the example of Southern racism carries a weightier stigma, Victorian anti-semitism does parallel current Southern sentiments. Even John Stuart Mill was subject to cultural prejudice, and he was as liberal a Victorian as one could wish. Trollope was not a radical and was more apt to have less liberal opinions than modern liberals would wish, but he should not be condemned as an anti-semite simply for this. Even the majority of modern conservative Southerners should not be labeled "racist." Racism in the South is declining, if not as quickly as one would; anti-semitism in Victorian Britain was going through a similar decline.

In The Prime Minister Lopez degenerates and turns evilly fierce, as the novel progresses. He is given a typical Jewish description, as he is clever, tall, dark, thin and has black hair and bold, unflinching, combative eyes. After he marries he becomes more and more dependent on his father-in-law's complaisance, while still "keeping up appearances," which he could not otherwise sustain. He belongs to a gentleman's club, makes Emily dress in the best fashion, and keeps a brougham, none of which he can afford. By emulating gentlemanly behavior, he parallels Trollope's characterization of Emilius. However, it is quite important to note that only the Tories of the novel ever refer to him as possibly being Jewish. Benjamin Disraeli, a Tory Prime Minister during Trollope's lifetime, was of Portuguese Jewish heritage whose family had converted to Anglicanism two generations before his birth. Lopez is partially a Disraeli-inspired character. Seen in this light, the Wharton-Fletcher resistance to him is less a Trollopian attack on Jews than Trollope's attack on Tory hypocrisy. As Trollope the Liberal was quite antagonistic towards Disraeli, "old school" Tories' disapproval of Lopez satirizes the anti-semitism that was mixed with conservative nationalism. Like many of the leading Liberals and Radicals, such as Mill, Trollope was definitely biased toward British culture but was not damnably prejudiced against other cultures, as shown by his relative freedom from anti-Irish prejudice.

Still one must wonder why Trollope makes Emilius Jewish and why Lopez never assures Mr. Wharton of his ancestry or proves that he is "at worst" only half Jewish. Could Emilius not have been just as wretched a character if he were a French Catholic? Would Lopez not have been as despicable a husband if it were confirmed that he was not at all Jewish? By making his "villains" Jewish perhaps Trollope seems to fall into a Wagnerian or Nietzschian anti-semitism? This is a radical statement and goes too far. However, as there is still active debate on Nietzsche's anti-semitism, a comparison with Nietzsche might aid in understanding Trollope's attitude toward Jews.

In the first essay of On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche unleashes an appalling attack on Jews. He understands them as the personification of "slave morality," which he says has destroyed "master morality," represented by ancient mythology, especially Teutonic mythology. Masters take what they want, honor only those stronger/better than they, and disregard any constructed restriction on their behavior. In contrast slave morality, fuelled by "ressentiment," operates on the basis "winning" by submission. Nietzsche, in the first essay of the book, scorns slave morality as contaminating master morality, as if he understands it in the bigoted sense of blood-poisoning by mixing races. At first glance the modern reader is taken aback by this and other similar comments, but on finishing the other two essays of the book, one sees how Nietzsche's attitude toward this "mixing" is not as simple as he first presents it. Nietzsche shows how the simple dichotomy of a pure master morality versus a pure slave morality is but a semi-serious introduction for his main argument. Nietzsche explicitly complicates the original master-slave relationship when he claims that "only here [the victory of slave morality over master morality] did the human soul in a higher sense acquire depth and become evil and these are the two basic respects in which man has hitherto been superior to other beasts!" (33; Nietzsche's emphasis). In the Genealogy, Nietzsche's primary goal is to attack the ascetic ideal established through slave morality (Western religion) and to replace it with an improved version of the vanquished noble or heroic ideal. I do not mean to attempt wholly to defend Nietzsche against the charge of anti-semitism. Although his examples are not as simple and straightforward as they seem to be, one must not forget the multiple levels on which he is writing, and note that an anti-semitic sentiment is allowed purposefully, if only on the most superficial level of his argument.

Trollope does something similar in the Palliser novels. His characters hold anti-semitic feelings, and his text is doused with stereotypically racist comments.

Like Nietzsche, Trollope's anti-semitic remarks are purposefully harsh and appalling, but he draws the reader's attention to these descriptions in order to show how disgusting Victorian anti-semitism is.

Trollope, at the most, is as anti-semitic as any progressive conservative southern liberal is racist, which is not a total dismissal of the possibility that he is, but rather an affirmation that he is not utterly despicable. He is hardly avid in the anti-semitism he writes, but is he anti-semitic at all? From his treatment of Emilius, the reader could justifiably assert that he is. Trollope's description of him is quite harsh. Is there any reason why Emilius has to be Jewish? Would he not be as effective a character if he were a Christian? Possibly, but probably not. Trollope satirically plays on Victorian anti-semitism and Anglican religious prejudice in The Eustace Diamonds and elsewhere throughout his novels. Neither Plantagenet Palliser, nor Lady Glencora, nor Phineas Finn ever make racist comments, and Madam Max's marriage to Phineas establishes her as a worthy character regardless of her mysterious history. These are the most beloved characters in the series; in The Prime Minister Trollope even enunciates his own political creed through Palliser. If there were any anti-semitism in Trollope the person, the reader would hear it from one of their mouths.

It does not seem that Trollope can justifiably be considered anti-semitic, at least not from an examination of the Palliser novels. However, throughout his work Jews are repeatedly described as dirty or little, and from these seemingly random inserts it does not seem that he could be considered completely free from all Victorian anti-semitism. If he allows such prejudices to surface in smaller instances and stand as prejudices, the above apology should be intensely scrutinized, for problems do exist. However, I do not feel as if he should be blackballed or crucified because of this, any more than Shakespeare should be for The Merchant of Venice. The defense that Trollope, like all people, is a product of his society and cannot reasonably be expected to defy all social prejudices extant during his lifetime is applicable here, but is not the only defense possible on his behalf. This essay can but be considered only a preliminary sketch of the question of anti-semitism within Trollope's work, since it only considers the Palliser novels, but I hope that the points I have presented on Trollope's behalf will stand up against a more thorough examination.


James, Henry. "Anthony Trollope." The Art of Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.

Kincaid, James R. The Novels of Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobioigraphy. Oxford University Press, 1950.

---. Can You Forgive Her? New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

---. The Duke's Children. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

---. The Eustace Diamonds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

---. Phineas Finn. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.

---. Phineas Redux. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952.

---. The Prime Minister. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Muslims & Jews in the Medieval World-System

according to Disraeli’s 1833 Novel, Alroy

by: Sheila A. Spector

  1. In the past few years, we have witnessed a regeneration of interest in Benjamin Disraeli, with new attention being paid, according to Paul Smith, "to aspects of his personality and œuvre inadequately recognized or analysed in the standard accounts, especially his social and political ideas, his style of self-presentation, and the significance of his Jewish origins and his assumption of the romantic mode" (1). Key to this reevaluation is Disraeli’s early novel, Alroy. While few went as far as Robert Blake, who labeled Alroy "perhaps the most unreadable of his romances," most audiences have tended to dismiss it as Disraeli’s "Jewish novel" (108). Referring to the book’s medieval Jewish subject matter, the comment seems to imply that at best, Alroy might be of sectarian interest to Jews, though it certainly could not have nearly the relevance of Disraeli’s other books, like the "silver fork" novels of the 1820s, or the Young England trilogy of the 1840s. While not a major figure, Disraeli did earn for himself a significant literary reputation, his œuvre comprising over a dozen works of fiction, including an imaginary voyage, Byronic romances, sentimental stories, social and political satires, and Victorian novels. In their midst, this relatively short "dramatic romance," considered by Cecil Roth to be the first Jewish historical novel, seems somewhat out of place, its content and form having apparently little relation to the other novels, much less to the political career of the future prime minister of England. But such a narrow view obscures the larger significance of Alroy (61).

  2. Completed just before he formally entered politics for the first time, in this short "Jewish novel," Disraeli comes to terms with his own identity as a baptized Jew. Although the Jews had begun returning to England almost immediately after their expulsion in 1290, they had since then been denied the rights of citizenship. In the seventeenth century, the move for formal readmission failed, and in the eighteenth, the Jewish Naturalization Bill was repealed almost as soon as it was passed, in 1753. The result was that until emancipation in 1858, Jews were denied the basic rights accorded to most citizens, including restrictions on their ability to own land, to attend universities and to hold political office. Having been baptized as a child, Disraeli suffered under none of these legal disabilities. Yet, as an ethnic Jew, he was vulnerable to attacks by Christians about his heritage and the sincerity of his conversion, and to criticism by Jews that as an apostate, he had abandoned his obligations to his people.1 Consequently, Disraeli felt compelled, on the personal level, to rationalize his conflicting identity as a practicing Anglican who was an ethnic Jew. Politically, he had to justify advocating a constitutionally established national church, even though the relationship disenfranchised the Jews. Finally, he needed, literarily, to progress beyond the romantic idealism of his youth before he could achieve the conservative realism of his ensuing political career. As the vehicle for attempting to resolve some of these apparent contradictions, he created in Alroy a hybrid literary form in which he superimposed Jewish and Christian archetypal structures on each other, not to demonstrate the superiority of one religion over the other, but to reflect his belief that, as he would later say in Tancred, "Christianity is Judaism for the multitude."2

  3. Biographical Significance of Alroy

  4. One reason why Alroy has fallen through the cracks of literary history is that like Disraeli himself, the novel is neither Jewish, in the sense that its themes and characterizations conform to a Jewish ethos, nor Christian, the few giaours in the book being minor characters who are vilified by the Muslims populating twelfth-century Persia. Rather, in its portrayal of a young Jewish hero attempting to survive in a non-Jewish world, Alroy reflects the dilemma confronted by Disraeli himself, as a baptized Jew who, though remaining a practicing Anglican throughout his life, still retained strong emotional ties with his Jewish heritage.3

  5. As the literary representation of Disraeli’s "ideal ambition,"4 Alroy reflects what the author imagined his life might have been like had he had a Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen, instead of a baptism, on 31 July 1817. As a third generation Englishman of what was originally an Italian Jewish family, Benjamin was raised by parents who regretted their own ethnicity. Although his father Isaac D’Israeli himself never converted, after the death of his own father and a quarrel with local synagogue leaders, he had his children baptized, thus technically making available to them all the advantages of British citizenship which, at that time, were denied to any English resident who was not a member of the Church of England. Had he chosen to, Benjamin might have obtained—though he did not—a university education, but he did take advantage of the opportunity to hold public office, formally running for the first time the year before Alroy was published. From the perspective of early nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewry, Alroy emerges as Disraeli’s Jewish surrogate, the failed messianic mission graphically suggesting that in the author’s mind, at any rate, conversion was the only viable means available to him of elevating the position of contemporary English Jewry.5

  6. Throughout his life, Disraeli had an ambivalent relationship with the Jewish community. According to Jewish tradition, two options alone are available to those whose circumstances make adherence to their faith impossible: they could become martyrs, dying rather than converting; or, as most notably in the case of the Spanish Inquisition, they could become marranos, that is, crypto-Jews, assuming the public demeanor of a Christian while practicing in private whatever vestiges of Judaism they might manage. The apostate, in contrast, was vilified, for regardless of the sincerity of his conversion, he still abandoned his obligations to his people. In Disraeli’s case, the problem was complicated by his close connections with English Jewry. Most of his family, including his parents, were Jewish. In addition, Disraeli seems to have been a less than enthusiastic convert, not agreeing until two weeks later than his younger brothers to be baptized. Yet, all evidence indicates that once converted, he remained a practicing Anglican throughout his life. Still, at the same time, he created for himself a largely fanciful genealogy, claiming in later life to have been descended from Spanish marranos fleeing the Inquisition.

  7. The sketchy history of the pseudo-messiah David Alroy provided Disraeli with the ideal medium through which to project what his life might have been like had he remained Jewish. As he indicates in his last footnote, Disraeli was first attracted by what he assumed was Alroy’s bold arrogance. When Alroy was asked by his captor how he knew that he was a messiah, he supposedly responded that they might cut off his head, and yet, he would live. Of course, Alroy died, but his challenge enabled him to avoid a fate far worse than decapitation. This story, though attributed to the philosopher Moses Maimonides—as repeated in the Chronologia Sacra-Profana A Mundi Conditu ad Annum M.5352 vel Christi 1592, dicta German Davidis, of David Ben Solomon Gans (1541-1613), and derived from the Shevet Yehudah (1553) of Solomon ibn Verga (second half of the fifteenth-first quarter of sixteenth century) —is likely spurious. Rather, the most common popular source of information about Alroy derives from Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish traveler of the late twelfth century, known primarily for the diary account of his adventures.6

  8. Historically accurate information about Alroy is scant. Born during the turmoil of the Crusades in the twelfth century, Menahem b. Solomon, as he was originally named, was a charismatic leader whose knowledge of mystical lore enabled him to persuade his followers that he was, indeed, the messiah. It is quite possible that Alroy believed in his election, since his father, identifying himself as the prophet Elijah, had a generation earlier circulated a letter among Jewish communities in the east proclaiming an imminent ingathering of exiles under his leadership. Menahem, in turn, changed his name to David al-Ro’i to imply an association with the House of David. Around 1147, in an attempt to unite the Jews of Kurdistan into a force capable of defeating the Seljuk Turks, Alroy gathered the Jews of Azerbaidzhan, in the hope that he might conquer Edessa and then the Holy Land. In preparation for his military exploit, he supposedly sent messengers around the Baghdad area, and they, presumably exceeding their actual instructions, told the Jews to assemble on their roof tops, from where they would be transported to the Messiah. When the prophecy did not materialize, the leaders of the Jewish community disavowed Alroy’s claim of messiahship, while Persian authorities threatened retaliation. Apparently in collusion with the authorities, the district governor bribed Alroy’s father-in-law to assassinate the pseudo-messiah. Even after his death, though, the movement retained faithful followers, known as Menahemites, who decades later spoke fondly of their dead leader.

  9. In the novel, Disraeli uses the historical Alroy as a foil against which indirectly to posit conversion as the third alternative to martyrdom and crypto-Judaism. Here transformed into a biblical archetype, Alroy is introduced as the Prince of the Captivity, the last remaining scion of the royal family; and like Moses, David and Solomon, all of whom are frequently alluded to in the novel, this David is destined to liberate his people from their state of captivity, and to establish a Jewish kingdom organized according to Old Testament law. Like his predecessors, however, he is also destined to fail, for like them, he, too, falls in love with a non-Jewish woman who leads him away from strict Jewish worship. As a result, the kingdom collapses, the Turks re-conquer the Jews and kill Alroy, thus concluding the action where the novel began, with the Jewish people in Hamadan under Turkish control. This cycle of Old Testament history is doomed to be repeated, according to Christian tradition, until the Jews accept the New Dispensation in which the circular pattern of the Old Testament will be replaced by the linear Christ who will lead His followers to rest in the spiritual New Jerusalem.

  10. In Alroy, Disraeli presents martyrdom as a romantic, though unviable alternative. Faithful to his source, Disraeli has the Jewish king, when offered the choice between the crescent and the sword, trick Alp Arslan into an immediate decapitation, rather than the painfully slow evisceration that had been planned for him. In this way, Alroy, like a Byronic hero, is able to retain his noble dignity. Yet, on the practical level, Alroy’s martyrdom nullifies the effect of his entire life, for his messiahship, in contrast to Christ’s, left no permanent impact on his people, the only remnants of his life being a few not particularly accurate accounts and, after 1833, Disraeli’s idealized rendering of the sometime caliph.

  11. In contrast to the fictional Alroy, Disraeli, whose sincere conversion precluded both martyrdom and crypto-Judaism, attempted to devise a median way by which to combine the Old and New Dispensations into a religion through which people of both faiths might flourish. A decade later, in the Young England novels of the mid-1840s, he would introduce Sidonia as the archetypal wise Jew whose advice was indispensable to the Christian heroes of the books; but in 1833, when Alroy was first published, Disraeli had yet to determine what he believed to be the appropriate relationship between the two faiths. At that point, he could only demonstrate that as an idealized romantic figure, Alroy could not accommodate himself to the realities of his world, and that by extension, Disraeli’s own Christianity, not the treachery of the apostate, would become the means by which the Victorian messianic figure would, in fact, help emancipate contemporary Jews.

  12. Political Significance of Alroy

  13. Alroy is usually excluded from the list of Disraeli’s political novels, its twelfth-century Persian setting, populated primarily by Jews and Muslims, giving most readers the initial impression of an exotic tale with no immediate relevance. However, just as the hero is a projection of Disraeli’s personal struggle with the contradiction between his religion and his heritage, similarly, the setting provides Disraeli with the means by which to allegorize the contemporary political conflict about the relationship between throne and altar. With, on the one hand, a constitutionally established church, and on the other, an increasingly pluralistic population, Great Britain in the 1830s was forced not only to reexamine the relationship between church and state, but actually to reconsider, in light of growing protests, the propriety even of maintaining a national church at all. If, in the novel, Alroy’s two main advisors, Jabaster and Honain, represent what from the Jewish perspective would be interpreted as religious martyrs and marranos, in terms of English politics, their stands correspond, respectively, to the theocrats, those who wished to strengthen the constitutional relationship between throne and altar, and the utilitarians, those in favor of disestablishing the Anglican Church entirely. By displacing the contemporary political debate onto a medieval Middle Eastern setting in which Christians play only a minor part, Disraeli was able to objectify what otherwise might have been too emotional a subject, especially when written by a baptized Jew.7

  14. As a Tory, Disraeli supported the constitutional establishment of the Church of England. Not simply a matter of religious exclusivity, the historical relationship between throne and altar reflected the British belief that the two institutions were mutually supportive, together providing the order, morality and political liberty necessary for the commonweal. In 1815, two years before Disraeli was baptized, Englishmen attributed their defeat of Napoleon in no small measure to their established Church, considering the French affiliation with Rome to have been debilitating. By the mid-1830s, however, the constitutional establishment of the national church had come under attack. The repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828, and Catholic emancipation in 1829, though intended to reinforce Anglican hegemony, led latitudinarians to demand further religious equality for all denominations, besides the Church of England. From the other direction, during this period, the "Oxford Tractarians," who sensed in reform the attempt of government to exert secular authority over the established church, began their attempt to move Anglicanism back to its High Church tradition, as a median between Catholicism and Protestantism. Ultimately, the two extremes would meet in the next decade in the debate over whether or not to disestablish entirely the Church of England.

  15. For Disraeli, the constitutional issue was complicated by his ethnic heritage. While he would support the elimination of those disabilities preventing Jews from gaining the full rights of citizenship, at the same time, he consistently endorsed the established Church. Although his early treatise, Vindication of the English Constitution (1835), is frequently cited as an example of Disraeli’s opportunism, written at the same time he affiliated himself with the Tories, actually, it provides a theoretical analysis of the same problem he explores from a fictional perspective in Alroy. Recontextualizing the political debate from a polarity between high and low church into the constitutional dialectic between, on the one hand, those who advocated a theocracy, and on the other, utilitarians, Disraeli recommended the synthesis achieved by a representative Protestant form of government, one in which theology was continually adjusted to the current needs of the people, whom the clergy represented:

  16. The Church is part of our Constitution, and its character has changed in unison with that Constitution; the clergy in this country, thanks to that Reformation whose good fruits we have long enjoyed, both political and spiritual, are national; they are our fellow-subjects, and they have changed with their fellow-countrymen. Their errors were the errors of their age, and of their nation; they were no more. The Bishops who, under James the First, maintained the High Commission Court, under James the Second were the first champions of our liberties; the Establishment which, under Laud, persecuted to obtain Conformity, is now certainly our surest, perhaps our only guarantee of Toleration. (137)

    According to Disraeli, the primary function of the national church is to provide social stability in a changing world. Given the transformations England underwent after the Tudors broke with Rome in the sixteenth century, the sense of nationality, he claimed, had been maintained since then in large part through the coordinated efforts of all social institutions:

    It is these institutions which make us a nation. Without our Crown, our Church, our Universities, our great municipal and commercial Corporations, our Magistracy, and its dependent scheme of provincial polity, the inhabitants of England, instead of being a nation, would present only a mass of individuals governed by a metropolis, whence an arbitrary senate would issue the stern decrees of its harsh and heartless despotism. (181-2)

    In Disraeli’s view, the established Church provided England with its sovereign principle, that sense of patriotism needed to transform the aggregate of individuals into a cohesive nation.

  17. Unlike most of his other novels, in Alroy, Disraeli displaces the contemporary political debate onto an exotic setting, transforming the major events of Persian-Turkish history into the western archetype of empire. In depicting the Middle East, Disraeli has been accused variously of recycling descriptions contained in letters written during his grand tour of 1830-1, and of misrepresenting the historical record, regarding both the Muslims and the Jews.8 However, an examination of the supposed errors within their fictional contexts suggests that Disraeli deliberately manipulated the history and culture of twelfth-century Persia to produce an archetypal empire, one that could evoke the spirit of Middle Eastern history, while simultaneously reflecting the inverse of nineteenth-century Great Britain, that is, a world without either representative government or an established Protestant church. Focusing in on the time of the first two Crusades, Alroy telescopes the clash between the older Arab dynasties and the invading waves of Turks, the very brief period when the conquered Jews rose up against their Muslim oppressors.

  18. Historically, as Disraeli indicates in the Preface, the action of Alroy revolves around the Seljuk Turks, a minor clan that dominated the Turkish world from the mid-eleventh through the mid-twelfth century.9 Descended from a family of nomads, two grandsons of the original leader gained power around 1040. The first, Chaghri, claimed Khurasan, while the second, Toghril (r. 1038-63) moved west, eventually capturing Baghdad in 1055, to become the supreme political authority within Iran and Iraq. Chaghri’s son, Alp Arslan (r. 1063-72), and grandson, Malikshah (r. 1072-92), brought the empire to new heights of religious and secular accomplishments, while defeating Byzantine forces. Finally, at Malikshah’s death, his sons Berkyaruk ( r. 1092-1105) and Muhammad (r. 1105-18) lost much of their power to other family members as the empire became decentralized, ultimately to be divided into four geographical areas: Rum (i.e., Anatolia, 1077- 1307), Syria (1078-1117), Iraq (1118-94), and Kerman (1041-1186).

  19. Disraeli’s portrayal of the Seljuks is, as he himself admits, inaccurate; yet, he does manage to incorporate some of the most significant elements, either directly into the action, or indirectly, through the names of characters. Probably the most widely known development of Seljuk rule involved the Assassins (etymologically derived from hashish), a fanatical movement started around 1090 by a Shi’ite extremist, Hasan Subah. Opposing the authority of both the Seljuk Sultanate and the caliphate, the Assassins targeted high-ranking officials and theologians, evading capture by seeking shelter in the mountains and traveling in disguise. A second association involves attempts by the caliphate to gain independence from the Seljuks. At the same time that the Crusaders were mounting their external attack, internally, a local regime in the region of Khwarizm emerged to threaten the governing authority, finally defeating the Seljuks in 1181. After that, Persia was overtaken by the Mongols.

  20. In Alroy, Disraeli rearranges historical events to dramatize the inevitable collapse of an empire whose secular government is opposed by an externally controlled religious authority.10 Key is the decisive Battle of Nihawand, of the year 642, fought in the Zagros Mountains of western Persia. At the "battle of battles," as it was popularly known, the Arabs defeated the Persian Empire, consolidating their rule by imposing Islam on the Zoroastrian population. By anachronistically associating Alroy with the Battle of Nihawand, Disraeli creates the effect of an historical cycle in which the Turks replicate the older victory of the Arabs, which has already been replicated by Alroy’s forces in the first part of the novel. Thus, nation follows nation in an inevitable cycle, not to be broken, it might be inferred, until the civilizing efforts of the British Empire in the modern period.

  21. Within this cyclical context, Disraeli rearranges or reinterprets other historical events to conform to the requirements of his narrative structure. The initial conflict, Alroy’s killing, in defense of his sister Miriam, of the prince Alschiroch, evokes Moses’s slaying of the Egyptian in Exodus (2:12), while also alluding to Saladin’s uncle, Assudeen Sheerkoh (Shirkuh?), who allied himself with the Fatimids in Egypt to defeat Christian forces in 1169. As a reward, Sheerkoh was appointed chief minister, though he died two months later. When a young man, according to John Malcolm’s 1815 History of Persia, Sheerkoh, whose name means "the lion of the mountain," had initially been forced to flee to Egypt after slaying a high-born man who had insulted an unprotected female (1:379). In the novel, Disraeli makes Sheerkoh the villain and Alroy the hero of the incident.

  22. Disraeli also manipulates history to enhance the major battle scenes of the novel. In Part VII, Alroy consolidates his power by defeating Hasan Subah, leader of the Assassins who played the secular and religious establishments off against each other. Finally, at the climax, Alroy is anachronistically defeated by Alp Arslan, here inaccurately transformed into the king of the Khwarizms.

  23. Within this medieval context, the significance of Alroy exceeds the limits of a sectarian tale about a failed messiah. Rather, the crisis involves matters of statecraft, the hero’s problem being how to organize a government capable of addressing the interests of all factions of the population. While it is tempting to impose a narrow Jewish interpretation on the action, attributing Alroy’s downfall, like Samson’s, to his marriage, in this case with the half-Christian half-Muslim Schirene, in fact, the collapse of the empire occurs not, as Jabaster insists, because Alroy has violated Jewish law, but because at that time and place, there existed no viable system that would accommodate the needs of all of the people.11 In developing his novel, Disraeli deliberately undermines the two alternatives—Jabaster and Honain, theocracy and utilitarianism—demonstrating that they comprise what is actually a false choice, the supposed opposites being mirror images of each other. Lacking the representative Protestant government delineated in the Vindication, Alroy’s empire is doomed to defeat.

  24. Jabaster, Alroy’s mystical teacher, represents the dangers integral to a pure theocracy. At first glance, Jabaster would seem to personify an idealized religious man. Living in the wilderness, he is a mystic who has devoted his life to reestablishing the ancient cult of the biblical Israelites. After Alroy flees Hamadan, Jabaster instructs him on the religious mission, giving his student the talisman that would protect his life and provide access to the Tombs of the Kings, where he would locate the sceptre of Solomon, symbol of his election. Accompanied by the prophetess Esther, Jabaster would seem to represent God’s will, the choice of Jerusalem over Baghdad reflecting the eternal Jewish desire for redemption from exile.

  25. A closer examination of the details associated with Jabaster, however, suggests that the ancient religion he advocates is really the moribund cult of a zealot who cannot accommodate himself to the contemporary world. Unlike all of the other major figures in the novel, Jabaster is not named for a biblical or historical figure; rather, for him, Disraeli seems to have coined a neologism, based on the Hebrew root ???, yavash, meaning "to be dried up." Thus, Jabaster’s ancient cult is fundamentally but a "dried up" form of religion. Similarly, his support of Alroy’s messiahship is tinged with jealousy, he himself having failed a generation earlier to lead the people: "I recall the glorious rapture of that sacred strife amid the rocks of Caucasus. A fugitive, a proscribed and outlawed wretch, whose life is common sport, and whom the vilest hind may slay without a bidding. I, who would have been Messiah!" (Pt3Ch1). Even now, during the war, Jabaster’s forces prove inadequate to their task—"The loss of the division of Jabaster was also severe, but the rest of the army suffered little" (Pt7Ch16); and during the decisive battle, he requires assistance from Scherirah’s multicultural band of mercenaries. Yet, after the Muslims are defeated, Jabaster demands that those same people be denied full rights of citizenship, pressuring Alroy to establish a theocracy consistent with biblical law:

  26. ‘Noble emir,’ replied Alroy, ‘return to Bagdad, and tell your fellow-subjects that the King of Israel grants protection to their persons, and security to their property.’
    ‘And for their faith?’ enquired the envoy, in a lower voice.
    ‘Toleration,’ replied Alroy, turning to Jabaster.
    ‘Until further regulations,’ added the high priest. (Pt7Ch19)

    Similarly, the gift of Esther, the prophetess, is also undermined, her warnings about entering Baghdad, especially as associated with Ahab, apparently being motivated at least as much by jealousy as by spirituality.

  27. But if theocracy is revealed to be an unacceptable alternative, so, too, is the utilitarianism of Honain. Though Jabaster’s brother, Honain has lived like a marrano, assuming the external appearance of the Muslim world while keeping his personal beliefs to himself. When they first meet, Honain saves Alroy’s life, and recognizing Jabaster’s ring, invites Alroy to stay in his home. In contrast to his brother, Honain is revealed to be a cosmopolitan intellectual, wealthy, highly educated and greatly respected. As a physician, Honain has access to the upper echelons of power, and exerts great influence on the caliph. But as with Jabaster, his position, too, is undermined, for his utilitarianism affords him material wealth at the cost of his soul. Ultimately, his survival instincts transform him into the deaf-mute eunuch he has Alroy pretend to be. Having surrendered his moral base, he has become an impotent functionary, pandering, betraying, even murdering, all for the sake of base survival.

  28. By the end of the novel, there can be found little difference between Jabaster and Honain. Although one uses God to justify his behavior, and the other survival, both betray Alroy and plot murder. That Jabaster fails in his assassination attempt does not suggest any moral superiority, only that Alroy is protected by supernatural forces. In contrast, Honain’s successful fratricide implies that the religious zealot has exceeded the limits of divine approbation, while the pragmatic utilitarian has lost any spark of humanity.

  29. Ultimately, the problem lies neither with Jabaster nor Honain, but with Alroy’s failure of leadership. Once he becomes caliph, Alroy realizes that Jabaster’s dream of a theocracy is unfeasible in the contemporary world, that "Universal empire must not be founded on sectarian prejudices and exclusive rights" (Pt8Ch3). Yet, he lacks a positive theory of what principles empire should be founded on. Having been written before Disraeli developed his concept of the sovereign principle, the novel indicates only in general terms what went wrong. But when the text is viewed from the perspective of the Vindication, Alroy’s fatal error emerges as his inability to recognize the fact that the pragmatic utilitarianism of Honain, which is motivated strictly by self-interest, is as inimical to "Universal empire" as is the narrowly defined theocracy advocated by Jabaster. Although Alroy can sense the abstract need, he is incapable of effecting the kind of church-state relationship by which to actualize the sovereign principle. Living in pre-Reformation Asia, Alroy is doomed to fail.

  30. Literary Significance of Alroy

  31. Mirroring the author himself, the literary structure of Alroy reflects Disraeli’s attempt to combine Jewish and Christian components into a coherent whole. Frequently referring to himself as the blank page between the two Testaments, Disraeli likely meant that as a practicing Anglican who was an ethnic Jew, he saw himself as the catalyst that might be used to rejoin the two dispensations into a single universal religion. Over a decade after writing Alroy, he would be able to clarify in Tancred what he considered to be the relationship between the two faiths:

  32. "And when did men cease from worshipping [pagan gods]?" asked Fakredeen of Tancred; "before the Prophet?"
    "When truth descended from Heaven in the person of Christ Jesus."
    "But truth had descended from Heaven before Jesus," replied Fakredeen; "since, as you tell me, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, and since then to many of the prophets and the princes of Israel."
    "Of whom Jesus was one," said Tancred; "the descendant of King David as well as the Son of God. But through this last and greatest of their princes it was ordained that the inspired Hebrew mind should mould and govern the world. Through Jesus God spoke to the Gentiles, and not to the tribes of Israel only. That is the great worldly difference between Jesus and his inspired predecessors. Christianity is Judaism for the multitude, but still it is Judaism, and its development was the death-blow of the Pagan idolatry." (426-7)

    At this point, though, before his somewhat eccentric theory had consolidated, Disraeli turned to his art as the vehicle for expressing his belief that "the English are really neither Jews nor Christians, but follow a sort of religion of their own, which is made every year by their bishops" (Tancred, 209).12 To that end, in Alroy he superimposes Old Testament archetypes over popular English literary forms to suggest that as the older faith, Judaism is but a romantic ideal, and by implication, it should be superseded by the more realistic manifestations of Anglicanism.13

  33. Most obviously, the language of Alroy reflects this union of English and Old Testament stylistic traits. As Disraeli explains in the Preface to the first edition, he has attempted to create an innovative form of metrical prose:

  34. As for myself, I never hesitate, although I discard verse, to have recourse to rhythm whenever I consider its introduction desirable, and occasionally even to rhyme. There is no doubt that the style in which I have attempted to write this work is a delicate and difficult instrument for an artist to handle. He must not abuse his freedom. He must alike beware the turgid and the bombastic, the meagre and the mean. He must be easy in his robes of state, and a degree of elegance and dignity must accompany him even in the camp and the market-house. The language must rise gradually with the rising passions of the speakers, and subside in harmonious unison with their sinking emotions. (Preface 1833)

    Most of the early critics were immediately struck by the metrical variations found within Alroy (see Reviews), their reviews noting an eclectic aggregate of styles, including serious opera and the Gothic, Ossian, Byron and Shakespeare. Amid these secular forms, the stylistic devices of the Old Testament provide coherence for what otherwise would be an inconsistent conglomeration of motifs. Both Alroy and the Hebrew Bible are comprised of a variety of genres, ranging from lyrics to narratives; and both texts, though printed primarily in prose form, are actually highly poetic, being written in a distinctively metrical language. Similarly, underlying both is a kind of poetic parallelism in which lines can be broken down into members bearing both a logical and a metrical relationship to each other. To cite the passage quoted by the reviewer in The New Monthly Magazine:

    "Or sail upon the cool and azure lake
    In some bright barque, like to a sea-nymph’s shell,
    And followed by the swans."

    "There is no lake so blue as thy blue eye,
    There is no swan so white as thy round arm."

    "Or shall we lance our falcons in the air,
    And bring the golden pheasant to our feet?" &c.

    Although these lines were actually written in prose, they almost automatically render themselves into poetic members resembling lines from the Song of Solomon, in which the sound echoes the sense, Alroy and Schirene uttering parallel expressions of their love.

  35. Consistent with the use of a hebraic metrical style, Disraeli includes numerous passages from and allusions to the Bible. He names most of the Jewish characters after ancient Israelites, and models many plot sequences after Old Testament incidents.

  36. The aggregate of styles reflects simultaneously Disraeli’s attitude towards Judaism and towards contemporary culture. Because by 1833, the appeal of high romanticism was waning, the combination of romantic and biblical devices implies that the older literary style and the older faith were both sentimental archaisms, published at a time, as many of Alroy’s reviewers pointed out, when readers demanded a new, more realistic form of literature.

  37. Comparable to the style, the character of Alroy is a romanticized transformation of an archetypal Old Testament hero. Like his biblical antecedents, Alroy is a destined ruler who, after consolidating his leadership, is eventually brought down by his own character flaws, in this case a combination of bad judgment in the choice of advisors, and sexual weakness in trusting Schirene. But Alroy’s psychological development is purely Byronic. He is a brooding, charismatic, isolated, reckless, doomed figure, from the beginning manifesting a sexually ambiguous attitude towards his sister.14 By relying heavily on dramatic interchange and soliloquy, rather than narrative explanation, Disraeli lets Alroy, much as Byron had permitted Manfred, reveal himself, in this case as the reluctant Hamlet, loath to assume his destined role as Prince of the Captivity;15 and even though his failure is consistent with the Old Testament prototype, his death is purely romantic. Eschewing the probable ending that Alroy was killed by his father-in-law, Disraeli chooses the more dramatic climax in which Alroy supposedly tricks his captor into beheading him.

  38. Finally, as with style and characterization, the narrative structure is produced by a combination of Jewish and romantic archetypes. Identified in the Preface to the first edition as a "dramatic romance," Alroy’s generic base is a distinctively Protestant literary form. As developed by Spenser, justified by Milton, and popularized by Bunyan, the English epic-romance revolves around the Christian hero who—whether in the nationalistic guise of a St. George, the religious manifestation of an Adam, or the popular representation of an everyman—traverses the linear path from innocence to experience, all with the help of an external form of Grace. Structurally, the action tends to be symmetrical; in the first half of the narrative, the hero typically falters, lapsing into some form of a symbolic House of Pride where he falls sway to the negative side of a highly polarized moral system. Then, with the help of God, he is able to escape from the clutches of evil and ascend to a symbolic House of Holiness, where he is educated in the theology of moral virtue. After he is spiritually healed, he can defeat the dragon of evil and unite with his beautiful lady. Thus, through the plot sequence, the spiritual and the political merge as the hero’s regeneration culminates with the social restoration symbolized by the marriage. In this highly idealized genre, throne and altar coalesce into the constitutional union of post-Reformation Great Britain.

  39. In contrast to this linear pattern, characteristic of Christian eschatology, Jewish messianism tends to be cyclical. An outgrowth of their diasporean experience, Jews think in terms of a circular pattern of exile and return, culminating in the physical regeneration of Jerusalem. As already noted, this is the archetypal structure found in Old Testament narrative, with Moses, David and Solomon successively reenacting the pattern of rise and fall, as each attempts and ultimately fails to reestablish the Jewish homeland. In merging the Jewish and Christian forms, Disraeli superimposes the theology of the New Dispensation onto the Jewish archetype, implying that the Jewish hero is doomed to repeat the same dull round until, as with Disraeli himself, he accepts Protestantism as the means of breaking free from the cycle. Because the novel takes place before the Reformation, the hero has no means— i.e., Grace—by which he might stop the circle from completing itself, so that even though he might himself recognize the fallacies inherent in the Old Dispensation, there is no way he can take advantage of the New. Structurally, Disraeli conveys Alroy’s dilemma by extending the linear Christian archetype beyond its conventional length until, at the climax of the novel, it is transformed into the Judaic circle as Alroy is forced to martyr himself to the ancient cult which he has, in the course of the novel, repudiated.

  40. The first eight parts of Alroy sketch out the typical Christian narrative. Beginning in medias res, the story opens, in Part I, with Alroy’s acceptance of his identity as Prince of the Captivity. Like Moses, his biblical prototype, Alroy is a reluctant leader, being forced, after committing murder in defense of his sister Miriam (the name of Moses’s sister), in Part II, to flee to the wilderness. Part III focuses on the preparation for his mission, as he is taught the mystical significance of his destiny; in Part IV, he undertakes the perilous journey which, in Part V, leads to Baghdad, the symbolic House of Pride, and then, in Part VI, Jerusalem, the House of Holiness, where Alroy locates the sceptre of Solomon. Thus anointed, the chosen one, in Part VII, defeats the Turks, and in Part VIII, marries Schirene. In a Christian epic, the sceptre would signify the Divine Grace that makes manifest the hero’s election, while simultaneously providing him the weapon with which he will defeat evil. The Turkish infidels, of course, represent the conventional antagonists of Western literature, while marriage is the archetypal culmination of romance, the hero’s union with his lady symbolizing the anticipated marriage of Christ and His Heavenly Bride, the Church.

  41. Unlike the Christian archetype, in which all of these symbolic acts are idealized in terms of a clearly defined moral polarity, here, the dramatic underpinnings introduce levels of realism that undercut the romantic veneer. Key to the structure is the symbolic House of Holiness, Alroy’s trip to Jerusalem in Part VI. Dissociated from the moral idealism of conventional anagogy, this Jerusalem is an old, decaying city—in fact, a realistic description of the Jerusalem Disraeli visited in 1831. The leader of the Jewish community, Rabbi Zimri, is indistinguishable from anyone else in the geographically limited Jewish quarter, and he studies with the 109-year-old Rabbi Maimon. The synagogue they go to is located in a cemetery, and the lesson they study "makes equal sense, read backward or forward."

  42. Not an evil place, this city is simply moribund, so bound to its past that it cannot accommodate itself to the present, much less prepare for the future. It takes an outsider, the African pilgrim, to solve the rabbi’s riddle; conversely, no one in the congregation is capable of responding to his. Similarly, only the pilgrim recognizes Alroy as the chosen one, and it is he who leads the future messiah out of the synagogue and towards the Tombs of the Kings, where the sceptre of Solomon, quite fittingly, is located.

  43. This is not simply a matter of reversing the polarity, that is, of subverting the religious significance of Jerusalem in order to privilege Baghdad, for Turkish materialism is revealed to be as hollow as Jewish religiosity. As the elaborate descriptions indicate, Baghdad is, as the inverse of Jerusalem, a city of great wealth and beauty. Yet, if Rabbi Zimri proves unrecognizable, Honain remains a prisoner to his disguise, prevented from ever announcing his true identity; and if the Jews are mesmerized by what is conveyed as Talmudic nonsense, Schirene, the caliph’s daughter, is bored, requiring the books Honain smuggles in to occupy her mind. As the moral counterpart to the moribund House of Holiness, this House of Pride is vacuous, thus implying not that Alroy made the wrong choice in rejecting Jerusalem, but that he had no viable alternative. Consequently, the archetypal climax is undercut. While the defeat of the Turks and marriage with the lady love would conventionally end the story, Alroy continues on, the last two chapters introducing the kind of realism that transforms the Christian romance into a Jewish tragedy.

  44. As with the biblical prototypes, the hero’s fall results from his lack of judgment: Alroy trusts the wrong people, and fails to establish an effective form of government. Like Solomon, he engages in foreign modes of worship—attending the mosque with Schirene; like Samson, he relinquishes the source of his power—permitting Schirene to take his signet ring; and like David, he is complicit in committing murder—providing Honain with access to Jabaster. Having betrayed his mission, Alroy is deprived of the sceptre, and is consequently executed. Not an evil man, Alroy is simply living in the wrong time. Like the virtuous pagans in Dante’s Limbo, he exists before the availability of Protestant Grace, and therefore, through no real fault of his own, he is doomed to fail.

  45. Consistent with the other literary devices, the overlay of mysticism is used to associate Judaism with older romantic beliefs that cannot be validated, and therefore should not be relied on in the modern world. In virtually all cases, the mystical import of symbols—whether Jabaster’s talisman, Esther’s prophecies, astrological signs, or even the sceptre of Solomon—is vitiated by reality. Significantly, none of the mystical omens fulfills its expected supernatural role. Even though they are never actually proven false, they are never validated, either. Rather, they seem basically irrelevant to Alroy’s plight. Thus, at the climax of the novel, the talisman, after having protected Alroy from Esther’s assassination attempt, crumbles; and the sceptre, after permitting Alroy to commune with Jabaster’s ghost, disappears. In sharp contrast to these mystical signs is Alroy’s signet ring, the concrete symbol of the king’s very real power. When Alroy permits Schirene to remove the ring from his finger, he quite literally abandons his royal responsibilities, thus committing the truly unforgivable sin of the novel.

  46. Disraeli’s own ambivalence about Alroy emerges most clearly through the competition between the two voices he develops for the book, the narrator’s and the editor’s. In contrast to conventional novels, which are controlled by the narrator, here, that role is radically reduced, even, in many chapters, completely eliminated from what Disraeli originally called his "dramatic romance." Quite significantly, Disraeli does not within the text itself undermine the reliability of his surrogate, but only restricts the narrator’s ability to convey to the reader his—the narrator’s? the author’s?—real attitude towards the story of Alroy. Contrasting sharply with the rather weak narrator is the strong editor who dominates the critical apparatus. In the Preface to the first edition, the editor announces in an almost defiant tone his creation of a new literary form, one destined to revolutionize English letters.16 Then, in the eighty-two footnotes following the text, the editor effectively undermines the romantic aura of the novel, incessantly interrupting the narrative flow with what is more often than not extraneous material about historical, geographical and cultural background. In the guise of a supremely confident intellectual, the editor places Alroy in the context of other false messiahs, using a variety of historical, philosophical and theological sources—both Christian and Jewish—to denigrate as little more than mystical superstition the romance his alter-ego, the narrator, is trying to idealize.

  47. Beneath the bravado, however, the editor reveals himself to be as insecure as the author himself. Significantly, the book concludes with a long footnote containing a Latin passage describing the death of Alroy. Ostensibly quoted to verify the ending of the novel, the Latin, while almost ostentatiously attesting to the editor’s scholarship, seems also, like the flamboyant attire sported by Disraeli at the time, to camouflage his underlying sympathy with the novel, the content of the note justifying the most romantic decision made by the narrator, that is, to reject Benjamin of Tudela’s description of Alroy’s death in favor of the account spuriously attributed to Maimonides. Similarly, when preparing the edition of 1846, while Disraeli cut the polemics from the Preface, he still left intact most of the notes, and even permitted Alroy to be reissued at the same time that he published the political Young England trilogy.

  48. By 1844, when he introduced the character of Sidonia into Coningsby, Disraeli seems to have resolved the contradictions implicit in his attitude towards Judaism. With the novel set in Victorian England, he could both idealize and minimize the impact of the Jew. As a wise, wealthy cosmopolitan, modeled at least in part after Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-79), Sidonia countered the common anti-Semitic stereotypes of the kabbalistic, legalistic Shylock, doomed to wander homeless until the Second Coming.17 At the same time, though, by limiting Sidonia to only a handful of appearances in the novel, Disraeli marginalized the Jew. The total effect was to turn Sidonia into a kind of Christ figure, available to assist Coningsby’s development into a modern Christian hero, though not interfering with his existence as an Anglican. Thus was Disraeli able to solve his Jewish problem: By recasting Alroy as Sidonia, he was able to transform the failed Jewish messiah into the Christian symbol of Grace.

  49. Cultural Significance of Alroy

  50. Ultimately, the real significance of Alroy lies in the cultural complexities that the novel exposes. In their attempt to unify the country after the break with Rome, the Tudor propagandists, as they have been called, developed a nationalistic myth revolving around the Calvinistic assumption that the English were God’s elect, a belief that would foster traits of xenophobia and chauvinism to culminate in centuries of British colonialism.18 As a member of Parliament, Disraeli would strive to refocus British imperialism away from religious doctrine, and towards a geopolitical policy predicated on spheres of influence gained through land purchase. Although Alroy was written long before Disraeli’s ideas about ethnicity and colonialism would crystallize, the novel’s perspective on multi-culturalism and imperialism reflects a rejection of earlier attitudes, as the future prime minister moved towards the more pragmatic politics of Victoria’s British Empire.

  51. The most significant aspect of Disraeli’s national realignment involved his belief that cultural tolerance was essential for the expanding empire. As can be seen from the earliest reviews of the novel, most readers in the 1830s preferred to ignore the ethnically diverse population of Alroy’s fictional world, only one criticizing the Jewish aspects of the novel. According to the reviewer for The London Literary Gazette, "the very frequent invocation of the Deity, which, though very fit for the Old Testament, and not misplaced in Jewish history, revolts the mind by repetition in a fiction like this." The other reviewers generally ignored the question of ethnicity, treating Alroy like any other English, that is, Protestant, novel, commenting about the genre, characterization, style, setting, etc., though without considering how the hero’s religion affected the action. In contrast, starting with Israel Abrahams’ 1913-essay, "A Masterpiece for the Week: Disraeli’s Alroy,’" readers began taking the opposite approach, subordinating the novel’s literary characteristics to its hero’s ethnicity, viewing Alroy as a specimen of Jewish culture, as opposed to the British literary tradition. It has only been since the end of the twentieth century, with the advent of cultural studies, that we have developed the scholarly tools required for exploring the complexities underlying the combination of an English novel, written about a Jewish messiah who is opposed by Turkish Muslims, and in which the Christians are marginalized to a few passing remarks about some atrocities committed by the Franks.

  52. In his later fiction, especially Tancred, Disraeli would develop an eccentric racial theory by which the three major monotheistic religions would be unified, with Judaism as their historical root. But in this initial attempt to expose the fallacies built into beliefs of Christian superiority, he undermines any of the easy solutions that might obscure the very real conflicts that arise in a multi-cultural society. Most obviously, in an idealistic romance, the marriage between the Jewish Alroy and the half-Christian half-Muslim Schirene would likely celebrate some kind of reunification among the three creeds, but in Alroy, it provides the impetus for Jabaster’s insurrection (a Jewish response to intermarriage), and Alp Arslan’s revenge (a Muslim reaction to dishonor). Similarly, the blood-brother ritual of Alroy’s ingesting Scherirah’s blood would be anathema to a Jew, just as Kisloch the Kourd’s affinity for alcohol would be an abomination to a Muslim. Finally, disloyalty within any group would automatically be condemned. But in Alroy, most of these violations occur inter-culturally, that is, between members of different ethnic or religious groups, so that the approbation of what normally would be unacceptable behavior for members within particular groups—like Jabaster’s dismissal of his own men’s destruction of Muslim property—exposes the fundamental immorality underlying most supposedly moral creeds.

  53. Towards the same end, Disraeli reverses the more usual treatment of Orientalism in Romantic literature. In contrast to those writers whose lavish descriptions of Asian treasures were designed to condemn the decadent East in favor, by contrast, of the morally superior West, Disraeli used a variety of disparate sources in order to expand the context from which to approach different cultures. As the extensive notes appended to the novel indicate, in addition to his own trip to the Levant in 1830-31, he used older histories and contemporary travel literature, as well as studies written by Christians, Jews and Muslims, about themselves and each other. The result is a panorama of cultural relativity in which a given author’s perception is revealed to have been determined by preconceptions that, more often than not, were unsympathetic to the subject being discussed. For example, in the notes, Disraeli cites William Enfield’s The History of Philosophy from the Earliest Periods, Augustin Calmet’s An Historical, Critical, Chronological and Etymological Dictionary of the Holy Bible, The Whole Works of John Lightfoot, and Jacques Basnage’s The History of the Jews, from Jesus Christ to the Present Time, all Christian texts that evince a distinct antipathy towards Judaism, for his information about Kabbalism. Yet, in the Preface, he asserts, regarding "the supernatural machinery of this romance, it is Cabalistical and correct" (Preface 1833); and in the text, he integrates the elements of Jewish mysticism smoothly into the narrative. Similarly, in contrast to the notes, which echo the Christian denigration of Bar Kokhba’s zealous resistance against the Romans (see Author's Note 10), the novel adheres to that very archetypal structure, that is, of a doomed rebellion waged against colonial control. The effect of these contradictions is to undermine any sense of cultural superiority, forcing us to accept each nation within its own context.

  54. The cultural relativity inherent in Alroy can be associated with new attitudes towards imperialism in the post-Napoleonic world. Under Victoria, Great Britain would continue to expand, but land purchase would supplant the older policy of military conquest, and mandated protection would replace colonial control. Through his representation of Alroy’s failed messianic movement, Disraeli was able to expose the shortcomings of the older expansionist policies in preparation for his political advocacy of the new.19 Set in the twelfth century, Alroy allegorizes the problems associated with colonial government, from the need to employ mercenaries, who, by definition, have no more loyalty for one conquering army than for another, to the impossibility of establishing an equitable system of governance, because, being predicated on the principles espoused by the colonizer, it will inevitably suppress core beliefs of the colonized—the disparity between the two frequently having provoked the military conquest in the first place. Thus, as Alroy knows when he first sets out on his messianic mission, but then forgets after he becomes emperor, Scherirah and his band of outlaws will always be loyal to the highest bidder, and despite the apparent sincerity of their professed friendship, they will just as easily transfer their allegiance to the next colonizing power. The outlaws themselves express their amoral creed after Alroy has conquered Asia:

  55. ‘Drink,’ said Kisloch the Kourd to Calidas the Indian; ‘you forget, comrade, we are no longer Moslemin.’
    ‘Wine, methinks, has a peculiarly pleasant flavour in a golden cup,’ said the Guebre.
    ‘I got this little trifle today in the Bazaar,’ he added, holding up a magnificent vase studded with gems.
    ‘I thought plunder was forbidden,’ grinned the Negro.
    ‘So it is,’ replied the Guebre; ‘but we may purchase what we please, upon credit.’
    ‘Well, for my part, I am a moderate man,’ exclaimed Calidas the Indian, ‘and would not injure even these accursed dogs of Turks. I have not cut my host’s throat, but only turned him into my porter, and content myself with his harem, his baths, his fine horses, and other little trifles.’
    ‘What quarters we are in! There is nothing like a true Messiah!’ exclaimed Kisloch, devoutly.
    ‘Nothing,’ said Calidas; ‘though to speak truth, I did not much believe in the efficacy of Solomon’s sceptre, till his Majesty clove the head of the valiant Seljuk with it.’
    ‘But now there’s no doubt of it,’ said the Guebre. ‘We should indeed be infidels if we doubted now,’ replied the Indian.
    ‘How lucky,’ grinned the Negro, ‘as I had no religion before, that I have now fixed upon the right one!’
    ‘Most fortunate!’ said the Guebre. ‘What shall we do to amuse ourselves to-night?’
    ‘Let us go to the coffee-houses and make the Turks drink wine,’ said Calidas the Indian.
    ‘What say you to burning down a mosque?’ said Kisloch the Kourd.
    ‘I had great fun with some Dervishes this morning,’ said the Guebre. ‘I met one asking alms with a wire run through his cheek, so I caught another, bored his nose, and tied them both together!’
    ‘Hah! hah! hah!’ burst the Negro. (Pt7Ch8)

  56. In addition to gaining loyalty, colonizers, as Alroy learns, find it difficult to devise forms of government that will accommodate the needs of the indigenous population, while still fulfilling their own requirements. Given its history, the Middle East provided the ideal setting for exposing the fallacies underlying the doctrine of military conquest. Citing variously Robert Ker Porter’s Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia, John Malcolm’s Sketches of Persia, Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, George Sandys’s Relation of a Journey . . . Containing a Description of the Turkish Empire, of Ægypt, of the Holy Land, of the Remote Parts of Italy, and Lands Adjoyning, and Edward Daniel Clarke’s Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as his own travels in the nineteenth century, Disraeli implies the futility of imperialism. Through the text, which is set in the period when Christians attempted to conquer the Holy Land, the notes remind us that throughout history, the Persians, Romans, Hebrews, Mongols and successive waves of Turks had all attempted to control the area, in the name variously of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism; yet, all had failed. In the nineteenth century, what was then called Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. For Great Britain, which sought a foothold in the area, the question was whether or not a military engagement would be efficacious. Alroy, a novel about a single imperial cycle within a 3000-year period of comparable cycles, foreshadows Disraeli’s preference for a mandate gained through land purchase.

  57. Closely related to the question of colonial expansion, Disraeli’s attitude towards Zionism is also foreshadowed in this novel. Complementing the Jewish messianic belief in a return to Jerusalem, Christian millenarians in the Romantic Period advocated resettlement projects that would fulfill their own theological imperative, that the Jews be scattered to the four corners of the world in preparation for the Second Coming.20 Consequently, the British were very interested, both for political as well as religious reasons, in gaining a foothold in Palestine. Throughout his political career, Disraeli would advocate a policy of land purchase, not for colonizing by the British, but for settlement by European Jews who would rely on Great Britain for protection. Again, this attitude can be detected in Alroy, which demonstrates the impossibility of effecting in the post-biblical world a viable form of government predicated on religious principles alone. Just as the biblical kingdom had failed, so, too, would Jabaster’s theocracy, given the multi-cultural population that would of necessity be excluded from his narrow doctrine. Rather, the failure of Alroy’s messiahship seems to imply the necessity of replacing the succession of empires with a geopolitical agreement, ultimately under the control of the British government, with its constitutionally established representative Protestant church, an alternative not available to Alroy in the twelfth century, though to be advocated by Disraeli in the nineteenth.

  58. In the final analysis, Alroy can best be viewed as a transitional novel, marking Disraeli’s personal shift from being a Jewish convert to an Anglican Protestant, his professional change from being a writer to a politician, the national progression from the Romantic to the Victorian era, and, finally, the imperial adjustment from conquest and colonizing to land purchase and diplomacy. Through the apparently narrow sectarian tale of a brief period in medieval Jewish history, Disraeli was able to focus on the problems he associated with older attitudes, while projecting the direction he thought should be taken over the rest of the nineteenth century.

  59. As such, The Wondrous Tale of Alroy, as it was originally titled, is wondrous, indeed, for its analysis of the cultural conflicts in southwest Asia, involving Christians, Muslims and Jews, still resonates today in the area from Afghanistan through the Middle East.

Muslims & Jews in the World-System:

John Masefield & the tradition of routine antisemitism in British fiction

& Disraeli's novel Alroy

July 2006