Anti-Semitism in Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels

3548 Words8 Pages

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.

Open Document