Anti-Semitism in Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels

Anti-Semitism in Anthony Trollope's Palliser Novels

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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.

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(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 eviland 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.

Works Cited:

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.
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