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October 9: “Daniel Deronda”

October 8, 2015

220px-Cover_First_Edition_Danial_DerondaThe New York Times reviewed George Eliot’s proto-Zionist novel, Daniel Deronda, on this date in 1876, describing it as inferior to Eliot’s previous works, especially Middlemarch, but with a “Hebrew character” to whom “the author does full justice... a fact which we are pleased to notice in contrast to what, in the mildest language, we must term the extravagance, and often the injustice, with which writers of fiction have too frequently painted the members of that nation.” Yet the “chapters drag on,” wrote the reviewer, “in a manner with which the reader of some of the author’s earlier works was never made familiar... as a work of art we regard the story as inferior to other productions of the same pen.” Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880) used the story of Moses — exiled from his people, yet leading them eventually to the promised land — as inspiration for the novel, which was widely translated and cited by Henrietta Szold, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and Emma Lazarus, among others, as inspiration for their Zionist activism.

“It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly Considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavor to its one roast with the burned souls of many generations.” —George Eliot, Daniel Deronda