Anthony Julius' Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (2010) has already provoked both glee and grumbling for its politics; I'm going to break ranks and discuss it primarily as a work of literary scholarship, which a good chunk of it is. Julius makes a living as a lawyer, but he also holds a doctorate in English, and he pitches his project at both non-specialist readers and academics. Thus, when theoretical terms crop up, as they do when he invokes New Historicism and Russian Formalism to describe his methods, he defines them for general readers (155). (One notes that this is a work nurtured in the age of critical theory--no matter how many people are going to disagree with the politics of his conclusions, especially in the sections on contemporary anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, his actual approach to analyzing the rhetoric of prejudice is no different from, say, that of much contemporary feminist work.) This hybrid audience is on a par with the book's hybrid form, which starts out as a memoir and later turns into historical narrative, taxonomy, literary analysis, and polemic (sometimes all at once). And it certainly takes more than one genre or mode to encompass all of English anti-Semitism, from the medieval period to the present day.
Now, it is worth noting, to begin with, that despite this book's weight--"This is a very long book" (xlvi)--it actually circumscribes its claims about anti-Semitism in a number of significant ways. To begin with, Julius is not arguing that anti-Semitism (or Jews in general, for that matter) is central to English identity or cultural self-consciousness, unlike, say, Michael Ragussis.1 "There is no significant anti-Semitic aspect to any of the major topics that engaged and divided the religious, cultural or political imagination of England between the mid-seventeenth and the mid-twentieth century--a large claim, but a true one," Julius declares (397). In fact, this book could be read as a bizarre celebration of the English national character, because Julius believes that, all told, the English have really been refreshingly lousy anti-Semites. Once we reach the seventeenth century, when the Jews were officially readmitted to the country after their medieval expulsion, there's not much in the way of concerted anti-Semitic agitation. People were (and are) vocally prejudiced, aggravatingly so, but they didn't make a regular habit--let alone a government-supported habit--of assaulting Jewish property, liberty, and life. In modern England, anti-Semitism has tended to be "an elusive, low-key affair" (349), definitely infuriating but rarely threatening. (For that matter, as Julius reminds us, a number of the legal problems facing Jews had nothing to do with them being Jews, and everything to do with them being among the "non-Protestants" and the Dissenters .) We are not discussing a widespread, politicized system with far-reaching effects, nor are we being introduced to high-falutin' sages. If anything, Julius' survey of modern English anti-Semitism is a grand tour of mediocrity. In Julius' analysis, one of the things most distinctive about English anti-Semitism is that it hasn't attracted any top-of-the-line intellectuals "since the eighteenth century" (399); indeed, he quips, "[s]urveying French anti-Semitic intellectuals may best highlight English deficiencies" (399).
That "English" is important. This is emphatically a book about anti-Semitism in a single country, and that country is not France, Germany, Russia, or the USA. "The search for a single, unified theory of anti-Semitism is an idle one," Julius claims; "[t]here is no essence of anti-Semitism" (xliii). To take an example from a different prejudice, both the French and the English were fanatically obsessed with Jesuits here, there, and everywhere (down to positing the existence of "female Jesuits," which...no). But even though the English read some French anti-Jesuit texts, the actual political and cultural implications (and effects) of denouncing Jesuits were entirely different.2 Although Julius certainly references anti-Semitic works from other countries--books, let alone the Internet, being no respecters of borders--he does so in the context of their ramifications for English audiences.
Finally, Julius (who, as I said, enjoys taxonomy) argues that anti-Semites and "enemies" are not, in fact, necessarily the same thing. A "rational enemy," no matter how annoying, is nevertheless opposed to something a group of Jews is actually doing: "it is enough that the Jewish project [that is, actions actually undertaken] is a real one, and that the interests of the enemy conflict, or are perceived to conflict, with that project in some arguable way" (3). Moreover, he points out, such an "enemy" may actually be only an "adversary" or an "opponent" (3). In that sense, Julius notes, not all "confrontations with Zionism and Israel" can be cast as anti-Semitic, simply because "real interests" are in play (4). By contrast, true anti-Semitism, the subject of this book, is "irrational"--it derives from no "genuine Jewish project or stance" (5). Anti-Semitism is a self-perpetuating fiction, one that can never be fully or permanently eradicated because there is no truth that could possibly penetrate the anti-Semitic stance. The blood libel, for example, which makes zero (make that negative) sense in the context of actual Jewish theology, but which keeps winding along anyway. Anti-Semites are not part of Julius' intended audience--he is not, he says in his penultimate paragraph, engaging in "an exercise in advocacy" (588), because facts and reason cannot possibly be sufficient to "controvert" (588) positions that are held irrespective of facts and reason.
Julius' exemplary anti-Semites generally appear in a kind of academic free indirect discourse, interspersed with direct quotations. Here's a totally random example, in which Julius summarizes Leo Maxse:
...Twenty years later, Maxse was fulminating against conspiracies of another kind. There was an 'irresistible, if invisible tie' between Independent Labour and the International Jew. The Bolshevik, who is the the agent of the Boche, leads us back to the International Jew, who himself has lately embraced German or pro-German positions. At one time his name was Rothschild; then he was called Speyer; now he is Cassel or Mond or Montagu, 'for aught we know'. Here is the mystery of the 'Hidden Hand'. To identify the trend of British policy, one merely has to ask, 'What does the International Jew want'? [....] (407)
When Julius starts summarizing, past tense shifts to present and introductory tags temporarily vanish; the effect is a kind of monologue, in which the figure under discussion indicts him- or herself. (Rather Browningesque, actually.) Accumulatio is his rhetorical figure of choice. As here, footnote markers usually appear only at the end of a run of quotations, and Julius does not necessarily tell you in the main body when he's moved from one text to another (in this instance, he is actually summarizing Maxse's arguments from two different articles), although he always gives specific page numbers in the endnotes. Moreover, my impressionist sense of the work is that Julius alternates between lengthy compound sentences, chained together by his favorite punctuation mark, the semi-colon, and relatively brief simple or complex sentences. This staccato rhythm lends his summaries a deliberately flat quality, even when he repeats the ugliest things.
Julius' chapter on "English Literary Anti-Semitism" runs nearly one hundred pages, and spans the Middle Ages to Caryl Churchill. As he explains, this chapter is a "formalist" chapter, unlike the others, which are "New Historicist" (155). For Julius, anti-Semitic literature specifically is not what some would call symptomatic--that is, "one may not 'read off' national character from a national literature, as if the latter gave reliable access to the former" (151-52). The literary transformations of anti-Semitic tropes and narratives do not reveal anti-Semitic practices in the public sphere, not least because Jews were simply absent for several centuries (153). Obviously, this is not the same thing as saying that anti-Semitic literature has no effect on the public consciousness (one thinks, for example, of "faginy").
In Julius' analysis, the spectre of anti-Semitism cannot be avoided once an author takes up his or her pen to write about the Jews. The discourse is "hegemonic": "For an English writer to write fictionally about Jews means writing within the regime of literary anti-Semitism--against which it is of course possible to struggle" (154). In fact, we could extend this point further, and note that "English writer" here must encompass Jews as well as Gentiles: at one extreme, for example, we have the still-running debate over Amy Levy's Reuben Sachs (anti-Semitic? insider satire?), while at the other, we have Benjamin Farjeon's appropriation of late-Victorian race theory in Aaron the Jew (which I discussed here). For Julius, the key trope in the English anti-Semite's literary arsenal is the blood libel, which reproduces itself in a number of recurring images, such as the Jew as child-killer, the Jew as vampire, and the like. The blood libel establishes itself in Thomas of Monmouth's Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich (1173), spreads through popular street ballads like "Sir Hugh, or the Jew's Daughter," and then, of course, joins up with the literary canon in Chaucer and Shakespeare. In his treatment of Marlowe's The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Julius reverses the most popular critical polarity: here, Marlowe is the one offering the most subversive take on anti-Semitism, writing an undoubtedly anti-Semitic play that, nevertheless, turns into a "parodic dictionary" (177) of anti-Semitic vocabulary and tropes, whereas The Merchant of Venice, far from rendering Shylock as a sympathetic figure (as he was commonly understood by the Victorian period), uses him as a "comic villain" (192). Even if Shakespeare deploys anti-Semitism in a much more complex fashion than Marlowe, he nevertheless reduces Shylock to "an Englishman's Jew--wicked, malignant, but ultimately conquerable" (184). Read in the context of the blood libel, Julius argues, Shylock's famous speech is not humanizing at all; in fact, it is a self-incriminating moment, for Shylock invokes the libel in the act of justifying his behavior (190).
Shylock, the "Englishman's Jew," displaces Marlowe's Barabas, and becomes the canonical figure of "the Jew." Nevertheless, Julius notes, early modern representations of Judaism temporarily dropped serious accusations of blood libel, turning Jews into everyday crooks at worst. By the nineteenth century, as it happened, we have an emerging anti-anti-Semitism, or philosemitism,3 which Julius exemplifies by the sentimental dramatist Richard Cumberland's The Jew, Maria Edgeworth's Harrington (although Julius doesn't discuss its origins in Edgeworth's correspondence with Rachel Mordecai Lazarus), and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. (I would have liked Julius to have spent more time differentiating these works according to mode--Cumberland, after all, was a very different author from either Edgeworth or Scott, and his philosemitism similarly differed.) Apart from their attempts to influence the audience, these texts are significant because they turn anti-Semitism into "a subject for literary inquiry" (198)--into something, that is, that can be analyzed, deconstructed, satirized, and mocked. The opposite trend, however, appears in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, which Julius argues linked the blood libel to the techniques of melodrama (202). Fagin and Shylock did far more to shape modern constructions of the Jew than did Cumberland's, Edgeworth's, and Scott's Jews; they are, says Julius, "a character-prison from which actual Jews still struggle to escape" (204).
Shylock and Fagin have proven far more influential than even their most powerful critics, exemplified here by George Eliot (Daniel Deronda) and James Joyce (Ulysses). Daniel Deronda, Julius argues, is the first "genuinely counter-canonic work" (208), insofar as it deliberately upends, reworks, and subverts all the conventions associated with anti-Semitic discourse. (I'm going to dissent slightly here: the Victorians often distinguished between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and the cuddly but vulgar Cohen family doesn't really escape the stereotype of the former. The same split crops up in Trilby, which Julius also mentions--Svengali is a Polish Jew.) Ulysses turns out to be the great encyclopedia of anti-Semitic and philosemitic discourse, combining their elements into a constantly shifting, kaleidoscopic text (224). If the world operated by literary logic, Ulysses would be the end, the final summation of everything there is to say for and against anti-Semitism. It doesn't, however, and so the chapter concludes on the resurrected blood libel in the work of Tom Paulin and Caryl Churchill.
Although it certainly would have made a long work even longer, Julius' arguments about anti-Semitism's uniqueness would have had more punch if he had mentioned other prejudices for comparative purposes. Anti-whatever discourses all blend into each other at the edges, which is why Victorians objected to Catholicism in the same terms as they objected to Hinduism, or treated Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis as identical (a confusion equally mind-boggling to Jews and Catholics, I would imagine). For example, Julius quotes Dickens on Fagin, who "glides stealthily along" (201)--but gliding, along with its snake-like connotations, is the ambulatory mode of choice for your average Victorian Jesuit priest. The Catholic Church was thought to be corrupting England by taking over large properties; it was associated with murder, including child murder; and so forth. But, then again, there was no Catholic "race," murder wasn't central to anti-Catholic polemics, and the overall time-frame in which anti-Catholic rhetoric emerged was far more compressed (putting Catholicism's own anti-clericalism to one side).
1 Michael Ragussis, Figures of Conversion: The "Jewish Question" and English National Identity (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1995).
2 On French anti-Jesuit politicking, see Geoffrey Cubitt, The Jesuit Myth: Conspiracy Theory and Politics in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: OUP, 1993).
3 Incidentally, although I don't know if this has ever been studied formally, "philosemite" appears to have been coined long before "anti-Semite"--as a grad student, I came across at least one eighteenth-century English correspondent signing off as either "Philosemite" or "Philosemitus." (It's been about seventeen years or so...)