The two best-known Victorian responses to George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876) are Anna Clay Beecher's unambiguously anti-Semitic Gwendolen (1878) (which I discussed here) and Amy Levy's controversial Reuben Sachs (1888). Mrs. E. A. Germains' utterly forgotten Left to Starve, and No One Wants the Blame (1878; rpt. in the UK in 1880), I would suggest, is a third, although it has multiple literary-political targets in its sights. Mrs. Germains herself has vanished off the literary-historical radar: although she published at least two other novels (one of which probably only in serialized form), I've so far found no records of her existence, let alone her first name. The only reviews I've found of Left to Starve both point out the novel's problematic plotting, although they otherwise have no objections to the novel's firmly Jewish POV. And it is firmly Jewish, although clearly directed at a ecumenical audience (beliefs are explained, some terms are glossed, etc.).
The firmly Jewish POV in question is where the novel departs sharply not only from Gwendolen, which came out the same year, but also from Reuben Sachs, which is controversial precisely because of its scathing representation of middle- and upper-class Anglo-Jewish culture. (Left to Starve actually anticipates one of Reuben Sachs' satirical plot elements, conversion to Judaism, but in a wholly positive key.) As it is not unlikely that I am the only person alive who has read this book, some plot summary is in order. The book unfolds in a series of inset narratives which relate two mirrored love triangles: in generation one, the Jewish Gabrielle Hirsch, the Jewish Dr. Bernard Mendes, and the louche Christian (well, "Christian") Herbert "Bertie"1 Earlscourt; in generation two, Gabrielle's and Bertie's daughter Eda, the young Jewish musician Raphael Stremer, and, um, Dr. Bernard Mendes. (Let's just say that this aspect of the novel does not wear well. It doesn't help that in the first generation, Bernard falls for Gabrielle when she's about fourteen.) In the prologue, a starved and dying Gabrielle relates a strange dream in which she warns a beautiful bride-to-be that she is her fiance's true wife. Later, Bertie's bride-to-be, the wealthy Blanche Ellesley, tells him of a strange dream in which...a woman warns her that her fiance is already married. These mystical dreams (there's another one later), with their Jane Eyre-ish overtones, fall squarely into the novel's understanding of the workings of divine providence--a providence which Bernard believes has obviously appointed him to be the guardian of little Eda. Life goes on. As the inset narratives weave back and forth, we find that in generation one, Bernard was engaged to Gabrielle, but she deserted him just before the wedding because her stalker, Bertie, attempted suicide (a tactic borrowed from The Sorrows of Young Werther, albeit without the dying part). Bertie had singled Gabrielle out for marriage since she was barely into adolescence, and felt himself bound to her because he saved her from drowning; this link to water takes on further significance because it associates Gabrielle with one of her favorite books, Undine. In any event, Gabrielle's hitherto-neglectful father, devoted primarily to money, promptly rejects her as dead to him for marrying out. (Although Hirsch does not come off well otherwise, Bernard and even Eda concede that he was in the right to treat Gabrielle as dead, "according to the law of Moses" .) Eventually, after some years abroad, Bertie deserts her, not altogether intentionally, in order to marry Lady Blanche at his father's command; as one might expect, what follows is a deeply unhappy and abusive (emotionally, sometimes physically) marriage, which ends when Lady Blanche discovers the truth and runs away. Meanwhile, in generation two, the angelic Eda, who becomes a brilliant musician under Raphael's teaching, eventually finds out the truth about both parents. She repays her "guardy," Bernard, by marrying him--this rather reads like a reaction against Esther Summerson in Bleak House--and finally forgives her father, who in turn winds up converting to Judaism. The love triangle angst does not repeat itself, as Raphael sensibly gives up on Eda and marries his previous intended, Esther. In the end, they're all rewarded with a bunch of kids, and both Bernard and Earlscourt wind up in Parliament, where they support "universal suffrage" (264).
The novel's appropriations of Undine and Werther are both obvious (water, love triangles, suicide attempts); what about Daniel Deronda? The abusive Earlscourt is a much prettier version of Grandcourt, and Left to Starve borrows the earlier novel's secret family plotline (although this time, the first relationship is legitimated). Moreover, when Lady Blanche experiences her momentary anxiety about marrying Bertie, he placates her with "the Earlscourt diamonds, glittering in all their transcendent beauty" (12)--reversing the effect of the Grandcourt diamonds, which call Gwendolen to account for betraying Lydia Glasher. Like Mirah Lapidoth, a starving Raphael contemplates suicide in the river, only to be rescued by Dr. Mendes, who supports his musical talents; later, Eda turns out to have a professional-quality singing voice, even better than Mirah's. In general, Earlscourt's habit of rescuing people from drowning flips Grandcourt's death. The overall trajectory of these plot parallels, however, inverts Daniel Deronda's call for rejuvenating an explicitly Jewish national identity outside of England. Instead, Mrs. Germains emphasizes Jewish cosmopolitanism and cultural mobility, on the one hand--the Jews we meet in England are both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, some born there and some not, and the main Jewish characters are all multi-lingual--and an intimate link between Jewishness and Englishness, on the other. The cosmopolitanism informs and strengthens Judaism's role in English national culture instead of weakening it. Germains' Jewish characters all mix readily with Gentiles, something that can be done both rightly (Mendes' and Eda's socializing, charity work, and doctoring) and wrongly (Gabrielle's education amongst Gentiles, where she is exposed to such attitudes as "she does not at all resemble one of her faith" ). The novel advocates for a liberal but well-informed Jewish identity, one that preserves a sense of Jewish specificity while militating against intolerance, and that makes benevolent philanthropy for all (not just Jews) a key virtue. Like Daniel Deronda, the novel is grumpy about cultured Jews who are "mostly ashamed of their religion" (235), and casts Jewish conversion to Christianity as, at best, a self-interestedly materialistic enterprise; at the same time, it pointedly distinguishes between those orthodox Jews who "mi[x] in all classes of society" and the "bigoted" (33) variety. In other words, Left to Starve praises Jewish social and political interaction, while warning against assimilation.
Earlscourt's conversion plot is, in a sense, the novel's sharpest riposte to Daniel Deronda. In Daniel Deronda, the balding, affectless, and corrupt Grandcourt suggests the decay of English aristocracy; Daniel's rediscovery of his Jewish origins, by contrast, hints that new national energies lie elsewhere.2 Most of Left to Starve duplicates this plot. Although Earlscourt has far more passion than Grandcourt, the novel (with remarkable frankness) represents his obsession with Gabrielle as sexually depraved, and he easily gives way to atheism and debauchery; he obviously does not improve on his tyrannical father. His conversion, however, melds Judaism with the aristocracy. Earlscourt converts after Bernard Mendes elects not to kill him by omission (which surely sets the bar rather low?) and offers him forgiveness instead--a display which, in most conversion novels, would precede a conversion to Christianity. Instead, Earlscourt opts for Judaism, "the purest monotheism" (254); although a rabbi warns him that "the Jews did not want converts" (255), he perseveres out of "conviction" (255), and he and his wife Blanche go to Amsterdam to study the religion more fully. (Once again, English Judaism turns out to be cosmopolitan.) Now "Baruch Bertie Earlscourt," Earlscourt's conversion suggests that aristocracy can be revived and rehabilitated by going back to the religious source, as it were. And while the conversion comes equipped with the rider about Jewish non-evangelism, it also detaches Jewish identity from Jewish biology (where, ironically enough, the novel winds up on Gwendolen's side, not Eliot's...). Moreover, because he and Mendes turn into a Parliamentary double act as House of Lords and Commons advocates for universal suffrage, Left to Starve implies that the Jewish POV might benefit the entire country (along with liberal politics). What's good for Jewish identity, in other words, is also good for the country. But it's very much Jewish identity as part of a tolerant Great Britain.
1 Coincidentally (?), the convert to Judaism in Reuben Sachs is also named Herbert, is usually called Bertie, and is even compared to Grandcourt (sardonically) at one point. Hmmm.
2 Quite a lot of critical energy has been devoted to unpacking how Eliot understood Jewish nationalism, with often contradictory results. For example, Amanda Anderson argues that Deronda represents a post-Mill theory of nationalism in terms of "individual liberty and rational deliberation" (The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment [Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2001], 131), whereas Susan Meyer, in a much more negative interpretation, suggests that it effectively "ushers [feminists and Jews] out of the English world of the novel" (Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women's Fiction [Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1996], 162). Irene Tucker, meanwhile, argues that the ending points to a "Jewish utopia" that cannot necessarily be identified with an actual geographic region per se, but to "a world that [Eliot] has not yet written" (A Probable State: The Novel, the Contract, and the Jews [Chicago, IL: University of Chicago P, 2000], 119).