Today's adventure was me versus the remaining 800 pages of the quadruple decker, which I managed to dispatch at some cost to life and limb. (Or to my increasingly sore back, take your pick.) I also had a nice example of serendipity at work: I had called up a novel (for tomorrow, really), and discovered that it was bound in with another relevant novel that I never would have found using the same keywords.
Miss M. G. Lewis, The Jewish Maiden. A Novel, 4 vols. Strictly speaking, this is not a "religious novel" of the sort that I normally cover on this blog, although there's certainly some religon in it: its approach is not evangelical, but instead a relatively non-dogmatic, middle-of-the-road C of E. There's no enthusiasm, and the religious characters are in "rational" instead of "enthusiastic" mode. The underlying tension in the book derives from a very traditional country vs. city dichotomy: characters who enjoy the Country, Nature, and Rural Retreats are Good, whereas characters who want to hang out in the City and party all the time are Bad. Our hero, George Aubrey, later Glanville (Lewis can't keep his name straight), spends the novel being pushed back-and-forth across the country/city divide, before earning his hard-won happily-ever-after in a state of comfort rather than wealth.
The novel is a cautionary tale about wealth and the dangers of high society. Aubrey, the wealthy Mr. Glanville's orphaned nephew, unexpectedly inherits not only Glanville's estate ($$$) but also the arranged marriage to Lady Honoria, originally contracted with Glanville's deceased son. Aubrey, who is, perhaps, somewhat deficient in the area of little grey cells, then proceeds to spend much of the four volumes being tricked by people--most importantly, by Lady Honoria, who turns out to be a nitwit instead of the angel he imagined, and by Gethin, the charming dude (introduced to him by the novel's voice of morality, the dour but virtuous Scot Mac Kinloch, no less) who a) contracts a secret marriage, b) introduces Aubrey to Solomon Schreiber (of whom more in a moment) for profit, c) tries to seduce Miriam Schreiber (our heroine), and d) revenges himself on Aubrey's interference in said seduction by making off with Honoria instead. An increasingly disillusioned Aubrey gambles (gasp!), gets badly into debt, and fights a duel after a hot-blooded Italian woman tries to seduce him (her husband walks in). This being a 19th c. novel, the ironically-named Honoria does die, but at least she repents first. In the meantime, Miriam has fallen wildly in love with Aubrey, although, predictably, it takes him rather too long to notice this. In the end, though, she converts to Christianity, loses all her father's ill-gained property, and becomes Aubrey's beloved wife. The End.
So, the Schreibers. Lewis keeps veering back and forth between condemning "Christian egotism" (III.234-35) and trotting out antisemitic stereotypes. Our initial encounter with Solomon Schreiber and his family harshly condemns Jewish attempts to go Gentile as something that produces people who are neither here nor there, as in the case of Solomon's son Nathaniel. Solomon himself, a German Jew who speaks with a stereotypical pronounced accent, may possess a luxurious home filled with art, but all of it is randomly acquired; unlike Aubrey, he lacks "taste" (as indicated by the two commissioned portraits, both terrible). Significantly, the misogynistic Solomon's daughters, Miriam and Rosetta, show their nascent taste by cultivating flowers--the sign of a Love of Nature, always a good thing in this book. As in evangelical novels, there's a Shylock/Jessica dyad at work in Solomon's relationship to Miriam--in fact, the narrator's reference to "the present exhibition of his daughters and his diamonds" echoes Shylock's "O my ducats! O my daughter!" Solomon and Nathaniel are vulgar, one of the common charges against Jews trying to integrate themselves into upper-class English society. Solomon is, as Michael Galchinsky puts it in The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer, a "materialist tyrant" (118). Jews can purchase a property, but cannot exercise genteel discrimination. (Honoria shows similar warning signs when she asks George to cut down some old trees.) Miriam, however, has an inner light that aspires to something more, and responds eagerly to Aubrey's attempts to tutor her in polite literature, foreign languages, and art. Towards the end of the novel, Mac Kinloch calls her "Rebecca," and as Michael Galchinsky suggests (53), one way of reading the novel is as a corrective to the Ivanhoe plot: although Aubrey overcomes his bigoted objection to Jews (yay liberalism?), Miriam converts before he can declare his love, thereby obviating the problem in a manner reminiscent of Maria Edgeworth's notorious bait-and-switch in Harrington. (She's a Jew! But she's not really a Jew! So you overcome your prejudices and are rewarded with marriage to someone who isn't Jewish!) Or, as Galchinsky argues, by the end, "Protestantism is not understood to be a religious prejudice, but the ground of truth" (56).