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Saturday
Feb192011

A Follow-Up To Trollope's THE WARDEN

Wow, we had a great discussion yesterday on a rather slim book. It's hard to make much of a novel where the leading character's stated motivation is "the sheer love of quiet." Still, I think we began to tease out those ambiguities, like the ones about self-renunciation--or the strange dilemma of a musician who loves quiet (?) more than anything else and (so?) plays a shadow cello as a nervous twitch.

Anyway, two interrelated things came up that I wanted to address further.

First, Benjamin Disraeli:

He was prime minister twice--from February to December, 1868; and again from February, 1874, to April, 1880. While his family was originally Jewish, his father early on sent him to a school run by a parson and had him baptized in the Anglican church at twelve. Disraeli himself was sometimes a rather ardent church-goer in his life. The family had been in England for centuries (at least since the late 1400s)--and were themselves unclear if they had originally come from Italy or Portugal, forced out of one or the other during one of the many anti-Jewish pogroms of the Middle Ages.

Second, anti-Semitism in Europe:

This is a complex, fraught, sad, and very long tale. Anti-Jewish pogroms were common, if not incessant, in Europe from at least the 1200s onwards. There are many hair-raising moments long before the Third Reich--such as the Vatican's purging all Jews out of Rome but keeping a handful in a virtual prison because of the belief that Christ would not come back if there were no Jews left to found a renewed Israel.

If you want to explore more about this topic, you might start with Albert Lindemann, ESAU'S TEARS: MODERN ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE RISE OF THE JEWS. Lindemann goes way too far in his conjectures, and his conclusions are a tad baffling, if not outright rambling, but his history is straight on and precise. For the landmark study of the "final solution" as well as the strains of history that led up to it, you might try Lucy Dawidowicz's THE WAR AGAINST THE JEWS, 1933 - 1945. This is to date the definitive history. If you have the stomach for it, you might read the chilling tale of the United States, Great Britain, and their combined response to the Holocaust in David Wyman's THE ABANDONMENT OF THE JEWS. It is a heavily-researched bit of history on the exact responses from the two war departments and their various heads of state. It is NOT a happy read--but I believe a necessary one for anyone interested in the full scope of American history. Finally, for a much better story, one that sees a glimmer of hope in a historical moment, take a look at Maria Rosa Menocal's THE ORNAMENT OF THE WORLD: HOW MUSLIMS, JEWS, AND CHRISTIANS CREATED A CULTURE OF TOLERANCE IN MEDIEVAL SPAIN. This book was all the rage in Spain--and in Europe--several years back; it even got good play on this side of the pond. It's a very hopeful tale about a moment of cultural collusion between these three cultures in southern Spain. Many others have told this tale already; Menocal does it with the most grace and beauty.

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