ON-Lion Letter
It is one of the curiosities of English literary history that the most-remarkable English novel about Jews, taking Judaism seriously as a faith and anticipating the idea of a Jewish state, should have been written by a non-Jew -- a Victorian woman, moreover, who was generally regarded by her contemporaries, and some later critics, as the greatest English novelist of her time.

Newly released in paperback, Encounter Books' The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, by Gertrude Himmelfarb, examines why a woman who was firmly labeled an unbeliever would take up the cause of Zionism, writing before the movement even existed.  Why, having gone so far in the rejection of religion, did Eliot then make a hero of Daniel Deronda, who championed Judaism not merely as a venerable relic of antiquity, nor even as the begetter of Christianity, but as a living, vibrant religion, a religion, moreover, that contained within itself the promise of nationhood and statehood?

Daniel Deronda was as much an act of self-discovery for Eliot as it was for Deronda, an intellectual and spiritual odyssey into the foreign world of Judaism, according to Himmelfarb's book.  In the course of that odyssey, Eliot encountered "the Jewish question," and her response to it was very different from that of most of her contemporaries.  This is what made her novel so provocative at the time and what continues to make it so pertinent and challenging today.

Himmelfarb taught for 23 years at Brooklyn College and The City University of New York, where she was named a distinguished professor of history in 1978.  She is now a professor emeritus there.

Encounter Books is an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, a nonprofit group that is substantially supported by The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.
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