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Book Reviews 137 the tone for a rather well developed presentation which, while I fundamentally agree with most of its conclusions, does not quite connect with what comes just before it. In summary, the strength of Williamson's volume is primarily his critique. His constructive section, while promising, needs to be developed far more thanĀ· it has been in this volume to be considered a major contribution. Hopefully he will turn his attention to this effort in the coming years since he definitely appears to be moving on the right track. John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M, Ph.D. Catholic Theological Union Chicago Constructions of "the Jew" in English literature and Society: Racial Representations, 1875-1945, by Bryan Cheyette. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 301 pp. $54.95. The subject of the Jew in English literature often causes discomfort to readers and especially to teachers. How do we "explain away" problematic figures such as Shylock and Fagin-not to mention the nameless (but ethnically identified) merchants and moneylenders who dishearten us in works by authors we may otherwise admire? It is insufficient to answer that defamatory representations ofJews are simply "a product of the times," and over the years good scholarly work has been done either to trace the history of antisemitic stereotype5 or to explain contextual circumstances. However, as Bryan Cheyette points out in this important new study, most of these previous efforts at understanding literary antisemitism have seen the Jew as marginal to the central business of English literature, the creation of "universal" works of art. Cheyette, using the methods and perspectives of postcolonial criticism, reverses the terms of the question to see representations of the Jew in literature as not simply products of extraliterary historical circumstances but as central to-and productive ofa literature that is fully enmeshed in the racial contradictions and confusions of its society. In Cheyette's words, his "study of semitic 'cultural difference' is an attempt to rewrite the discipline of late nineteenth - and early twentieth-century English Literature by placing a dominant racialized discourse at the heart ofwhat constitutes the received definitions of literary 'culture'" (p. 4), to demonstrate "that the racial construction of 'the Jew' in English literature and society is far from being a fixed, mythic stereotype" (p. 268), and that, instead, it is "the dangerous 138 SHOFAR Winter 1996 Vol. 14, No.2 indeterminacy of 'the Jews' which ... resulted in their construction as a potent threat" (p. 270). The result is a book that is exhaustively researched , densely written, and heavily demanding on the concentration of the reader-but at the same time fascinating, often difficult to put down, and an i~dispensable contribution to both Jewish and English literary history. Cheyette's use of the phrases "racialized" and "semitic" discourse is important, because his study of the Jew in the works ofnon-Jewish writers is not limited to antisemitic representations. Even positive depictions, as in George Eliot's DanielDeronda, are shown to reflect ideas about English politics and society, since the way in which a writer depicts the racialized "other" becomes a means of representing the writer's own goals, ideals, and ambivalences. Semitic discourse is considered "racialized" because, as the many examples cited in this book demonstrate, Jews have been (and are?) viewed as racially distinct from "the English." Cheyette develops his thesis through a series of chapters that pair (or in the case ofthe first chapter, group) representative writers in each offive historical modes of thought: late Victorian liberalism, turn-of-the-century imperialism and socialism, Edwardian liberalism, and modernism. The authors discussed range from the very well known to those today considered minor (although all were significant writers in their day). They include writers whose antisemitism has long been recognized, such as Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, along with others now shown to have a mixed record, such as George Bernard Shaw. Analyzing literary works along with letters and other nonfictional writings, and drawing amply and effectively upon the findings of previous critical studies, Cheyette is conscientious and fair to the writers he discusses, careful to distinguish among the different kinds ofrepresentations of]ews that appear at various points in a writer's career...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 137-140
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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