- Rethinking Antisemitism in Nineteenth-Century France
Historians of antisemitism in France have looked upon the Restoration (1814-30) and July Monarchy (1830-48) as comprising a tranquil period, particularly when compared with the tumultuous and bitter fin-de-siècle Dreyfus Affair, the rise of the Action Française and French fascism, the restrictive policies of the Vichy regime, and the Nazi Holocaust. Not only did these later manifestations of anti-Jewish prejudice lie far in the future, but the post-Napoleonic era itself saw a relaxation of governmental restraints in the expiration of the Empire's "Infamous Decree" that had circumscribed the geographical mobility and economic liberty of the Jews of Alsace.
A recent book by Julie Kalman (University of New South Wales) challenges the regnant historiography, dominated by the judgments of scholars such as Jean-Jacques Becker and Pierre Birnbaum, who have focused mainly on the late nineteenth century and after, rather than the early-to-mid 1800s. Kalman offers a revisionist study of early nineteenth-century antisemitism with strong theoretical underpinnings, most notably by drawing on the work of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who has influenced a number of contemporary scholars to question the apparent hard and fast distinction between antisemitism and philosemitism in a changing modern world. Echoing Bauman, Kalman asks her reader to look beyond fixed categories to "understand expressions of ambivalence towards Jews as attempts to deny or define that which threatens to break through the borders of a tidy world," examining a wide range of nineteenth-century writers and "works that explore the idea of the Jew as problematising the idea of the nation, and using the Jew to think this through" (9). Kalman thus offers a cultural and intellectual history centered on alterity, that is, "otherness." She succeeds in demonstrating that a book such as Alphonse Toussenel's Les Juif, rois de l'époque (1847), should not serve simply as a harbinger of things to come, but as an expression of the widely shared anxieties of the age in which it was written. When it came to [End Page 199] formulating their expressions of the Jewish question, Kalman points out, Catholics and republicans "borrowed incessantly from one another" during "a time that was a crossroads of ideologies" (44).
The author's examination of the interconnected stories of some of the rare Jewish converts to Catholicism comprises one of the highlights of the book. David Drach, son-in-law of France's Chief Rabbi, serves as an example of a convert whose crossing of the seemingly "impenetrable wall" separating his new faith from his ancestral one also necessitated heaping public abuse upon Judaism. (Such was of course a familiar aspect of Christian apologetics since the Middle Ages.) But while Drach offered his former family members and coreligionists apostasy and contempt, his brother-in-law Simon Deutz exemplified for the French masses the image of the "eternal Jew." A convert himself, Deutz was widely excoriated as the betrayer of the Duchess of Berry, the mother of the Bourbon Pretender then at large on French soil. Deutz served to conjure up a Judas to be sure, but also "a Jew by nation" (81), someone whose undying Jewishness rendered him unmanly, dishonorable, and above all, un-French. For Kalman, the spectacle of Deutz "illustrated that the once-clear boundaries between Jews and Catholics that had helped the latter to explain their world was no longer reliable" (84). For Deutz had only seemed to have become one of them.
Kalman also mines an abundance of artistic and literary sources to connect changing images of Jews with the Orientalism of the Romantic movement, drawing the conclusion that "Jews in the Orient became objects: images and clichés" (99). Trading in images and clichés of beauty and sensuality, deceit and greed, and coupled with the widespread French acceptance of the blood libel charge that resurfaced in the 1840 Damascus Affair, the Orientalization of French Jews serves as a slightly more tenuous, but nonetheless intriguing aspect of the author's thesis. A more substantive chapter delves into the...