A NOVEL ABOUT JEWS.*
WERE it not for one especial feature to which we shall presently allude, this novel might be dismissed with but few words of comment. It has many of the usual characteristic shortcomings with which a long experience of lady-novelists has made us familiar,—indifference to punctuation, somewhat peculiar gram- matical construction, and very shadowy heroes. But it has also, we hasten to say, one distinctive excellence which we rate highly, and which—the school of Miss Broughton and her followers not- withstanding—we are old-fashioned enough still to claim and welcome as essentially feminine, a pure and refined tone of thought. That the heroines live their lives and love their loves without transgressing against the code either of Sinai or of society inclines us to be lenient to their minor, if frequent, sins against the canon fixed by Lindley Murray. We forgive Estelle's " wondering the cause ;" we concede to her the right to ponder " whether the foregone hours had contained more of sorrow or most of joy," we are even content thatshe should" grieve worse," when the question seems to decide itself. We sympathise with the sister-heroine in her praiseworthy, if ungrammatical, " solicitude of appearing admir- able and intelligent " in her lover's sight. We get over the puzzle of our first introduction to this hero, in " the dark dining-room," where, we are told, "against the dark, carved head of Phoebus Apollo, another tall and very handsome human head leant." We even pardon some odd turns of expression in the other hero, though, as we are expressly told, he is "talented," and "writes for the papers;" our own especial prejudices, perhaps, make this effort more difficult. His sentiments, however, are so excellent, that we hesitate to take exception to the form in which they are con- veyed. The conclusion, for instance, that " thousands of years had failed of annihilating the regality of the Jews" is so candid an admission on his part, that we feel it hypercritical to object to his choice of verbal form ; and if we may be allowed to use a frequent and favourite phrase of the authoress, we will endeavour to think that it is " all the same."
The style of the book, it will be seen, gives it no especial claim to attention, and the plot, though of sufficient interest, is in
avid Sens. Bentley and Son.
no way remarkable. What lifts it, then, out of the perfectly unobjectionable but perfectly commonplace, is the fact that the interest centres in a Jewish household, and that our attention is claimed for Jewish rites and observances, even to the "lighting of the Sabbath lamp," and the filling of " the highly polished silver kiddush cup." The Hofer family, of which Estelle is the eldest daughter, live a secluded life in a cathedral town, till Dr. Hofer, who is represented as a " talented dreamer," dies, when the gentle step-mother, her amusing twin children, and our two heroines remove to town. Estelle, the once unappreciated, has developed unguessed-at artistic gifts, and bravely helps to support the family by giving drawing-lessons, whilst her beautiful and brilliant, but somewhat spoilt and selfish sister grows thin and listless over the inevitable tangle in her love- affairs, which, in this case, however, is soon and safely unravelled.
Estelle's troubles are of a more enduring kind. She has given her first fancy to a Christian acquaintance, a certain Cecil Haye, who
is, indeed, a very poor hero. Estelle finds in her faith a reason for rejecting his weakly proffered love ; we incline to think that she might have found in the man himself one sufficiently cogent. He, at any rate, is soon consoled ; and on hearing of his intended marriage with an heiress, Estelle has brain-fever, and carries ever after, perhaps somewhat too demonstratively, a "life-long hunger in her heart." So utterly unworthy, indeed, does her shadowy lover seem to us of the substantial sentiment which
she lavishes on him, that we almost feel she de- serves the judgment which Dante allotted to those who " wilfully live in sadness." But all the story we have sketched is merely setting and framework. The plot is so de- vised as to lead us through the cycle of Jewish fasts and feasts ; it takes us to the Synagogue, and to the "extreme Eastern quarter, where the very poorest Jews live," and our feet are not even stayed on the threshold of the chamber of death, into which we are bidden enter, to behold all the special mysteries. We cannot, of course, tell how this lifting of the curtain may affect those to whom what it veils are not sights, but possessions ; but to us, as outsiders, a feeling of being impertinent intruders is, we confess, uncomfortably present. There is undoubtedly a fashion in the taste of novel-readers. Some great writer gives it an impetus, and as in other fashions, a host of imitators arise, exaggerating and diluting from their model. For years after the appearance of Jane Eyre, we were deluged with black-browed heroes, making love to small, plain heroines, who, improving on the type, prefaced every remark with a curtsey. There seems a danger now that Daniel Deronda and Mirah will inaugurate an era of Philip Florians and Estelles, and thus what was an in- spiration will be degraded into a manufacture. In the novel under review, genuine love of race and the desire to evoke for it the long-lacking appreciation of the outer world are so evident, and are in themselves feelings so entirely worthy of respect, and even of sympathy, that we are most unwilling that our criticism should take a harsh turn. But we are sure that such results will not be attained by such means, and we cannot resist the expres- sion of an opinion that a novel of this kind is an error both of taste and of judgment. The authoress herself makes one of her characters complain that " the Jewish race is fashionable just now ;" she makes another resent being " looked on in the light of fine or funny pictures," and yet another profess that he is "able to suffer anything but inquisitive speeches and condescending comments." Is it not, then, a little inconsistent to supply two volumes of material for the satisfying of such un- dignified curiosity, and is it not equally unnecessary? Norman Macleod said, and said truly, that a man's charitable judgment of other men who differ from him on great or difficult subjects will be in the ratio of his knowledge of them. But Jews no longer live in Ghettos, and sufficient knowledge of them and of their doings may surely be gained from the ordinary inter- course of daily life, without having this sort of forced knowledge pressed upon us. La femme incomprise is by no means a pleasant or profitable study, whether nation or individual pose for it. It can be neither good for Jews nor Christians that they should take up the position of actors and audience to each other. The self-consciousness on the one side, and the unworthy curiosity on the other, which books so designed would stimulate, seem, to us, too obvious to need further insisting upon.