In her revision Edgeworth replaces Juba as Lucy's groom with an Englishman by the name of James Jackson, although Juba's grateful "banjore" song remains a part of the wedding festivities. Belinda also raises interesting questions concerning the depiction of Jews in England in the early years of the nineteenth century. Edgeworth's depiction of a parsimonious money-lender here, as well as in her novel The Absentee, resulted in the author's change of heart in the years to follow.
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In August Edgeworth received an unsettling letter from a Jewish American reader by the name of Rachel Mordecai, who praised Edgeworth's novels and children's stories but asked how an author "who on all other subjects shows such justice and liberality, should on one alone appear biased by prejudice. Harrington chronicles the psychological history of a confessional narrator who develops a psychotic antipathy towards Jews as a result of outlandish tales told to him by a racist and uneducated nurse.
As Harrington grows up, his interactions with actual Jewish figures of the day allow him to challenge and eventually overcome his prejudices. Ultimately Harrington becomes friends with the affluent and brilliantly educated Mr. Montenero, a Spanish Jew who has escaped persecution by the Inquisition by fleeing to America, and later to England. Predictably, Harrington falls in love with Montenero's beautiful daughter Berenice. In one particularly climactic episode, Harrington and the Monteneros attempt to protect themselves from a violent mob when the Gordon Riots break out in During these riots mobs attack and destroy the homes of non-Protestants and foreigners, crying "No Jews, no wooden shoes!
This woman, who calls herself the widow Levy, voices perhaps the most open-minded attitude towards Jews in the novel. Loyal to the Monteneros for their generous patronage in the past, she calls Montenero "the best Christian any way ever I happened on," and proclaims that "we were all brothers and sisters once. Throughout Harrington Edgeworth alludes liberally to such earlier literary treatments of the Jew as The Merchant of Venice, Cumberland's The Jew, and Gotthold Lessing's Nathan the Wise , an influential play in which the Jewish merchant Nathan demonstrates to the other characters the futility of racial and religious prejudice.
Her most overt reference to Lessing's play can be found in the novel's conclusion when Montenero reveals that Berenice is not a Jew after all. Montenero explains that his late wife was Christian, and that he had allowed Berenice to be raised as a Christian as well. The two had kept this fact a secret in order to test potential suitors for anti-Semitic tendencies.
Berenice insists that she will not marry a man who displays any prejudice towards her father's religion, nor will she accept a lover so unfaithful as to be willing to abandon Christianity in order to marry her. Harrington, of course, manages to meet her criteria. Most students today are highly disappointed by Edgeworth's conclusion, but such disappointment can lead to a very productive class discussion. As in Thelwall's revelation of Seraphina's true English heritage, the tensions inherent to an interracial marriage are dissolved at the novel's close, and so is the opportunity for a final, grand demonstration of the groundlessness of racial prejudice.
Rachel Mordecai also expressed disappointment that Berenice was not allowed to stand as a constructive example of a young Jewish woman.
The conclusion of Harrington, however, is admittedly far less successful. In making Berenice a Christian, Edgeworth dramatically weakens her attempt to illustrate that human beings of all races embody the same virtues. Under English tradition, children of mixed Protestant and Catholic marriages were raised with the daughters following the mother's religion and sons following the father's.
Thus, the daughters of a Jewish Berenice would themselves presumably be Jewish by English tradition, repeating their mother's social status. Additionally, under Jewish law, any child of a Jewish mother would be by birth a Jew, raising problems for Harrington's male heirs as well despite the counter-system of English primogeniture.
A product of her times, Edgeworth can envision an interracial marriage, but she cannot quite make the leap to realize it in Like The Daughter of Adoption, Harrington disappoints in the final analysis. Nevertheless, both Thelwall and Edgeworth have at the very least taken a step forward in asking their readers to question common prejudices about racial difference. Moreover, despite its ending, Harrington is perhaps the first British novel wholly intended to work towards dispelling racism. Berenice's final words make Edgeworth's intentions clear. When Mr. Montenero insists that the family's enemies be forgiven, Harrington's father praises his new in-law, echoing words spoken of such characters as Cumberland's Sheva and Walker's Bensadi in saying that "none but a good Christian could do this!
The texts included in this course syllabus on race in early Romantic-period reformist literature clearly demonstrate a few early hints of an awareness that the novel might be used to foster more humane relations between peoples of varying heritages and backgrounds. Some students may insist, rightly, that few of these novels display an author's complete freedom from long-held cultural stereotypes. Indeed, as Judith Page has written of sympathetic texts on Judaism in the period, even the most progressive of these works "cannot quite contain [their] own representations.
In my experience, the troubled, conflicted, and even disturbing treatments of race in the reformist fiction of the revolutionary decade stimulate dynamic classroom discussions of race during this period and afterwards—discussions with a clear relevance to the ways in which Western culture continues to perceive and respond to race and racial difference today.
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London: G. Robinsons and J. Dennis, Obi, A Melo-drama in Two Acts. Opie, Amelia. Adeline Mowbray, or The Mother and Daughter. Shelley King and John B. Smith, Charlotte. The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer. London: Sampson Low, The Works of Charlotte Smith. Stuart Curran. Walker, George. Theodore Cyphon: or, The Benevolent Jew.
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