Placing the ‘other’ in our midst: immigrant Jews, gender and the British imperial imagination.
University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities,
This thesis traces cultural and socio-political responses to the alien Jew in Britain through the prism of genre, space and time. Beginning with the reports of persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century, it examines how representations of these foreign Jews changed and developed as sympathy for their plight turned to anxiety at the prospect of their arrival in Britain. It shows how a Semitic discourse evolved alongside, and in response to, wider debates about the state of the self, nation and empire at the fin de siècle, arguing that the vocabulary and mentality of imperialism was a crucial tool for deciphering the nature of Jewish „difference?. However, this thesis also enables fresh perspectives by considering the gender and spatial dynamics of Semitic representations in Britain during and beyond the period of mass immigration, from the end of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the twenty first. This extended view of the Jewish 'other', which follows the 'typical' Jewish migrant journey from the shtetl of Eastern Europe to the North London suburb of the present-day, considers how Jewish spatial and cultural practices have been interpreted and articulated by the British and the British-Jewish onlooker.
The thesis' opening section, divided into three chapters, adopts an original approach to the aliens question by exploring how perspectives on the alien Jew were shaped and expressed within different mediums, or 'genres' at the fin de siècle. Through an assessment of newspapers, political debates, and fiction, this section offers a comparative analysis of how the particular dynamics and agendas of each of these genres operated to produce different textual and visual images of 'the Jew'. Building upon Bryan Cheyette's seminal work in relation to fiction, each of these chapters demonstrates not only the inherently ambivalent nature of Semitic representations but also reveal that, crucially, gender was an important moderator of Jewish „difference?. This reading extends into the second section which, across four chapters, explores how gender functioned in conjunction with space to construct ideas in Britain about alien Jews as they traversed time and space from shtetl to suburb. Beginning with the point of departure, the opening chapter of the section reviews the long tradition of representing Eastern Europe by „the West?, arguing that this tradition laid the foundation for a paradoxical view of the Jew in Eastern Europe as both territorialized and territorializing. This perceived struggle for spatial ownership amongst Jews also featured in narratives of the migrant journey – the topic of the second chapter. That perception generated the notion that migrating Jews were staging an alien invasion of Britain. Thus the prolonged fascination with London's Jewish 'ghetto' and its interior – 'alien' territory par excellence – provides the focus for the third chapter which, in turn, lays the foundation for the final chapter?s exploration of the replacement of the urban with the suburban as the alien Jew's 'territory' of choice.
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