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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Comparison of Jewish portrayal in TWWLN

There are many Jewish representations in Victorian literature, mostly negative, but Trollope presents contrasting portraits in The Way We Live Now.  Though Samuel Cohenlupe and Ezekiel Brehgert are both Jewish and, therefore, lumped together by some characters, they are not at all alike.  While Cohenlupe fits the typically negative Jewish portrayal, Brehgert proves to be one of the few "gentlemen" in the novel. 

Described as "the commercial friend" (Ch. 37) and a person of the "Jewish persuasion" (Ch. 9), Cohenlupe is a close associate of the ultimate villain in the novel, Augustus Melmotte.  Cohenlupe is a member of Parliament, a representative for Staines, a vicinity of double meaning, no doubt.  This befouled man of a befouled district manages the shares in the railway ventures and is privy to many of Melmotte's transactions.  However, his true advantage lies in his lack of speech.  He speaks "fluent but broken English" (Ch. 22) and with vague statements manages to convey little.  At one Board meeting, when Paul Montague demanded to know more about the company's transactions, Cohenlupe states "If anybody don't understand, it's his own fault" (Ch. 37).  The grammatical mishap in Cohenlupe's statement illustrates his inability to communicate with others that are not in on the scheme.  At another meeting, the only details he offers come when he "declared that their prosperity was unprecedented" (Ch. 45), a statement of no substance.  A man of few words, his only conversations of significance occur with Melmotte, with whom he cheats others. 

Whereas Cohenlupe is incoherent, Brehgert, on the other hand, is quite eloquent.  Though Georgiana Longestaffe places Brehgert and Cohenlupe in the same category due to their Jewish heritage ("a world composed altogether of Brehgerts, Melmottes, and Cohenlupes," Ch. 65), Brehgert's ability to speak clearly separates him from Cohenlupe.  When Brehgert writes a letter to Miss Longestaffe to describe the difficulties of the two getting married, even Georgiana cannot overlook the eloquence of the missive, describing it as "plain-spoken and truth-telling" and "sensible" (Ch. 79).  Even when Brehgert helps Mr. Longestaffe, who objected to his daughter marrying a Jew, recover his lost funds after the death of Melmotte, he states plainly that throughout his engagement to Georgiana, "I behaved like a gentleman" (Ch. 88).  Unlike Cohenlupe, Brehgert never speaks vaguely in an attempt to deceive, and such honesty makes some, like Mr. Longestaffe, uncomfortable.

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