Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector

Critical Introduction

Sheila A. Spector

  1. In the past few years, we have witnessed a regeneration of interest in Benjamin Disraeli, with new attention being paid, according to Paul Smith, “to aspects of his personality and œuvre inadequately recognized or analysed in the standard accounts, especially his social and political ideas, his style of self-presentation, and the significance of his Jewish origins and his assumption of the romantic mode” (1). Key to this reevaluation is Disraeli’s early novel, Alroy. While few went as far as Robert Blake, who labeled Alroy “perhaps the most unreadable of his romances,” most audiences have tended to dismiss it as Disraeli’s “Jewish novel” (108). Referring to the book’s medieval Jewish subject matter, the comment seems to imply that at best, Alroy might be of sectarian interest to Jews, though it certainly could not have nearly the relevance of Disraeli’s other books, like the “silver fork” novels of the 1820s, or the Young England trilogy of the 1840s. While not a major figure, Disraeli did earn for himself a significant literary reputation, his œuvre comprising over a dozen works of fiction, including an imaginary voyage, Byronic romances, sentimental stories, social and political satires, and Victorian novels. In their midst, this relatively short “dramatic romance,” considered by Cecil Roth to be the first Jewish historical novel, seems somewhat out of place, its content and form having apparently little relation to the other novels, much less to the political career of the future prime minister of England. But such a narrow view obscures the larger significance of Alroy (61).

  2. Completed just before he formally entered politics for the first time, in this short “Jewish novel,” Disraeli comes to terms with his own identity as a baptized Jew. Although the Jews had begun returning to England almost immediately after their expulsion in 1290, they had since then been denied the rights of citizenship. In the seventeenth century, the move for formal readmission failed, and in the eighteenth, the Jewish Naturalization Bill was repealed almost as soon as it was passed, in 1753. The result was that until emancipation in 1858, Jews were denied the basic rights accorded to most citizens, including restrictions on their ability to own land, to attend universities and to hold political office. Having been baptized as a child, Disraeli suffered under none of these legal disabilities. Yet, as an ethnic Jew, he was vulnerable to attacks by Christians about his heritage and the sincerity of his conversion, and to criticism by Jews that as an apostate, he had abandoned his obligations to his people.1 Consequently, Disraeli felt compelled, on the personal level, to rationalize his conflicting identity as a practicing Anglican who was an ethnic Jew. Politically, he had to justify advocating a constitutionally established national church, even though the relationship disenfranchised the Jews. Finally, he needed, literarily, to progress beyond the romantic idealism of his youth before he could achieve the conservative realism of his ensuing political career. As the vehicle for attempting to resolve some of these apparent contradictions, he created in Alroy a hybrid literary form in which he superimposed Jewish and Christian archetypal structures on each other, not to demonstrate the superiority of one religion over the other, but to reflect his belief that, as he would later say in Tancred, “Christianity is Judaism for the multitude.”2

    Biographical Significance of Alroy

  3. One reason why Alroy has fallen through the cracks of literary history is that like Disraeli himself, the novel is neither Jewish, in the sense that its themes and characterizations conform to a Jewish ethos, nor Christian, the few giaours in the book being minor characters who are vilified by the Muslims populating twelfth-century Persia. Rather, in its portrayal of a young Jewish hero attempting to survive in a non-Jewish world, Alroy reflects the dilemma confronted by Disraeli himself, as a baptized Jew who, though remaining a practicing Anglican throughout his life, still retained strong emotional ties with his Jewish heritage.3

  4. As the literary representation of Disraeli’s “ideal ambition,”4 Alroy reflects what the author imagined his life might have been like had he had a Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen, instead of a baptism, on 31 July 1817. As a third generation Englishman of what was originally an Italian Jewish family, Benjamin was raised by parents who regretted their own ethnicity. Although his father Isaac D’Israeli himself never converted, after the death of his own father and a quarrel with local synagogue leaders, he had his children baptized, thus technically making available to them all the advantages of British citizenship which, at that time, were denied to any English resident who was not a member of the Church of England. Had he chosen to, Benjamin might have obtained—though he did not—a university education, but he did take advantage of the opportunity to hold public office, formally running for the first time the year before Alroy was published. From the perspective of early nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewry, Alroy emerges as Disraeli’s Jewish surrogate, the failed messianic mission graphically suggesting that in the author’s mind, at any rate, conversion was the only viable means available to him of elevating the position of contemporary English Jewry.5

  5. Throughout his life, Disraeli had an ambivalent relationship with the Jewish community. According to Jewish tradition, two options alone are available to those whose circumstances make adherence to their faith impossible: they could become martyrs, dying rather than converting; or, as most notably in the case of the Spanish Inquisition, they could become marranos, that is, crypto-Jews, assuming the public demeanor of a Christian while practicing in private whatever vestiges of Judaism they might manage. The apostate, in contrast, was vilified, for regardless of the sincerity of his conversion, he still abandoned his obligations to his people. In Disraeli’s case, the problem was complicated by his close connections with English Jewry. Most of his family, including his parents, were Jewish. In addition, Disraeli seems to have been a less than enthusiastic convert, not agreeing until two weeks later than his younger brothers to be baptized. Yet, all evidence indicates that once converted, he remained a practicing Anglican throughout his life. Still, at the same time, he created for himself a largely fanciful genealogy, claiming in later life to have been descended from Spanish marranos fleeing the Inquisition.

  6. The sketchy history of the pseudo-messiah David Alroy provided Disraeli with the ideal medium through which to project what his life might have been like had he remained Jewish. As he indicates in his last footnote, Disraeli was first attracted by what he assumed was Alroy’s bold arrogance. When Alroy was asked by his captor how he knew that he was a messiah, he supposedly responded that they might cut off his head, and yet, he would live. Of course, Alroy died, but his challenge enabled him to avoid a fate far worse than decapitation. This story, though attributed to the philosopher Moses Maimonides—as repeated in the Chronologia Sacra-Profana A Mundi Conditu ad Annum M.5352 vel Christi 1592, dicta צמח דו&#1491 German Davidis, of David Ben Solomon Gans (1541-1613), and derived from the Shevet Yehudah (1553) of Solomon ibn Verga (second half of the fifteenth-first quarter of sixteenth century) —is likely spurious. Rather, the most common popular source of information about Alroy derives from Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish traveler of the late twelfth century, known primarily for the diary account of his adventures.6

  7. Historically accurate information about Alroy is scant. Born during the turmoil of the Crusades in the twelfth century, Menahem b. Solomon, as he was originally named, was a charismatic leader whose knowledge of mystical lore enabled him to persuade his followers that he was, indeed, the messiah. It is quite possible that Alroy believed in his election, since his father, identifying himself as the prophet Elijah, had a generation earlier circulated a letter among Jewish communities in the east proclaiming an imminent ingathering of exiles under his leadership. Menahem, in turn, changed his name to David al-Ro’i to imply an association with the House of David. Around 1147, in an attempt to unite the Jews of Kurdistan into a force capable of defeating the Seljuk Turks, Alroy gathered the Jews of Azerbaidzhan, in the hope that he might conquer Edessa and then the Holy Land. In preparation for his military exploit, he supposedly sent messengers around the Baghdad area, and they, presumably exceeding their actual instructions, told the Jews to assemble on their roof tops, from where they would be transported to the Messiah. When the prophecy did not materialize, the leaders of the Jewish community disavowed Alroy’s claim of messiahship, while Persian authorities threatened retaliation. Apparently in collusion with the authorities, the district governor bribed Alroy’s father-in-law to assassinate the pseudo-messiah. Even after his death, though, the movement retained faithful followers, known as Menahemites, who decades later spoke fondly of their dead leader.

  8. In the novel, Disraeli uses the historical Alroy as a foil against which indirectly to posit conversion as the third alternative to martyrdom and crypto-Judaism. Here transformed into a biblical archetype, Alroy is introduced as the Prince of the Captivity, the last remaining scion of the royal family; and like Moses, David and Solomon, all of whom are frequently alluded to in the novel, this David is destined to liberate his people from their state of captivity, and to establish a Jewish kingdom organized according to Old Testament law. Like his predecessors, however, he is also destined to fail, for like them, he, too, falls in love with a non-Jewish woman who leads him away from strict Jewish worship. As a result, the kingdom collapses, the Turks re-conquer the Jews and kill Alroy, thus concluding the action where the novel began, with the Jewish people in Hamadan under Turkish control. This cycle of Old Testament history is doomed to be repeated, according to Christian tradition, until the Jews accept the New Dispensation in which the circular pattern of the Old Testament will be replaced by the linear Christ who will lead His followers to rest in the spiritual New Jerusalem.

  9. In Alroy, Disraeli presents martyrdom as a romantic, though unviable alternative. Faithful to his source, Disraeli has the Jewish king, when offered the choice between the crescent and the sword, trick Alp Arslan into an immediate decapitation, rather than the painfully slow evisceration that had been planned for him. In this way, Alroy, like a Byronic hero, is able to retain his noble dignity. Yet, on the practical level, Alroy’s martyrdom nullifies the effect of his entire life, for his messiahship, in contrast to Christ’s, left no permanent impact on his people, the only remnants of his life being a few not particularly accurate accounts and, after 1833, Disraeli’s idealized rendering of the sometime caliph.

  10. In contrast to the fictional Alroy, Disraeli, whose sincere conversion precluded both martyrdom and crypto-Judaism, attempted to devise a median way by which to combine the Old and New Dispensations into a religion through which people of both faiths might flourish. A decade later, in the Young England novels of the mid-1840s, he would introduce Sidonia as the archetypal wise Jew whose advice was indispensable to the Christian heroes of the books; but in 1833, when Alroy was first published, Disraeli had yet to determine what he believed to be the appropriate relationship between the two faiths. At that point, he could only demonstrate that as an idealized romantic figure, Alroy could not accommodate himself to the realities of his world, and that by extension, Disraeli’s own Christianity, not the treachery of the apostate, would become the means by which the Victorian messianic figure would, in fact, help emancipate contemporary Jews.

    Political Significance of Alroy

  11. Alroy is usually excluded from the list of Disraeli’s political novels, its twelfth-century Persian setting, populated primarily by Jews and Muslims, giving most readers the initial impression of an exotic tale with no immediate relevance. However, just as the hero is a projection of Disraeli’s personal struggle with the contradiction between his religion and his heritage, similarly, the setting provides Disraeli with the means by which to allegorize the contemporary political conflict about the relationship between throne and altar. With, on the one hand, a constitutionally established church, and on the other, an increasingly pluralistic population, Great Britain in the 1830s was forced not only to reexamine the relationship between church and state, but actually to reconsider, in light of growing protests, the propriety even of maintaining a national church at all. If, in the novel, Alroy’s two main advisors, Jabaster and Honain, represent what from the Jewish perspective would be interpreted as religious martyrs and marranos, in terms of English politics, their stands correspond, respectively, to the theocrats, those who wished to strengthen the constitutional relationship between throne and altar, and the utilitarians, those in favor of disestablishing the Anglican Church entirely. By displacing the contemporary political debate onto a medieval Middle Eastern setting in which Christians play only a minor part, Disraeli was able to objectify what otherwise might have been too emotional a subject, especially when written by a baptized Jew.7

  12. As a Tory, Disraeli supported the constitutional establishment of the Church of England. Not simply a matter of religious exclusivity, the historical relationship between throne and altar reflected the British belief that the two institutions were mutually supportive, together providing the order, morality and political liberty necessary for the commonweal. In 1815, two years before Disraeli was baptized, Englishmen attributed their defeat of Napoleon in no small measure to their established Church, considering the French affiliation with Rome to have been debilitating. By the mid-1830s, however, the constitutional establishment of the national church had come under attack. The repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828, and Catholic emancipation in 1829, though intended to reinforce Anglican hegemony, led latitudinarians to demand further religious equality for all denominations, besides the Church of England. From the other direction, during this period, the “Oxford Tractarians,” who sensed in reform the attempt of government to exert secular authority over the established church, began their attempt to move Anglicanism back to its High Church tradition, as a median between Catholicism and Protestantism. Ultimately, the two extremes would meet in the next decade in the debate over whether or not to disestablish entirely the Church of England.

  13. For Disraeli, the constitutional issue was complicated by his ethnic heritage. While he would support the elimination of those disabilities preventing Jews from gaining the full rights of citizenship, at the same time, he consistently endorsed the established Church. Although his early treatise, Vindication of the English Constitution (1835), is frequently cited as an example of Disraeli’s opportunism, written at the same time he affiliated himself with the Tories, actually, it provides a theoretical analysis of the same problem he explores from a fictional perspective in Alroy. Recontextualizing the political debate from a polarity between high and low church into the constitutional dialectic between, on the one hand, those who advocated a theocracy, and on the other, utilitarians, Disraeli recommended the synthesis achieved by a representative Protestant form of government, one in which theology was continually adjusted to the current needs of the people, whom the clergy represented:
    The Church is part of our Constitution, and its character has changed in unison with that Constitution; the clergy in this country, thanks to that Reformation whose good fruits we have long enjoyed, both political and spiritual, are national; they are our fellow-subjects, and they have changed with their fellow-countrymen. Their errors were the errors of their age, and of their nation; they were no more. The Bishops who, under James the First, maintained the High Commission Court, under James the Second were the first champions of our liberties; the Establishment which, under Laud, persecuted to obtain Conformity, is now certainly our surest, perhaps our only guarantee of Toleration. (137)
    According to Disraeli, the primary function of the national church is to provide social stability in a changing world. Given the transformations England underwent after the Tudors broke with Rome in the sixteenth century, the sense of nationality, he claimed, had been maintained since then in large part through the coordinated efforts of all social institutions:
    It is these institutions which make us a nation. Without our Crown, our Church, our Universities, our great municipal and commercial Corporations, our Magistracy, and its dependent scheme of provincial polity, the inhabitants of England, instead of being a nation, would present only a mass of individuals governed by a metropolis, whence an arbitrary senate would issue the stern decrees of its harsh and heartless despotism. (181-2)
    In Disraeli’s view, the established Church provided England with its sovereign principle, that sense of patriotism needed to transform the aggregate of individuals into a cohesive nation.

  14. Unlike most of his other novels, in Alroy, Disraeli displaces the contemporary political debate onto an exotic setting, transforming the major events of Persian-Turkish history into the western archetype of empire. In depicting the Middle East, Disraeli has been accused variously of recycling descriptions contained in letters written during his grand tour of 1830-1, and of misrepresenting the historical record, regarding both the Muslims and the Jews.8 However, an examination of the supposed errors within their fictional contexts suggests that Disraeli deliberately manipulated the history and culture of twelfth-century Persia to produce an archetypal empire, one that could evoke the spirit of Middle Eastern history, while simultaneously reflecting the inverse of nineteenth-century Great Britain, that is, a world without either representative government or an established Protestant church. Focusing in on the time of the first two Crusades, Alroy telescopes the clash between the older Arab dynasties and the invading waves of Turks, the very brief period when the conquered Jews rose up against their Muslim oppressors.

  15. Historically, as Disraeli indicates in the Preface, the action of Alroy revolves around the Seljuk Turks, a minor clan that dominated the Turkish world from the mid-eleventh through the mid-twelfth century.9 Descended from a family of nomads, two grandsons of the original leader gained power around 1040. The first, Chaghri, claimed Khurasan, while the second, Toghril (r. 1038-63) moved west, eventually capturing Baghdad in 1055, to become the supreme political authority within Iran and Iraq. Chaghri’s son, Alp Arslan (r. 1063-72), and grandson, Malikshah (r. 1072-92), brought the empire to new heights of religious and secular accomplishments, while defeating Byzantine forces. Finally, at Malikshah’s death, his sons Berkyaruk ( r. 1092-1105) and Muhammad (r. 1105-18) lost much of their power to other family members as the empire became decentralized, ultimately to be divided into four geographical areas: Rum (i.e., Anatolia, 1077- 1307), Syria (1078-1117), Iraq (1118-94), and Kerman (1041-1186).

  16. Disraeli’s portrayal of the Seljuks is, as he himself admits, inaccurate; yet, he does manage to incorporate some of the most significant elements, either directly into the action, or indirectly, through the names of characters. Probably the most widely known development of Seljuk rule involved the Assassins (etymologically derived from hashish), a fanatical movement started around 1090 by a Shi’ite extremist, Hasan Subah. Opposing the authority of both the Seljuk Sultanate and the caliphate, the Assassins targeted high-ranking officials and theologians, evading capture by seeking shelter in the mountains and traveling in disguise. A second association involves attempts by the caliphate to gain independence from the Seljuks. At the same time that the Crusaders were mounting their external attack, internally, a local regime in the region of Khwarizm emerged to threaten the governing authority, finally defeating the Seljuks in 1181. After that, Persia was overtaken by the Mongols.

  17. In Alroy, Disraeli rearranges historical events to dramatize the inevitable collapse of an empire whose secular government is opposed by an externally controlled religious authority.10 Key is the decisive Battle of Nihāwand, of the year 642, fought in the Zagros Mountains of western Persia. At the “battle of battles,” as it was popularly known, the Arabs defeated the Persian Empire, consolidating their rule by imposing Islam on the Zoroastrian population. By anachronistically associating Alroy with the Battle of Nihāwand, Disraeli creates the effect of an historical cycle in which the Turks replicate the older victory of the Arabs, which has already been replicated by Alroy’s forces in the first part of the novel. Thus, nation follows nation in an inevitable cycle, not to be broken, it might be inferred, until the civilizing efforts of the British Empire in the modern period.

  18. Within this cyclical context, Disraeli rearranges or reinterprets other historical events to conform to the requirements of his narrative structure. The initial conflict, Alroy’s killing, in defense of his sister Miriam, of the prince Alschiroch, evokes Moses’s slaying of the Egyptian in Exodus (2:12), while also alluding to Saladin’s uncle, Assudeen Sheerkoh (Shirkuh?), who allied himself with the Fatimids in Egypt to defeat Christian forces in 1169. As a reward, Sheerkoh was appointed chief minister, though he died two months later. When a young man, according to John Malcolm’s 1815 History of Persia, Sheerkoh, whose name means “the lion of the mountain,” had initially been forced to flee to Egypt after slaying a high-born man who had insulted an unprotected female (1:379). In the novel, Disraeli makes Sheerkoh the villain and Alroy the hero of the incident.

  19. Disraeli also manipulates history to enhance the major battle scenes of the novel. In Part VII, Alroy consolidates his power by defeating Hasan Subah, leader of the Assassins who played the secular and religious establishments off against each other. Finally, at the climax, Alroy is anachronistically defeated by Alp Arslan, here inaccurately transformed into the king of the Khwarizms.

  20. Within this medieval context, the significance of Alroy exceeds the limits of a sectarian tale about a failed messiah. Rather, the crisis involves matters of statecraft, the hero’s problem being how to organize a government capable of addressing the interests of all factions of the population. While it is tempting to impose a narrow Jewish interpretation on the action, attributing Alroy’s downfall, like Samson’s, to his marriage, in this case with the half-Christian half-Muslim Schirene, in fact, the collapse of the empire occurs not, as Jabaster insists, because Alroy has violated Jewish law, but because at that time and place, there existed no viable system that would accommodate the needs of all of the people.11 In developing his novel, Disraeli deliberately undermines the two alternatives—Jabaster and Honain, theocracy and utilitarianism—demonstrating that they comprise what is actually a false choice, the supposed opposites being mirror images of each other. Lacking the representative Protestant government delineated in the Vindication, Alroy’s empire is doomed to defeat.

  21. Jabaster, Alroy’s mystical teacher, represents the dangers integral to a pure theocracy. At first glance, Jabaster would seem to personify an idealized religious man. Living in the wilderness, he is a mystic who has devoted his life to reestablishing the ancient cult of the biblical Israelites. After Alroy flees Hamadan, Jabaster instructs him on the religious mission, giving his student the talisman that would protect his life and provide access to the Tombs of the Kings, where he would locate the sceptre of Solomon, symbol of his election. Accompanied by the prophetess Esther, Jabaster would seem to represent God’s will, the choice of Jerusalem over Baghdad reflecting the eternal Jewish desire for redemption from exile.

  22. A closer examination of the details associated with Jabaster, however, suggests that the ancient religion he advocates is really the moribund cult of a zealot who cannot accommodate himself to the contemporary world. Unlike all of the other major figures in the novel, Jabaster is not named for a biblical or historical figure; rather, for him, Disraeli seems to have coined a neologism, based on the Hebrew root יבש, yavash, meaning “to be dried up.” Thus, Jabaster’s ancient cult is fundamentally but a “dried up” form of religion. Similarly, his support of Alroy’s messiahship is tinged with jealousy, he himself having failed a generation earlier to lead the people: “I recall the glorious rapture of that sacred strife amid the rocks of Caucasus. A fugitive, a proscribed and outlawed wretch, whose life is common sport, and whom the vilest hind may slay without a bidding. I, who would have been Messiah!” (Pt3Ch1). Even now, during the war, Jabaster’s forces prove inadequate to their task—“The loss of the division of Jabaster was also severe, but the rest of the army suffered little” (Pt7Ch16); and during the decisive battle, he requires assistance from Scherirah’s multicultural band of mercenaries. Yet, after the Muslims are defeated, Jabaster demands that those same people be denied full rights of citizenship, pressuring Alroy to establish a theocracy consistent with biblical law:
         ‘Noble emir,’ replied Alroy, ‘return to Bagdad, and tell your fellow-subjects that the King of Israel grants protection to their persons, and security to their property.’
         ‘And for their faith?’ enquired the envoy, in a lower voice.
         ‘Toleration,’ replied Alroy, turning to Jabaster.
         ‘Until further regulations,’ added the high priest. (Pt7Ch19)
    Similarly, the gift of Esther, the prophetess, is also undermined, her warnings about entering Baghdad, especially as associated with Ahab, apparently being motivated at least as much by jealousy as by spirituality.

  23. But if theocracy is revealed to be an unacceptable alternative, so, too, is the utilitarianism of Honain. Though Jabaster’s brother, Honain has lived like a marrano, assuming the external appearance of the Muslim world while keeping his personal beliefs to himself. When they first meet, Honain saves Alroy’s life, and recognizing Jabaster’s ring, invites Alroy to stay in his home. In contrast to his brother, Honain is revealed to be a cosmopolitan intellectual, wealthy, highly educated and greatly respected. As a physician, Honain has access to the upper echelons of power, and exerts great influence on the caliph. But as with Jabaster, his position, too, is undermined, for his utilitarianism affords him material wealth at the cost of his soul. Ultimately, his survival instincts transform him into the deaf-mute eunuch he has Alroy pretend to be. Having surrendered his moral base, he has become an impotent functionary, pandering, betraying, even murdering, all for the sake of base survival.

  24. By the end of the novel, there can be found little difference between Jabaster and Honain. Although one uses God to justify his behavior, and the other survival, both betray Alroy and plot murder. That Jabaster fails in his assassination attempt does not suggest any moral superiority, only that Alroy is protected by supernatural forces. In contrast, Honain’s successful fratricide implies that the religious zealot has exceeded the limits of divine approbation, while the pragmatic utilitarian has lost any spark of humanity.

  25. Ultimately, the problem lies neither with Jabaster nor Honain, but with Alroy’s failure of leadership. Once he becomes caliph, Alroy realizes that Jabaster’s dream of a theocracy is unfeasible in the contemporary world, that “Universal empire must not be founded on sectarian prejudices and exclusive rights” (Pt8Ch3). Yet, he lacks a positive theory of what principles empire should be founded on. Having been written before Disraeli developed his concept of the sovereign principle, the novel indicates only in general terms what went wrong. But when the text is viewed from the perspective of the Vindication, Alroy’s fatal error emerges as his inability to recognize the fact that the pragmatic utilitarianism of Honain, which is motivated strictly by self-interest, is as inimical to “Universal empire” as is the narrowly defined theocracy advocated by Jabaster. Although Alroy can sense the abstract need, he is incapable of effecting the kind of church-state relationship by which to actualize the sovereign principle. Living in pre-Reformation Asia, Alroy is doomed to fail.

    Literary Significance of Alroy

  26. Mirroring the author himself, the literary structure of Alroy reflects Disraeli’s attempt to combine Jewish and Christian components into a coherent whole. Frequently referring to himself as the blank page between the two Testaments, Disraeli likely meant that as a practicing Anglican who was an ethnic Jew, he saw himself as the catalyst that might be used to rejoin the two dispensations into a single universal religion. Over a decade after writing Alroy, he would be able to clarify in Tancred what he considered to be the relationship between the two faiths:
         “And when did men cease from worshipping [pagan gods]?” asked Fakredeen of Tancred; “before the Prophet?”
         “When truth descended from Heaven in the person of Christ Jesus.”
         “But truth had descended from Heaven before Jesus,” replied Fakredeen; “since, as you tell me, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, and since then to many of the prophets and the princes of Israel.”
         “Of whom Jesus was one,” said Tancred; “the descendant of King David as well as the Son of God. But through this last and greatest of their princes it was ordained that the inspired Hebrew mind should mould and govern the world. Through Jesus God spoke to the Gentiles, and not to the tribes of Israel only. That is the great worldly difference between Jesus and his inspired predecessors. Christianity is Judaism for the multitude, but still it is Judaism, and its development was the death-blow of the Pagan idolatry.” (426-7)
    At this point, though, before his somewhat eccentric theory had consolidated, Disraeli turned to his art as the vehicle for expressing his belief that “the English are really neither Jews nor Christians, but follow a sort of religion of their own, which is made every year by their bishops” (Tancred, 209).12 To that end, in Alroy he superimposes Old Testament archetypes over popular English literary forms to suggest that as the older faith, Judaism is but a romantic ideal, and by implication, it should be superseded by the more realistic manifestations of Anglicanism.13

  27. Most obviously, the language of Alroy reflects this union of English and Old Testament stylistic traits. As Disraeli explains in the Preface to the first edition, he has attempted to create an innovative form of metrical prose:
    As for myself, I never hesitate, although I discard verse, to have recourse to rhythm whenever I consider its introduction desirable, and occasionally even to rhyme. There is no doubt that the style in which I have attempted to write this work is a delicate and difficult instrument for an artist to handle. He must not abuse his freedom. He must alike beware the turgid and the bombastic, the meagre and the mean. He must be easy in his robes of state, and a degree of elegance and dignity must accompany him even in the camp and the market-house. The language must rise gradually with the rising passions of the speakers, and subside in harmonious unison with their sinking emotions. (Preface 1833)
    Most of the early critics were immediately struck by the metrical variations found within Alroy (see Reviews), their reviews noting an eclectic aggregate of styles, including serious opera and the Gothic, Ossian, Byron and Shakespeare. Amid these secular forms, the stylistic devices of the Old Testament provide coherence for what otherwise would be an inconsistent conglomeration of motifs. Both Alroy and the Hebrew Bible are comprised of a variety of genres, ranging from lyrics to narratives; and both texts, though printed primarily in prose form, are actually highly poetic, being written in a distinctively metrical language. Similarly, underlying both is a kind of poetic parallelism in which lines can be broken down into members bearing both a logical and a metrical relationship to each other. To cite the passage quoted by the reviewer in The New Monthly Magazine:
    “Or sail upon the cool and azure lake
    In some bright barque, like to a sea-nymph’s shell,
    And followed by the swans.”

    “There is no lake so blue as thy blue eye,
    There is no swan so white as thy round arm.”

    “Or shall we lance our falcons in the air,
    And bring the golden pheasant to our feet?” &c.
    Although these lines were actually written in prose, they almost automatically render themselves into poetic members resembling lines from the Song of Solomon, in which the sound echoes the sense, Alroy and Schirene uttering parallel expressions of their love.

  28. Consistent with the use of a hebraic metrical style, Disraeli includes numerous passages from and allusions to the Bible. He names most of the Jewish characters after ancient Israelites, and models many plot sequences after Old Testament incidents.

  29. The aggregate of styles reflects simultaneously Disraeli’s attitude towards Judaism and towards contemporary culture. Because by 1833, the appeal of high romanticism was waning, the combination of romantic and biblical devices implies that the older literary style and the older faith were both sentimental archaisms, published at a time, as many of Alroy’s reviewers pointed out, when readers demanded a new, more realistic form of literature.

  30. Comparable to the style, the character of Alroy is a romanticized transformation of an archetypal Old Testament hero. Like his biblical antecedents, Alroy is a destined ruler who, after consolidating his leadership, is eventually brought down by his own character flaws, in this case a combination of bad judgment in the choice of advisors, and sexual weakness in trusting Schirene. But Alroy’s psychological development is purely Byronic. He is a brooding, charismatic, isolated, reckless, doomed figure, from the beginning manifesting a sexually ambiguous attitude towards his sister.14 By relying heavily on dramatic interchange and soliloquy, rather than narrative explanation, Disraeli lets Alroy, much as Byron had permitted Manfred, reveal himself, in this case as the reluctant Hamlet, loath to assume his destined role as Prince of the Captivity;15 and even though his failure is consistent with the Old Testament prototype, his death is purely romantic. Eschewing the probable ending that Alroy was killed by his father-in-law, Disraeli chooses the more dramatic climax in which Alroy supposedly tricks his captor into beheading him.

  31. Finally, as with style and characterization, the narrative structure is produced by a combination of Jewish and romantic archetypes. Identified in the Preface to the first edition as a “dramatic romance,” Alroy’s generic base is a distinctively Protestant literary form. As developed by Spenser, justified by Milton, and popularized by Bunyan, the English epic-romance revolves around the Christian hero who—whether in the nationalistic guise of a St. George, the religious manifestation of an Adam, or the popular representation of an everyman—traverses the linear path from innocence to experience, all with the help of an external form of Grace. Structurally, the action tends to be symmetrical; in the first half of the narrative, the hero typically falters, lapsing into some form of a symbolic House of Pride where he falls sway to the negative side of a highly polarized moral system. Then, with the help of God, he is able to escape from the clutches of evil and ascend to a symbolic House of Holiness, where he is educated in the theology of moral virtue. After he is spiritually healed, he can defeat the dragon of evil and unite with his beautiful lady. Thus, through the plot sequence, the spiritual and the political merge as the hero’s regeneration culminates with the social restoration symbolized by the marriage. In this highly idealized genre, throne and altar coalesce into the constitutional union of post-Reformation Great Britain.

  32. In contrast to this linear pattern, characteristic of Christian eschatology, Jewish messianism tends to be cyclical. An outgrowth of their diasporean experience, Jews think in terms of a circular pattern of exile and return, culminating in the physical regeneration of Jerusalem. As already noted, this is the archetypal structure found in Old Testament narrative, with Moses, David and Solomon successively reenacting the pattern of rise and fall, as each attempts and ultimately fails to reestablish the Jewish homeland. In merging the Jewish and Christian forms, Disraeli superimposes the theology of the New Dispensation onto the Jewish archetype, implying that the Jewish hero is doomed to repeat the same dull round until, as with Disraeli himself, he accepts Protestantism as the means of breaking free from the cycle. Because the novel takes place before the Reformation, the hero has no means— i.e., Grace—by which he might stop the circle from completing itself, so that even though he might himself recognize the fallacies inherent in the Old Dispensation, there is no way he can take advantage of the New. Structurally, Disraeli conveys Alroy’s dilemma by extending the linear Christian archetype beyond its conventional length until, at the climax of the novel, it is transformed into the Judaic circle as Alroy is forced to martyr himself to the ancient cult which he has, in the course of the novel, repudiated.

  33. The first eight parts of Alroy sketch out the typical Christian narrative. Beginning in medias res, the story opens, in Part I, with Alroy’s acceptance of his identity as Prince of the Captivity. Like Moses, his biblical prototype, Alroy is a reluctant leader, being forced, after committing murder in defense of his sister Miriam (the name of Moses’s sister), in Part II, to flee to the wilderness. Part III focuses on the preparation for his mission, as he is taught the mystical significance of his destiny; in Part IV, he undertakes the perilous journey which, in Part V, leads to Baghdad, the symbolic House of Pride, and then, in Part VI, Jerusalem, the House of Holiness, where Alroy locates the sceptre of Solomon. Thus anointed, the chosen one, in Part VII, defeats the Turks, and in Part VIII, marries Schirene. In a Christian epic, the sceptre would signify the Divine Grace that makes manifest the hero’s election, while simultaneously providing him the weapon with which he will defeat evil. The Turkish infidels, of course, represent the conventional antagonists of Western literature, while marriage is the archetypal culmination of romance, the hero’s union with his lady symbolizing the anticipated marriage of Christ and His Heavenly Bride, the Church.

  34. Unlike the Christian archetype, in which all of these symbolic acts are idealized in terms of a clearly defined moral polarity, here, the dramatic underpinnings introduce levels of realism that undercut the romantic veneer. Key to the structure is the symbolic House of Holiness, Alroy’s trip to Jerusalem in Part VI. Dissociated from the moral idealism of conventional anagogy, this Jerusalem is an old, decaying city—in fact, a realistic description of the Jerusalem Disraeli visited in 1831. The leader of the Jewish community, Rabbi Zimri, is indistinguishable from anyone else in the geographically limited Jewish quarter, and he studies with the 109-year-old Rabbi Maimon. The synagogue they go to is located in a cemetery, and the lesson they study “makes equal sense, read backward or forward.”

  35. Not an evil place, this city is simply moribund, so bound to its past that it cannot accommodate itself to the present, much less prepare for the future. It takes an outsider, the African pilgrim, to solve the rabbi’s riddle; conversely, no one in the congregation is capable of responding to his. Similarly, only the pilgrim recognizes Alroy as the chosen one, and it is he who leads the future messiah out of the synagogue and towards the Tombs of the Kings, where the sceptre of Solomon, quite fittingly, is located.

  36. This is not simply a matter of reversing the polarity, that is, of subverting the religious significance of Jerusalem in order to privilege Baghdad, for Turkish materialism is revealed to be as hollow as Jewish religiosity. As the elaborate descriptions indicate, Baghdad is, as the inverse of Jerusalem, a city of great wealth and beauty. Yet, if Rabbi Zimri proves unrecognizable, Honain remains a prisoner to his disguise, prevented from ever announcing his true identity; and if the Jews are mesmerized by what is conveyed as Talmudic nonsense, Schirene, the caliph’s daughter, is bored, requiring the books Honain smuggles in to occupy her mind. As the moral counterpart to the moribund House of Holiness, this House of Pride is vacuous, thus implying not that Alroy made the wrong choice in rejecting Jerusalem, but that he had no viable alternative. Consequently, the archetypal climax is undercut. While the defeat of the Turks and marriage with the lady love would conventionally end the story, Alroy continues on, the last two chapters introducing the kind of realism that transforms the Christian romance into a Jewish tragedy.

  37. As with the biblical prototypes, the hero’s fall results from his lack of judgment: Alroy trusts the wrong people, and fails to establish an effective form of government. Like Solomon, he engages in foreign modes of worship—attending the mosque with Schirene; like Samson, he relinquishes the source of his power—permitting Schirene to take his signet ring; and like David, he is complicit in committing murder—providing Honain with access to Jabaster. Having betrayed his mission, Alroy is deprived of the sceptre, and is consequently executed. Not an evil man, Alroy is simply living in the wrong time. Like the virtuous pagans in Dante’s Limbo, he exists before the availability of Protestant Grace, and therefore, through no real fault of his own, he is doomed to fail.

  38. Consistent with the other literary devices, the overlay of mysticism is used to associate Judaism with older romantic beliefs that cannot be validated, and therefore should not be relied on in the modern world. In virtually all cases, the mystical import of symbols—whether Jabaster’s talisman, Esther’s prophecies, astrological signs, or even the sceptre of Solomon—is vitiated by reality. Significantly, none of the mystical omens fulfills its expected supernatural role. Even though they are never actually proven false, they are never validated, either. Rather, they seem basically irrelevant to Alroy’s plight. Thus, at the climax of the novel, the talisman, after having protected Alroy from Esther’s assassination attempt, crumbles; and the sceptre, after permitting Alroy to commune with Jabaster’s ghost, disappears. In sharp contrast to these mystical signs is Alroy’s signet ring, the concrete symbol of the king’s very real power. When Alroy permits Schirene to remove the ring from his finger, he quite literally abandons his royal responsibilities, thus committing the truly unforgivable sin of the novel.

  39. Disraeli’s own ambivalence about Alroy emerges most clearly through the competition between the two voices he develops for the book, the narrator’s and the editor’s. In contrast to conventional novels, which are controlled by the narrator, here, that role is radically reduced, even, in many chapters, completely eliminated from what Disraeli originally called his “dramatic romance.” Quite significantly, Disraeli does not within the text itself undermine the reliability of his surrogate, but only restricts the narrator’s ability to convey to the reader his—the narrator’s? the author’s?—real attitude towards the story of Alroy. Contrasting sharply with the rather weak narrator is the strong editor who dominates the critical apparatus. In the Preface to the first edition, the editor announces in an almost defiant tone his creation of a new literary form, one destined to revolutionize English letters.16 Then, in the eighty-two footnotes following the text, the editor effectively undermines the romantic aura of the novel, incessantly interrupting the narrative flow with what is more often than not extraneous material about historical, geographical and cultural background. In the guise of a supremely confident intellectual, the editor places Alroy in the context of other false messiahs, using a variety of historical, philosophical and theological sources—both Christian and Jewish—to denigrate as little more than mystical superstition the romance his alter-ego, the narrator, is trying to idealize.

  40. Beneath the bravado, however, the editor reveals himself to be as insecure as the author himself. Significantly, the book concludes with a long footnote containing a Latin passage describing the death of Alroy. Ostensibly quoted to verify the ending of the novel, the Latin, while almost ostentatiously attesting to the editor’s scholarship, seems also, like the flamboyant attire sported by Disraeli at the time, to camouflage his underlying sympathy with the novel, the content of the note justifying the most romantic decision made by the narrator, that is, to reject Benjamin of Tudela’s description of Alroy’s death in favor of the account spuriously attributed to Maimonides. Similarly, when preparing the edition of 1846, while Disraeli cut the polemics from the Preface, he still left intact most of the notes, and even permitted Alroy to be reissued at the same time that he published the political Young England trilogy.

  41. By 1844, when he introduced the character of Sidonia into Coningsby, Disraeli seems to have resolved the contradictions implicit in his attitude towards Judaism. With the novel set in Victorian England, he could both idealize and minimize the impact of the Jew. As a wise, wealthy cosmopolitan, modeled at least in part after Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-79), Sidonia countered the common anti-Semitic stereotypes of the kabbalistic, legalistic Shylock, doomed to wander homeless until the Second Coming.17 At the same time, though, by limiting Sidonia to only a handful of appearances in the novel, Disraeli marginalized the Jew. The total effect was to turn Sidonia into a kind of Christ figure, available to assist Coningsby’s development into a modern Christian hero, though not interfering with his existence as an Anglican. Thus was Disraeli able to solve his Jewish problem: By recasting Alroy as Sidonia, he was able to transform the failed Jewish messiah into the Christian symbol of Grace.

    Cultural Significance of Alroy

  42. Ultimately, the real significance of Alroy lies in the cultural complexities that the novel exposes. In their attempt to unify the country after the break with Rome, the Tudor propagandists, as they have been called, developed a nationalistic myth revolving around the Calvinistic assumption that the English were God’s elect, a belief that would foster traits of xenophobia and chauvinism to culminate in centuries of British colonialism.18 As a member of Parliament, Disraeli would strive to refocus British imperialism away from religious doctrine, and towards a geopolitical policy predicated on spheres of influence gained through land purchase. Although Alroy was written long before Disraeli’s ideas about ethnicity and colonialism would crystallize, the novel’s perspective on multi-culturalism and imperialism reflects a rejection of earlier attitudes, as the future prime minister moved towards the more pragmatic politics of Victoria’s British Empire.

  43. The most significant aspect of Disraeli’s national realignment involved his belief that cultural tolerance was essential for the expanding empire. As can be seen from the earliest reviews of the novel, most readers in the 1830s preferred to ignore the ethnically diverse population of Alroy’s fictional world, only one criticizing the Jewish aspects of the novel. According to the reviewer for The London Literary Gazette, “the very frequent invocation of the Deity, which, though very fit for the Old Testament, and not misplaced in Jewish history, revolts the mind by repetition in a fiction like this.” The other reviewers generally ignored the question of ethnicity, treating Alroy like any other English, that is, Protestant, novel, commenting about the genre, characterization, style, setting, etc., though without considering how the hero’s religion affected the action. In contrast, starting with Israel Abrahams’ 1913-essay, “A Masterpiece for the Week: Disraeli’s Alroy,’” readers began taking the opposite approach, subordinating the novel’s literary characteristics to its hero’s ethnicity, viewing Alroy as a specimen of Jewish culture, as opposed to the British literary tradition. It has only been since the end of the twentieth century, with the advent of cultural studies, that we have developed the scholarly tools required for exploring the complexities underlying the combination of an English novel, written about a Jewish messiah who is opposed by Turkish Muslims, and in which the Christians are marginalized to a few passing remarks about some atrocities committed by the Franks.

  44. In his later fiction, especially Tancred, Disraeli would develop an eccentric racial theory by which the three major monotheistic religions would be unified, with Judaism as their historical root. But in this initial attempt to expose the fallacies built into beliefs of Christian superiority, he undermines any of the easy solutions that might obscure the very real conflicts that arise in a multi-cultural society. Most obviously, in an idealistic romance, the marriage between the Jewish Alroy and the half-Christian half-Muslim Schirene would likely celebrate some kind of reunification among the three creeds, but in Alroy, it provides the impetus for Jabaster’s insurrection (a Jewish response to intermarriage), and Alp Arslan’s revenge (a Muslim reaction to dishonor). Similarly, the blood-brother ritual of Alroy’s ingesting Scherirah’s blood would be anathema to a Jew, just as Kisloch the Kourd’s affinity for alcohol would be an abomination to a Muslim. Finally, disloyalty within any group would automatically be condemned. But in Alroy, most of these violations occur inter-culturally, that is, between members of different ethnic or religious groups, so that the approbation of what normally would be unacceptable behavior for members within particular groups—like Jabaster’s dismissal of his own men’s destruction of Muslim property—exposes the fundamental immorality underlying most supposedly moral creeds.

  45. Towards the same end, Disraeli reverses the more usual treatment of Orientalism in Romantic literature. In contrast to those writers whose lavish descriptions of Asian treasures were designed to condemn the decadent East in favor, by contrast, of the morally superior West, Disraeli used a variety of disparate sources in order to expand the context from which to approach different cultures. As the extensive notes appended to the novel indicate, in addition to his own trip to the Levant in 1830-31, he used older histories and contemporary travel literature, as well as studies written by Christians, Jews and Muslims, about themselves and each other. The result is a panorama of cultural relativity in which a given author’s perception is revealed to have been determined by preconceptions that, more often than not, were unsympathetic to the subject being discussed. For example, in the notes, Disraeli cites William Enfield’s The History of Philosophy from the Earliest Periods, Augustin Calmet’s An Historical, Critical, Chronological and Etymological Dictionary of the Holy Bible, The Whole Works of John Lightfoot, and Jacques Basnage’s The History of the Jews, from Jesus Christ to the Present Time, all Christian texts that evince a distinct antipathy towards Judaism, for his information about Kabbalism. Yet, in the Preface, he asserts, regarding “the supernatural machinery of this romance, it is Cabalistical and correct” (Preface 1833); and in the text, he integrates the elements of Jewish mysticism smoothly into the narrative. Similarly, in contrast to the notes, which echo the Christian denigration of Bar Kokhba’s zealous resistance against the Romans (see Author's Note 10), the novel adheres to that very archetypal structure, that is, of a doomed rebellion waged against colonial control. The effect of these contradictions is to undermine any sense of cultural superiority, forcing us to accept each nation within its own context.

  46. The cultural relativity inherent in Alroy can be associated with new attitudes towards imperialism in the post-Napoleonic world. Under Victoria, Great Britain would continue to expand, but land purchase would supplant the older policy of military conquest, and mandated protection would replace colonial control. Through his representation of Alroy’s failed messianic movement, Disraeli was able to expose the shortcomings of the older expansionist policies in preparation for his political advocacy of the new.19 Set in the twelfth century, Alroy allegorizes the problems associated with colonial government, from the need to employ mercenaries, who, by definition, have no more loyalty for one conquering army than for another, to the impossibility of establishing an equitable system of governance, because, being predicated on the principles espoused by the colonizer, it will inevitably suppress core beliefs of the colonized—the disparity between the two frequently having provoked the military conquest in the first place. Thus, as Alroy knows when he first sets out on his messianic mission, but then forgets after he becomes emperor, Scherirah and his band of outlaws will always be loyal to the highest bidder, and despite the apparent sincerity of their professed friendship, they will just as easily transfer their allegiance to the next colonizing power. The outlaws themselves express their amoral creed after Alroy has conquered Asia:
         ‘Drink,’ said Kisloch the Kourd to Calidas the Indian; ‘you forget, comrade, we are no longer Moslemin.’
         ‘Wine, methinks, has a peculiarly pleasant flavour in a golden cup,’ said the Guebre.
         ‘I got this little trifle today in the Bazaar,’ he added, holding up a magnificent vase studded with gems.
         ‘I thought plunder was forbidden,’ grinned the Negro.
         ‘So it is,’ replied the Guebre; ‘but we may purchase what we please, upon credit.’
         ‘Well, for my part, I am a moderate man,’ exclaimed Calidas the Indian, ‘and would not injure even these accursed dogs of Turks. I have not cut my host’s throat, but only turned him into my porter, and content myself with his harem, his baths, his fine horses, and other little trifles.’
         ‘What quarters we are in! There is nothing like a true Messiah!’ exclaimed Kisloch, devoutly.
         ‘Nothing,’ said Calidas; ‘though to speak truth, I did not much believe in the efficacy of Solomon’s sceptre, till his Majesty clove the head of the valiant Seljuk with it.’
         ‘But now there’s no doubt of it,’ said the Guebre. ‘We should indeed be infidels if we doubted now,’ replied the Indian.
         ‘How lucky,’ grinned the Negro, ‘as I had no religion before, that I have now fixed upon the right one!’
         ‘Most fortunate!’ said the Guebre. ‘What shall we do to amuse ourselves to-night?’
         ‘Let us go to the coffee-houses and make the Turks drink wine,’ said Calidas the Indian.
         ‘What say you to burning down a mosque?’ said Kisloch the Kourd.
         ‘I had great fun with some Dervishes this morning,’ said the Guebre. ‘I met one asking alms with a wire run through his cheek, so I caught another, bored his nose, and tied them both together!’
         ‘Hah! hah! hah!’ burst the Negro. (Pt7Ch8)
  47. In addition to gaining loyalty, colonizers, as Alroy learns, find it difficult to devise forms of government that will accommodate the needs of the indigenous population, while still fulfilling their own requirements. Given its history, the Middle East provided the ideal setting for exposing the fallacies underlying the doctrine of military conquest. Citing variously Robert Ker Porter’s Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia, John Malcolm’s Sketches of Persia, Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, George Sandys’s Relation of a Journey . . . Containing a Description of the Turkish Empire, of Ægypt, of the Holy Land, of the Remote Parts of Italy, and Lands Adjoyning, and Edward Daniel Clarke’s Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as his own travels in the nineteenth century, Disraeli implies the futility of imperialism. Through the text, which is set in the period when Christians attempted to conquer the Holy Land, the notes remind us that throughout history, the Persians, Romans, Hebrews, Mongols and successive waves of Turks had all attempted to control the area, in the name variously of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism; yet, all had failed. In the nineteenth century, what was then called Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. For Great Britain, which sought a foothold in the area, the question was whether or not a military engagement would be efficacious. Alroy, a novel about a single imperial cycle within a 3000-year period of comparable cycles, foreshadows Disraeli’s preference for a mandate gained through land purchase.

  48. Closely related to the question of colonial expansion, Disraeli’s attitude towards Zionism is also foreshadowed in this novel. Complementing the Jewish messianic belief in a return to Jerusalem, Christian millenarians in the Romantic Period advocated resettlement projects that would fulfill their own theological imperative, that the Jews be scattered to the four corners of the world in preparation for the Second Coming.20 Consequently, the British were very interested, both for political as well as religious reasons, in gaining a foothold in Palestine. Throughout his political career, Disraeli would advocate a policy of land purchase, not for colonizing by the British, but for settlement by European Jews who would rely on Great Britain for protection. Again, this attitude can be detected in Alroy, which demonstrates the impossibility of effecting in the post-biblical world a viable form of government predicated on religious principles alone. Just as the biblical kingdom had failed, so, too, would Jabaster’s theocracy, given the multi-cultural population that would of necessity be excluded from his narrow doctrine. Rather, the failure of Alroy’s messiahship seems to imply the necessity of replacing the succession of empires with a geopolitical agreement, ultimately under the control of the British government, with its constitutionally established representative Protestant church, an alternative not available to Alroy in the twelfth century, though to be advocated by Disraeli in the nineteenth.

  49. In the final analysis, Alroy can best be viewed as a transitional novel, marking Disraeli’s personal shift from being a Jewish convert to an Anglican Protestant, his professional change from being a writer to a politician, the national progression from the Romantic to the Victorian era, and, finally, the imperial adjustment from conquest and colonizing to land purchase and diplomacy. Through the apparently narrow sectarian tale of a brief period in medieval Jewish history, Disraeli was able to focus on the problems he associated with older attitudes, while projecting the direction he thought should be taken over the rest of the nineteenth century. As such, The Wondrous Tale of Alroy, as it was originally titled, is wondrous, indeed, for its analysis of the cultural conflicts in southwest Asia, involving Christians, Muslims and Jews, still resonates today in the area from Afghanistan through the Middle East.

Notes

1. A half-century later, as Minna Rozen points out, Disraeli was still thought of as a Jew, William Gladstone (1809-98) considering "his Jew feelings . . . the most radical and the most real, and so far respectable, portion of his profoundly falsified nature," and Otto von Bismark announcing that "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann!" (quoted in "Pedigree Remembered, Reconstructed, Invented: Benjamin Disraeli between East and West," in The Jewish Discovery of Islam), 49. In the accompanying note, Rozen also notes that "The more conservative biographers are either reluctant to touch the subject or disregard it" (p. 70, n3).

2. As Rozen illustrates in "Pedigree Remembered, Reconstructed, Invented," Alroy is far from the only novel in which Disraeli explores his personal problems. Rather, throughout his life, Disraeli would use his fiction as the vehicle through which to develop his theories about the relationship between his Jewish ethnicity, Christian religion and British citizenship. Alroy, however, is the only book written about a strictly Jewish subject.

3. In "Disraeli's Jewishness Reconsidered," Todd M. Endelman asserts "that it would not be an exaggeration to say that Disraeli was obsessed with his Jewishness." See the bibliography for the most accurate biographies. William Flavelle Monypenny, and George Earle Buckle. The Life of Benjamin Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield, the older standard, has been superceded by Stanley Weintraub, Disraeli: A Biography.

4. The phrase "ideal ambition" derives from a passage quoted in the Monypenny-Buckle biography: "In Vivian Grey I have portrayed my active and real ambition; in Alroy my ideal ambition" (1:185).

5. In later books, notably Coningsby and Tancred, Disraeli would introduce the figure of Sidonia, the wise, detached, international financier as his surrogate, but in the early 1830s, he turned to Alroy, the "prince of the captivity" whose ambitions resulted in martyrdom, as his fictional representation.

6. The diary of Rabbi Benjamin ben Jonah of Tudela in Navarre, who apparently traveled to Rome and western Asia between 1165 and 1173, is still the best source of information available about the career of David Alroy (rpt. pp. 358-61).

7. Daniel R. Schwarz interprets Alroy in terms of Disraeli's "opposition to rationalism and utilitarianism" in Disraeli's Fiction.

8. The letters Disraeli wrote while on his Middle Eastern travels of 1830-31 have been reprinted in Letters, I:126-204.

9. On the history of the Seljuk Turks, see Fussell G. Kempiners, Jr.'s entry, "Seljuk Dynasty," in the Encyclopedia of Asian History, 3:409-11. More extensive studies can be found in the work of J. A. Boyle and Gary Leiser.

10. Good sources of information on the history of the Arabs are Wilson B. Bishai, Islamic History of the Middle East: Backgrounds, Development, and Fall of the Arab Empire, and Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples.

11. Taking a different approach, Richard A. Levine asks whether Alroy's flaw might be viewed in terms of "a commitment to traditional principles and to the Hebraic past? And, by Disraeli's own qualification, the Hebraic past must also include Christian tradition."

12. Rozen interprets Tancred as "a parable dealing with Britain's role in the East, and, in particular, relations between East and West" (62).

13. John Vincent notes that "At first sight, Alroy is a poor man's Sir Walter Scott, with a touch of poor man's Byron."

14. Much of the sexual suggestiveness was eliminated from the second and subsequent editions, published after 1846. This was the same time when Disraeli was working on Tancred (published in 1847), and preparing to run again for office (he was elected in 1847, and remained Tory MP for Buckinghamshire until 1876).

15. Although a historical title, the "Prince of the Captivity" also, according to Rozen, "expresses the sharp dichotomy between nobility and captivity—a dichotomy which is a recurring theme in Disraeli's perception of himself" (58).

16. To be more accurate, much of the polemic is not new to The Wondrous Tale of Alroy but was repeated from the Preface to Contarini Fleming, published the year before, in 1832.

17. Rozen also sees in the character of Sidonia traces of Nathaniel Meyer Rothschild (1777-1836) and Moses Montefiore (1784-1862) (58).

18. This is the approach taken by Edwin Jones, in his study, The English Nation: The Great Myth.

19. Vincent considers Alroy "Disraeli's anti-imperialist novel" (70; rpt. p. 430).

20. On Christian Zionism in the Romantic Period, see "Christian Zionists," Part III of Joseph Adler, Restoring the Jews to Their Homeland: Nineteen Centuries of the Quest for Zion, 93-116. For post-Romantic British restorationists, see pp. 132-167.

Published @ RC

January 2005

Region