Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jews and Princesses: the Official WWPD Royal Wedding Post

This reminded me: if I were not writing my dissertation on Jews and intermarriage in 19th C France, it would be on the relationship between Jews and the nobility (in, obvs, 19th C France). I had had a hunch there was something there from mid-19th works on the Rothschilds as the new feudal lords, in particular Toussenel's book declaring Jews "the kings of the era." But I didn't have much to go on. This, however, has changed, to the point that I kind of am writing about Jews and aristocrats.

But first, to back up for a moment: what was the relationship between Jews and nobles in those years between court Jews and "Jewish American Princesses"? Because it's really the bookends of this we're most familiar with - Jews serving as money-folk for royals, and young American Jewish women, of new-money backgrounds, being compared, not-so-reverently, with genuine royals. What came between these? Was there any relationship?

Oh yes! And this can be divided into two categories.

First, Jews-as-aristocrats:

-From 1789 on, "parasitic" heredity castes were considered by many to be the opposite of what the new French nation was all about. Check, check.
-Jews represented a new order, in which wealthy bourgeois were the elites. Yet aristocrats were still hanging around. They got to be elites all together. (Because the existence of poor or even just not-rich-or-influential Jews was easily forgotten.) See: Proust.
-Romances between Jewish women and aristocratic men were huge - huge! - in literature. First as beautiful young girls having to choose between dashing suitors and the wishes of stubborn uncles. Then as rich but grotesque women of no particular age getting married off to penniless, decadent noblemen. (And I suspect that some combination of these tropes explains, along with the "Goldsmith" thing, why people were so intent on claiming, incorrectly, that KM is a Jew.)

Next, Jews-as-anti-aristocrats:

-Aristocrats alwaysalwaysalways owned land. Jews, not so much.
-Aristocrats, on account of keeping track of their bloodlines, had an especially firm claim on Frenchness. Jews, on account of having allegedly pure bloodlines, were assumed to have virtually no claims extending prior to the Revolution.
-Aristocrats represented the height of manners, social graces, proper French, etc. Jews, no.

What's above is either a) the outline to one of my many ideas for a book-no-one-would-read (Jews and Royals: from Court Jews to the "JAP"), b) the outline to a small portion of the chapter I'm currently writing, which at the very least five people will one day read, or c) the blog post that kept me busy during an especially good dinner of orrecchiette alla dorm-room.


Withywindle said...

Incidentally, I've been mulling for a while that the best parallel to the situation of modern Jews in America is of Jews in Hungary in 1914. (Sorry if this is a repeat.)

Phoebe said...

Mull away, but I don't have any insights on this. Do you see another WWI on its way?

Matt said...

KM=? Marx? King Midas?

Phoebe said...

Kate Middleton, and I'm thinking this is the first and last time she gets either comparison.

Phoebe said...

Or not!

PG said...

I think the new princess may now have that status that previously existed for porn online: if you can think of it, it's already been done.

X.Trapnel said...

I'm totally not going to read the article, but the headline alone--"Kate & William, are they Marxists?" No. This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Easy Questions.

X.Trapnel said...

I actually think "Jews & Royals" might be a great idea for a 2nd book, or a (relatively) quickly-knocked-off semi-popular book. Small audience, perhaps, but higher-than-normal likelihood of audience wanting to buy.

Speaking of: have you read anything by Gary Shteyngart, esp. 'Super Sad True Love Story'? The trailer made me hate him, even as I acknowledged its cleverness, and so far the book does the same--next-gen Philip Roth, with a healthy dose of making you (by which I mean me) feel like a dirty old man already. But I know nothing about literature, so I can't tell if I'm being ridiculously shallow with the Roth comparison (esp. since I'm only 4 chapters in), or not. Anyway. Possibly of interest, though you may be thoroughly sick of the shiksappeal thing (now, with Asian twist!) by now.

Britta said...

I could only think of KM as Karl Marx as well! His Jewish identity I guess is slightly ambiguous (do atheists who were baptized Lutheran as children as part of a family attempt to avoid anti-Semitism count as Jews? Non-Jews?), but I doubt anyone would say identifying him as a Jew is "incorrect," so I have to say I was a bit confused.

He is an interesting case of 19th century Jewish assimilation though, maybe you could broaden your horizons and write about him as well in your next book, Phoebe.

(Actually, (unlike Marx), devoutly Christian Jewish converts are an interesting issue I was thinking about last time I went to church, which was about a million years ago. Much of the traditional Lutheran liturgy & hymns were written by Felix Mendelssohn, who as an adult was an extremely devout Lutheran. His influence in the Lutheran church and in Germany generally as a composer were affected by anti-Semitism, especially a smear campaign against him led by Richard Wagner, and he really only came to prominence after his death. To think of him as Lutheran misses out on the reality of the intense anti-Semitism he faced, but to think of him as Jewish denies his own self identification as a Lutheran, and seems kind of Othering (like, oh, look at this Jew who wrote great music for our church, which was one of the main problems he faced in his own day. E.g. he wrote a symphony in honor of the reformation for some Martin Luther contest, and even though in retrospect his was by far the best, he didn't win, because it was thought that people of Jewish background couldn't properly honor M. Luther).) 

Withywindle said...

Phoebe: I think my point would be more that another crisis like unto WWI, or maybe even not so serious, could jar the position of American Jewry far more than they consider possible. Also that the level of Jewish participation in American elites today is roughly comparable to that of Jewish participation in Hungarian elites then.

X.Trapnel said...

... and of course Felix is even more interesting as the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the father of the Jewish Enlightenment. (Whom I knew nothing about until a few months ago.)

Phoebe said...

X. Trapnel,

Thanks to your encouragement, Royals and Jews may just happen. Anything's possible!

And, yes, read all of Shteyngart's novels, but the most recent is the only one I remember well. But for "shiksappeal," you really have to go to an interview he did that I correctly remembered having blogged about 100 years ago, in which he spoke of "Jewesses" and how he couldn't be with one because they taste like him.


The KM you and Matt are thinking of does come up in what I'm working on from time to time, specifically the issue of how you refer to people who were unquestionably considered Jews to their contemporaries, but who belonged to another religion. For a while I was working mostly on a French dude from Marx's time, but the son of a convert rather than a child convert, which made the connection to Judaism all the more tenuous. My approach is to say such individuals 'belong to Jewish history,' and leave it at that, moving on to look at what it means that they were considered Jews at a given time.


This may come as a shock, but my knowledge of Hungarian Jews circa 1914 is close to nil. My sense, however, is that Jewish membership in (certain) elites, paired with Jews having at one and the same time a sense of security and a sense of impending doom, is just modernity. So without knowing the specifics, I'm not sure why Hungary, 1914, rather than, say, Paris 1893, or 1879. Unless something WWI-scale is, you think, in the cards. (Sure hope not!)

Withywindle said...

Hungary had a much higher Jewish proportion of the professions/middle classes than did France, Germany, or even Austria--I recollect more than half of the doctors, lawyers, etc., in Hungary in 1914 were Jewish. Also remarkably assimilated, and remarkably welcomed by Christian Hungarians, whose nationalism was quite coercive but also embracing--you had to be Hungarian, but anyone could be Hungarian. And the demographic dynamics such that counting Jews as Hungarians preserved a bare Magyar majority in the Kingdom of Hungary. All this on the surface, but a fair bit of anti-Jewish sentiment farther down, which would come to the surface after World War I.

But the point of the comparison is the proportion of Jewish participation in the various elites. It seems to me that the Jewish proportion in various American elites has been rising steadily, and that the relevant comparison is now closer to 1914 Hungarian levels than 1914 Austrian or German levels--which might have been a closer comparison ca. 1985.

Phoebe said...


But were typical doctors/lawyers, Jewish or otherwise, "elites" in 1914 Hungary? Not just bourgeois? Even today, while professionals are... professionals, not all doctors are surgeons in NY, cosmetic surgeons or dermatologists to the stars in LA, etc., nor are most lawyers influential. I guess I think of "elite" as referring to, I don't know, Hollywood, media, politics, not people who have better-than-average incomes and had better-than-average educations.

Withywindle said...

I think we've had this discussion before; I have a broader definition of elite than you do. But even given that, in a Hungary where a largish majority were still peasants, yeah, professional was pretty darn elite. A doctor or a lawyer was certainly relatively more elite then and there than now and here--and it's still a lot more elite than your "ordinary" doctor or lawyer may realize.