Date of Award

Fall 2001

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Janet Aikins


The following study examines the manner in which nineteenth-century British novels use a Semitic discourse to imagine and construct Christian English people as racially pure. One result of the growing presence of assimilated Jewish people living in England in the nineteenth century was the fear that they might pass undetected and pollute the "purity" of English blood. In response to this phenomenon, the narratives in this study illuminate not only cultural anxiety about the historical lineage that links Judaism and Christianity, but the threat this link posed to the very idea of English Christian racial purity. My claim, that English identity is produced out of a Semitic discourse, does not mean that English characters become Jewish or that Semitism exists in the cultural realm only when Jewish characters appear in novels, but that a pervasive Semitic discourse enables the articulation of English racial purity in this period. This dissertation reads Semitic discourse in the nineteenth-century novel for the purpose of exposing the places where English identity appears not in opposition to Hebrew and/or Jewish culture, but as a result of a narrative return to an imagined historical moment when Semitic and Aryan "became" distinct racial categories. Included in this dissertation are novels that directly address or comment upon Victorian concerns about race, religion, nation, British imperialism, Semitism, and Victorian anthropology in works by Maria Edgeworth, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Charlotte Tonna, Benjamin Disraeli, George Eliot and H. Rider Haggard.