When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Britain was home to only 30,000 Jews and they did not yet have full political rights. By the end of the century their numbers had increased about sevenfold, and practising Jews had taken their places in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Victoria’s reign therefore saw a tremendous change in the profile of Jews within British society.
The Victorian period was also one of economic transition for British Jews. While initially in a narrow range of predominantly working-class or marginal occupations with only a small upper-class élite, Jews became increasingly middle-class during these years; they began to enter the professions, and to move from inner London to fashionable suburbs. Increasingly, Britain's Jews were British-born and of British descent, and proclaimed their loyalty to British ideals. From 1881 on, however, the position changed dramatically: a mass of Jewish immigrants arriving from Russia, made conspicuous by their foreign dress, appearance, language, and habits, prompted the emergence of an ‘Aliens Question’ into the British political arena. The image of Jews changed yet again.
All these developments were picked up in the illustrated magazines of the time: the object of a magazine is to interest its readers, and the unfamiliar may be more compelling reading than the commonplace. To illustrate the social history of the Jews in Victorian Britain, the authors therefore combed the Illustrated London News, Punch, and The Graphic and selected nearly 150 illustrations, with commentary, to show how the British image of the Jew developed in this period. The topics considered include early Victorian attitudes to Jews; the leading Jewish families and other prominent Jews; the Jewish way of life; immigrant Jews; Jewish life abroad; and the Jew in art.
'The editors of this highly interesting collection provide the background necessary to place all the material in its historical context.' Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor 'Consistently a pleasure to look at.'
Chaim Bermant, Daily Telegraph
'A most original and fascinating book ... a rich source-book for the social history of the Jews in Victorian England which is also a valuable contribution to the history of journalism.'
Geoffrey Hodgson, The Independent
'If you are interested in the opinions of non-Jewish journalists about things Jewish in Victorian England, then this is the book for you. But even if you are not, you can usefully learn much about Jewish life in those times.'
Reuven Ben Dov, Jerusalem Post
'The authors have married illustrations and text with consummate skill so as to effect continuity. Themes are carefully selected to define characters and situations that had a major influence in changing British attitudes towards Jews. The clarity of style and highly evocative illustrations combine to make this a reading mustA" for all concerned with both British and Jewish social history.'
William Fishman, Jewish Chronicle
'One of the most delightful and interesting books I have encountered in a long time. It is not a scholarly book, although its contents will provide a rich source of material and information for any student of Anglo-Jewish history ... as a means of acquiring a gem of a publication, you could do no better than buying this fascinating and charming ... volume.'
Alastair Falk, L'Eylah
'The magnificent little pictures make this book fascinating browsing and reading.'