The Jewish Capital of Europe: Literary Representation from Balzac to Proust of the Societal Place and Architectural Space of Jews in Paris from the July Monarchy to the Belle Époque
Sztajnkrycer, Christina Leah
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Nineteenth-century France experienced a literary phenomenon of Jewish characters. Represented in greater proportion than their actual population, they were situated within the modernizing city, sometimes as agents of modernity. Creating a palimpsest of literature, history, society, and architecture, this dissertation analyzes the changing representation of Jewish characters within the transforming urban context. The Jewish figures portrayed by Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, and Marcel Proust evolve between 1830 and 1914, from the stereotypical Shylock type to highly modern, elite aesthetes. Becoming ever more modern, the Jewish characters are presented as participating in the modernization of the urban space, of industry and banking, of arts and society. While the city metamorphosed into a capital of modernity, the discourse concerning Jews became increasingly negative, developing from an ancient cultural aversion to the Jewish religion to the modern expression of racial antipathy, i.e. anti-Semitism. The places in Paris in which these characters are found correspond to the rapid assimilation of the Jewish population in the city and reveal an adverse reaction of non-Jewish Parisians to the transformation of the capital and to the presence of a select but powerful Jewish elite. In this dissertation, I pursue an interdisciplinary layering of texts on literary, social, and architectural history. In the literary scholarship, I look at Jewish characters in French fiction. In the historical and sociological studies of the Parisian Jewish population I focus on the representation, expression, and existence of Jews in Paris. I use texts on the architectural history of the city to follow the urban transformation across the nineteenth century. How Balzac, Baudelaire, the Goncourts, Zola, Maupassant, and Proust portray Jewish characters functions to varying degrees of success as an indicator of urban transformation. While urban and architectural texts give no indication of the Jewish involvement in the factual metamorphosis of the city, nineteenth-century French fiction reveals the presence and participation of Jews in Paris in the massive remaking of the city to becoming a pole of attraction for European Jewry.