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Zionism, by George

In a key scene in \"Masterpiece Theatre\'s\" \"Daniel Deronda,\" adapted from George Eliot\'s 1876 novel, the hero attends a Zionist meeting.\n
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March 27, 2003

In a key scene in “Masterpiece Theatre’s” “Daniel Deronda,”adapted from George Eliot’s 1876 novel, the hero attends a Zionist meeting.”Isn’t the way forward through assimilation?” asks Deronda (Hugh Dancy), anorphaned aristocrat unsure of his roots.

“When we pretend to be what we are not, we lose a bit of oursouls,” Mordecai, a Jewish mystic, replies. 

If the early Zionist movement seems an unlikely topic for aVictorian novel, Eliot (“Middlemarch,” “Silas Marner”) was an unlikelyVictorian novelist. “She raised eyebrows,” said “Deronda’s” Jewish producer,Louis Marks, who spearheaded the teledrama with screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot began shocking people when sherejected Christianity at age 22, according to Marks.  She was further shunnedwhen she moved in with her married lover in 1854.  Although the unofficialeditor of the influential Westminster Review, she was never publiclyacknowledged because she was a woman.  In 1859, she began publishing a stringof acclaimed, socially conscious novels under the pseudonym George Eliot. 

Her final novel was “Deronda.”  “As an outsider, sheidentified with the Jewish experience of oppression,” Marks said.

“She was outraged and disgusted by the degree ofanti-Semitism that existed in English society,” Davies, Marks’ longtimecollaborator, said.

Eliot began writing “Deronda” after befriending theGerman-born scholar Emmanuel Deutsch, the prototype for the fictionalMordecai.  An official in the Jewish manuscripts department of the BritishMuseum, he taught Eliot Hebrew and about the then-nascent idea of Zionism. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the 1870s, he went off to die inJerusalem. “That inspired Eliot,” said Marks, whose daughter lives inBeersheva. “His return to his roots perhaps moved her to create Deronda, a manalso struggling to find his roots.”

The producer said the novel inspired early Zionist leaderssuch as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and aristocrats who backed Britain’s BalfourDeclaration, the first political recognition of Zionism.  With war erupting inthe Middle East, he believes its message is equally relevant today:  “Manypeople are worried about Israel’s survival, and ‘Deronda’ makes people aware ofwhat is at stake,” he said.

The two-part drama airs March 30 and 31 on KCET.

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