_Mark Twain's Jews_. Dan Vogel. N.J.: KTAV Publishing House, Inc. Pp. xiv +
146. Hardcover. $22.95. ISBN 0-385-51396-8
Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit
Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Copyright © 2006 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.
Was Mark Twain guilty of anti-Semitism? Dan Vogel offers his answers in
_Mark Twain's Jews_, which documents and analyzes references to Jews in
Twain's writings. The book consists of eleven chapters, a facsimile of
"Concerning the Jews" from September 1899 _Harper's New Monthly Magazine_,
reference notes and a bibliography.
_Mark Twain's Jews_ begins with Twain's first exposure to Jewish playmates,
the Levin brothers, in Hannibal, Missouri. Vogel describes Hannibal as a
"hotbed of bigotry" and blames the town for instilling in Twain "The
Hannibal Syndrome"--a disease "normally in remission whose symptoms would
intermittently, gratuitously, slither out of Mark Twain's subconscious to
infest his writings as brief, passing slurs about the Jews" (p. 3).
Vogel's second chapter titled "Out West with Two Jews and a Righteous
Gentile" examines Twain's relationships with Artemus Ward (a gentile), Bret
Harte and Joseph Goodman. Vogel's assertion that Goodman was a Jew may come
as a surprise to some Twain scholars and Vogel admits that few sources are
available to confirm this supposition. However, rather than proving that
Twain was aware of Goodman's Jewish heritage, Vogel simply states, "It
never occurred to Mark Twain to ever mention that his fast friend was
Jewish. It was not that that made him special" (p. 19). Vogel may have made
a stronger argument for positive Jewish influence if had he been familiar
with Shelley Fisher Fishkin's recent contribution to _Arizona Quarterly_,
(Spring 2005) titled "Mark Twain and the Jews" wherein Fishkin discusses
Adolph Sutro of San Francisco as a prominent influence in Twain's
development of positive feelings towards Jews. Fishkin's essay does not
appear in Vogel's bibliography and may not have been available to him at
the time his book went to press. However, it is one of several essays by
Twain scholars that appears to have been overlooked by Vogel.
Vogel's third and fourth chapters are examinations of Twain's 1867
contributions to the San Francisco _Alta California_ newspaper and his
best-seller _The Innocents Abroad_. Vogel asserts that much of Twain's
emphasis on Jewish noses in descriptions of the Holy Land are the careful
observations of a newspaper journalist. "However, Mark Twain's
preoccupation with the squalor, disease, and noses" (p. 35) raised
criticism from at least two scholars. Vogel refutes arguments by scholar
Sander Gilman who claimed Twain's tracing of diseases was a commentary on
the role of Jews in Western civilization. Vogel counters that Twain
described the deplorable conditions of the Jews the same as he described
all inhabitants of the Holy Land. Vogel also disputes scholar Andrea
Greenbaum who believed Twain was influenced by theories of "pseudoscience
of ethnology" that were popular at the time. Vogel argues that Greenbaum
never cited any such works in Mark Twain's personal library nor found
evidence of it elsewhere in his writing.
Vogel finds only a small number of Jewish references in Twain's writings
during his most productive years between 1867-1897. Among these are
anti-Jewish comments in a letter to Henry H. Rogers about Broadway producer
Daniel Frohman. Vogel points out that Frohman recalled in his memoirs that
he and Twain played amicable games of pool each night together while
engaged in litigation against one other. Vogel suggests that Twain could
have emulated Dickens's creation of Fagin the Jew (from _Oliver Twist_) or
followed the trend of Christian "popular scribblers" by creating greedy
Jewish characters in the form of the Duke and the Dauphin in _Huckleberry
Finn_. But he did not. Vogel states "the silence of the missed opportunity
in his creative years speaks of his basic humanity" (p. 46).
In a chapter titled "A Triad of European Jews" Vogel discusses Twain's
numerous writings on the Alfred Dreyfus affair, his friendship with
journalist Theodor Herzl, and his association with Sigmund Freud. Twain
apparently never met Dreyfus but continually condemned the French
miscarriage of justice in Dreyfus's conviction for treason. Vogel discusses
Theodor Herzl's play _The New Ghetto_ and Twain's interest in translating
the work, which featured an innocent Jew and a Christian villain who
compromises their friendship for political and personal gain. Twain's
relationship with Sigmund Freud is not well documented but Freud's
admiration of Twain is.
In a chapter titled "Shock Treatment in Vienna" Vogel examines Twain's
visit to the Austrian parliament and the resulting "Stirring Times in
Austria" essay published a few months later in March 1898 _Harper's_. Twain
reported the Jewish slurs and insults he heard hurled around the parliament
and the fights that broke out on the floor. Vogel sees "Stirring Times in
Austria" as the stimulus for Twain's major statement on the Jewish race the
following year--"Concerning the Jews."
As one might expect, the longest chapter in Vogel's book is devoted to
analyzing "Concerning the Jews." Vogel identifies the two motifs of Twain's
essay as the Jews' ability to acquire money and the envy it arouses in
those less successful and how Jews should guard themselves against this
reaction by organizing their political power. Vogel's explanation of
Twain's indictment of the Biblical Joseph as a cruel money-grabber is that
Twain's intent was to prove that prejudices that are instilled early are
never entirely erased. Vogel does not include in his bibliography the
studies of Mark Twain's writings on Joseph by Twain scholars Lawrence
Berkove and Louis J. Budd. Budd's statement that "even Twain should have
seen that it did not help his own side to describe Joseph as the greediest
stockmarket wolf in all history" was certainly worth quoting.
One passage in "Concerning the Jews" that has been controversial among
scholars is Twain's statement, ". . .if that concentration of the
cunningest brains in the world was going to be made in a free country (bar
Scotland), I think it would be politic to stop it. It will not be well to
let that race find out its strength. If the horses knew theirs, we should
not ride anymore." Vogel believes that Twain's "sense of humor went awry at
this point in his essay" (p. 79).
Vogel provides his readers with summaries of reactions to "Concerning the
Jews" from the Jewish community in America and London--"Misdirected,
misguided, narrowly educated on this subject, Mark Twain was still, after
all, a friend" (p. 84). As a result of criticism concerning Twain's
statements regarding the pacifist posture of Jews, subsequent reprintings
of "Concerning the Jews" include Twain's "Postscript--The Jew as a
Soldier." Vogel points out that "Concerning the Jews" is still
controversial because "the 'Jewish Question' has not been answered, not in
1899 nor thereafter" (p. 86). Vogel concludes that Twain's misspent humor
in "Concerning the Jews" indicated he had not yet fully recovered from the
In a chapter titled "Two Fantasies and a Twice-Told Tale" Vogel examines
the positive characteristics of Solomon Goldstein in _Captain Stormfield's
Visit to Heaven_ (contained in a passage that was not published in Twain's
lifetime) and Solomon Isaacs from _The Mysterious Stranger_ manuscripts.
"Newhouse's Jew Story" and its longer version "Randall's Jew Story," is a
story of a brave Jew defending a Negro girl and Vogel offers the theory
that Twain wrote the story in response to criticism he received from
"Concerning the Jews." Vogel laments the fact that it was too late in
Twain's creative life to build good fiction around positive Jewish
characters. However, Vogel believes these final works indicate Twain had at
last cured himself of the "Hannibal syndrome."
Vogel's book concludes with a brief account of Twain's activities in Jewish
social events during the last years of his life and the marriage of his
daughter Clara to Ossip Gabrilowitsch, a Russian Jew. In the final analysis
Vogel concludes that the worst Twain could be accused of is innocent
anti-Semitic writing in his early career.
In addition to Sander Gilman and Andrea Greenbaum, Vogel disagrees with
interpretations of Twain's work published by scholars Jude Nixon, Cynthia
Ozick, and Susan Gillman. (See their citations in the end notes below.)
Vogel provides worthy arguments to their positions.
Vogel was a professor at Yeshiva University and later head of the English
Department at Michlalah-Jerusalem College. _Mark Twain's Jews_ will be a
good companion to _Arizona Quarterly_, Spring 2005 which contains Shelley
Fisher Fishkin's "Mark Twain and the Jews." While the two works overlap,
there is much to distinguish both and help further the understanding of the
Jewish-related debates that arise in Twain studies.
Essays that contain interpretations of Twain's work with which Vogel
Susan Gillman. "Mark Twain's Travels in the Racial Occult: _Following the
Equator_ and the Dream Tales," _Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_
(Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Sander Gilman. "Mark Twain and the Diseases of the Jews," _American
Literature_, March 1993.
Andrea Greenbaum. "'A Number-One Troublemaker': Mark Twain's Anti-Semitic
Discourse in 'Concerning the Jews'," _Studies in American-Jewish
Jude Nixon. "Social Philosophy," _The Mark Twain Encyclopedia_ (Garland
Cynthia Ozick. "Mark Twain and the Jews," _Commentary_, May 1995. Also
"Introduction," _The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and
Essays_ (Oxford University Press, 1996).
Essays by Twain scholars that are not referenced in Vogel's bibliography
Lawrence Berkove. "Mark Twain's Hostility Toward Joseph," _CEA Critic_,
Louis J. Budd. "Mark Twain on Joseph the Patriarch," _American Quarterly_,
Shelley Fisher Fishkin. "Mark Twain and the Jews," _Arizona Quarterly_,