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GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, has written extensively on intellectual and cultural history with a focus on Victorian England. Her most recent books are The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling; The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments; and The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal awarded by the President.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner. In Past and Present, an eminent American historian and cultural critic shows the truth of that statement. The common theme of the twenty essays gathered here is the intriguing, often unexpected ways in which the past continues to illuminate the present.
It is one of the curiosities of history that the most remarkable novel about Jews and Judaism, predicting the establishment of the Jewish state, should have been written in 1876 by a non-Jew – a Victorian woman and a formidable intellectual, who is generally regarded as one of the greatest of English novelists.
From Cromwell supporting the readmission of the Jews in the 17th century, to Macaulay arguing for the admission of Jews as Members of Parliament in the 19th century, to Churchill urging the recognition of the state of Israel in the 20th, some of England’s most eminent writers and statesmen have paid tribute to Jews and Judaism.