Thoughts on the Descriptions of London in Reuben Sachs

After reading the first half of Reuben Sachs, I was drawn to the descriptions of London as it brought me back to the discussion we had in class a few weeks ago while reading Great Expectations and Pip’s view on London as a human space.

In Reuben Sachs, the novel opens with Reuben’s sense of exhilaration to be back in London. The narrator says, “He was back again; back to the old, full, strenuous life which was so dear to him; to the din and rush and struggle of the London which he loved with a passion that had something of poetry in it” (Levy 10). Here we see that Reuben loves London.

This can be contrasted with his cousin Leo’s view on London. His view is described with, “Leo hated London almost as vehemently as his cousin loved it. It was the place, he said, which had succeeded better than any other in reducing life to a huge competitive examination. Its busy, characteristic streets, which Reuben regarded with an interest both passionate and affectionate, filled him with a dreary sensation of disgust and depression” (Levy 136).

I think that Pip’s view of London can most closely be aligned with Leo’s. Prior to arriving to London, Pip had great expectations for London in that he would become an affluent gentleman, but when he arrived he saw how dirty and crowded it was causing him to become disappointed. In addition, Leo’s view is also related to Pip in that Pip’s life was based on comparing himself to others which caused him to be disgusted in himself and his surroundings. 

Further, London was also described by the narrator in relation to the family with, “Born and bred in the very heart of nineteenth century London, belonging to an age of a city which has seen the throwing down of so many barriers, the leveling of so many distinctions of class, of caste, of race, of opinion, they had managed to retain the tribal characteristics, to live within the tribal pale to an extent which spoke worlds for the national conservatism” (Levy 102). They then describe how they went to Jewish schools, ate Jewish food and were raised with Jewish traditions and prejudice, only making friends within their race as having friends outside of their “tribal barrier” was discouraged by authorities in their community. It seems as though the Jewish community has isolated themself from the rest of London, only associating with one another.

Is Leo’s hatred for London attributed to this and his rejection of Jewish traditions that he seems to be demonstrating thus far in the novel?

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