The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Comparing Dutch and English Jewish Country Houses (1870–1940)

[Submitted to subdivision The History of the Jewish People in the 20th century. Also suitable for Modern Jewish History (16th century until the outbreak of World War I).]

From the last decades of the nineteenth century onwards, Jewish members of Dutch elite society, consisting of affluent members of the haute bourgeoisie as well as of prominent politicians, intellectuals and artists, increasingly established country houses in non-urban areas. In doing so, these Dutch elite Jews not only displayed their distinguished social position in a material sense, they also demonstrated their belonging, quite literally, to the sociocultural landscape of the places in which they made their homes. Their country houses, as expressions of societal, familial, political, intellectual, artistic, philanthropic and financial relationships, offered them the opportunity to integrate in very different and mostly gentile environments. This lecture will shed light on how processes of Jewish elite self-assertion and social acceptance into gentile elite circles were manifested. To this end, the experiences of Dutch Jewish country house owners are contrasted with those of their English counterparts. Despite the overt differences, the compositions of Dutch and English elite Jewry and the chances and challenges Jews in both countries faced were alike to such an extent that they offer a favourable starting point for an international comparison. And, like English elite Jews, albeit their country houses were usually more modest in size, Dutch elite Jews seem to have been just as diverse in how they built, used and felt at home in these houses as they themselves varied in background, ranging from captains of industry to art dealers, noblemen, suffragists and writers.