Places: Power

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Jud Süss, 1925 (English translation, 1926)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Mid-eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Duchy of Württemberg

*Duchy Powerof Württemberg (WUR-tehm-bayrg). German principality in what is now southwestern Germany. Bisected by the Neckar River, the duchy has hilly green country with cultivated river valleys, and mountains of the Swabian Alps and part of the Black Forest. During the eighteenth century, bumpy roads were frequented by peddlers and others on foot who competed with the carriages and horses of the nobility. Stuttgart and the newer ducal residence in Ludwigsburg were headquarters of courtly life, whereas Wildbad, a Black Forest spa, was for their recreation. Free cities such as Esslingen, islands within the duchy not controlled by the duke, dotted the landscape. The naturally prosperous duchy was impoverished by the wasteful misrule of Karl Alexander, the duke who employs the protagonist, Josef Süss Oppenheimer, as his privy financial councillor.

*Oppenheimer’s palace

*Oppenheimer’s palace. Stuttgart residence of the duchy’s finance minister, Oppenheimer, who uses his office–a typical role for court Jews at the time in which the novel is set–to amass a fortune. His palace displays expensive tapestries, cabinets of jewels, and busts of sages that signal his worldly success. Decorated with Leda and the Swan on the ceiling, his bedroom is the scene of many amorous conquests. Exotic tokens such as an Arabian steed and a parrot in a gilded cage represent his cultural sophistication and power. Everything in the palace advertises his exquisite taste and high fashion, in marked contrast to his origins in Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto.

*Frankfurt

*Frankfurt. German city from whose Jewish ghetto Oppenheimer comes. The novel’s description of the ghetto is so general that it could apply to almost any city in Germany or Eastern Europe. Gates separating the ghetto from the rest of the city are locked every evening. Narrow streets and crowded quarters leave no room for vegetation and provide little fresh air. Jews are forbidden from practicing most trades, and Jewish men are forced to grow beards and wear caftans. Frequently afflicted by pogroms, the Jews are pictured cowering in fear in narrow alleys and crooked houses. Having escaped the ghetto, a symbol of all the disadvantages of adhering to the Jewish faith, Oppenheimer triumphs without renouncing his faith.

Rabbi Gabriel’s house

Rabbi Gabriel’s house. Cottage near Hirsau, a German town in the northeastern part of the Black Forest, where Rabbi Gabriel is raising his niece, Naemi, who is Oppenheimer’s daughter. Enclosed by a high fence and surrounded by terraces of flowers, the white house looks like a vision. It also harbors Gabriel’s library of cabalist writings. Like the innocent and lovely Naemi, the house symbolizes spiritualized virtue, here presented as a flower of Jewish mystical learning. When the duke’s party violates the house, it is a sign of the hopeless degeneracy of the times.

Gabriel frequently wanders alone in the stern landscape of stone pines, glaciers, and granite rock around his home, where he cultivates divine meditation. In this setting, he feels especially keenly the grooves on his forehead forming the letter Shin, the first letter in the Divine Name Shaddai, which signals his mystical spirituality.

*Ludwigsburg Palace

*Ludwigsburg Palace (LEWD-viks-boorg). The more magnificent of Duke Karl Alexander’s two residences. Ludwigsburg mirrors the duke’s obsession with sexual prowess and ostentation. During his lavish parties, courtiers gamble, drink, and are entertained with music. There, the duke flaunts his wealth and cavorts with mistresses. Fittingly, it is the scene of the final escapade that kills him after his attempted coup fails, following an overly potent dose of an aphrodisiac.

*Hohenasperg Fortress

*Hohenasperg Fortress (HOH-ehn-AHS-payrg). Historical German fortress containing a notorious prison in which Oppenheimer is kept before being hanged. His cell is a small, damp, rat-infested hole in the ground with scanty light and fetid air. Continually shackled, his body is unkempt and broken by starvation, but his spirit remains strong. The contrast between Oppenheimer’s cell and his palace could not be more vivid. However, his stoicism and continued dignity in the face of this adversity help redeem the compromises with virtue he previously made in order to pursue and maintain the life of power and elegance so exceptional for a European Jew of this era.

BibliographyKahn, Lothar. Insight and Action: The Life and Work of Lion Feuchtwanger. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1975. A definitive and thorough biography. Many insights into the milieu in which Feuchtwanger worked. Much discussion of Power.Laqueur, Walter. “Central European Writers as a Social Force.” Partisan Review 59, no. 4 (1992): 639-665. Describes Feuchtwanger’s trip to the Soviet Union in 1936. Feuchtwanger regarded the Soviet Union as a bulwark against fascism.Small, William. “In Buddha’s Footsteps: Feuchtwanger’s Jud Süss, Walther Rathenau, and the Path to the Soul.” German Studies Review 12, no. 3 (1989): 469-485. Describes the parallels between Power and the life of Walther Rathenau. Sees a division between spiritual and material values in the novel.
Categories: Places