‘Who is the man they call Alvan?’ She put the question at the first opportunity to an aunt of hers.
Up went five-fingered hands. This violent natural sign of horror was comforting: she saw that he was a celebrity indeed.
’Alvan! My dear Clotilde! What on earth can you want to know about a creature who is the worst of demagogues, a disreputable person, and a Jew!’
Clotilde remarked that she had asked only who he was. ‘Is he clever?’
’He is one of the basest of those wretches who are for upsetting the Throne and Society to gratify their own wicked passions: that is what he is.’
‘But is he clever?’
’Able as Satan himself, they say. He is a really dangerous, bad man. You could not have been curious about a worse one.’
‘Politically, you mean.’
‘Of course I do.’
The lady had not thought of any other kind of danger from a man of that station.
The likening of one to Satan does not always exclude meditation upon him. Clotilde was anxious to learn in what way her talk resembled Alvan’s. He being that furious creature, she thought of herself at her wildest, which was in her estimation her best; and consequently, she being by no means a furious creature, though very original, she could not meditate on him without softening the outlines given him by report; all because of the likeness between them; and, therefore, as she had knowingly been taken for furious by very foolish people, she settled it that Alvan was also a victim of the prejudices he scorned. It had pleased her at times to scorn our prejudices and feel the tremendous weight she brought on herself by the indulgence. She drew on her recollections of the Satanic in her bosom when so situated, and never having admired herself more ardently than when wearing that aspect, she would have admired the man who had won the frightful title in public, except for one thing—he was a Jew.
The Jew was to Clotilde as flesh of swine to the Jew. Her parents had the same abhorrence of Jewry. One of the favourite similes of the family for whatsoever grunted in grossness, wriggled with meanness, was Jew: and it was noteworthy from the fact that a streak of the blood was in the veins of the latest generation and might have been traced on the maternal side.
Now a meanness that clothes itself in the Satanic to terrify cowards is the vilest form of impudence venturing at insolence; and an insolent impudence with Jew features, the Jew nose and lips, is past endurance repulsive. She dismissed her contemplation of Alvan. Luckily for the gentleman who had compared her to the Jew politician, she did not meet him again in Italy.
She had meanwhile formed an idea of the Alvanesque in dialogue; she summoned her forces to take aim at it, without becoming anything Jewish, still remaining clean and Christian; and by her astonishing practice of the art she could at any time blow up a company—scatter mature and seasoned dames, as had they been balloons on a wind, ay, and give our stout sex a shaking.