The American Jewish historian and author Gertrude Himmelfarb died on Monday at her home in Washington, aged 97.
Born in Brooklyn, New York to a Russian Jewish family, Ms Himmelfarb studied at the University of Chicago, Cambridge and the Jewish Theological Seminary before becoming Professor Emerita of history at the City University of New York.
A prolific writer and conservative historian, she focused much of her work on Victorian Britain, but also dedicated two books – The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot and The People of the Book – to discussing attitudes towards Jews, Judaism, and Zionism in English history.
In The People of the Book, Ms Himmelfarb wrote that “we may be reminded of the role Judaism played in English history. It was to the Hebrew Bible that Henry VIII looked for the legitimization of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which was the initial impetus for the English Reformation…
“In 1536, Henry established Regius Professorships of Hebrew at Oxford and Cambridge, a formal indication, so speak, of the Hebraist movement which produced the “authorized” King James version of the Bible in 1611.”
In an interview after receiving the National Humanities Medal, she explained that the Victorian virtues – prudence, temperance, industriousness, decency, responsibility – were thoroughly pedestrian. In The Roads to Modernity she wrote such values “depended on no special breeding, talent, sensibility, or even money.
“They were common, everyday virtues, within the capacity of ordinary people. They were the virtues of citizens, not of heroes or saints – and of citizens of democratic countries, not aristocratic ones.”
Her entry in the Encyclopaedia of Jewish Women describes her as “the most eloquent advocate” for “the reintroduction of traditional values… such as shame, responsibility, chastity, and self-reliance, into American political life and policy-making.”
Ms Himmelfarb was married for much of her life to Irving Kristol, an American journalist and “Godfather of Modern Conservativism”, who helped shape the neoconservative movement in America in the 1960s and 70s.
Her son William Kristol – who was Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff – said she died of congestive heart failure.
On Wednesday he wrote: “Our family is grateful for the expressions of sympathy on the death of my mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb Kristol.
“She was blessed with a long and happy life, and maintained a lively interest in ideas, people, and politics until the end. We will miss her.”