Praxis Series

The Sundry Faces of Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Literature

Nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish literature engages a wide range of thematic and aesthetic preoccupations.  This volume brings together several essays that highlight such breadth, even as the essays converge upon several questions that recur consistently throughout this literature:  what does it mean to advertise one’s subjectivity, especially where the expression of such subjectivity is inflected by aesthetic and formalist concerns that are historically connected to English nationalism? Such questions are especially relevant when considered alongside the historical context:  Jews in England did not achieve political emancipation until 1858, and they were widely regarded as racially other for much of the century.  Jewish writers do not answer such questions with one voice; however, their political and cultural contexts put pressure on their aesthetic choices, and we explore these choices in the essays that follow.

Date published: 

November, 2020

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The King of Schnorrers: Israel Zangwill’s Radical Romance

Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) was a literary celebrity, a Zionist, and a suffrage activist, and, in his time, possibly the best-known Jewish writer in the Anglophone world. His 1892 novel Children of the Ghetto became a British and American bestseller; in 1908 his play The Melting-Pot argued for the value of immigration and provided future studies of ethnicity with a much-debated metaphor. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, Zangwill’s fame had declined, and his best-known work of fiction was likely The King of Schnorrers (1894), a short novel that solidified his fame as a Jewish humorist. In fact, however, this comedic work that Zangwill published in a volume of “grotesques and fantasies” embeds some of his most trenchant social criticism and satire. Indeed, The King of Schnorrers presents in a subtle and palatable form radical ideas of economic justice that Zangwill always saw as Jewish.

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“Sick for Home”: the Figure of Ruth in the Romantic Imagination

This essay explores why so many nineteenth-century British writers and artists reimagined the biblical figure of Ruth, beginning with Keats’s "Ode to a Nightingale," which surprisingly depicts Ruth as “sick for home… amid the alien corn.” It also considers works by Felicia Hemans, Thomas Hood, John Adams-Acton, and Grace Aguilar that follow in Keats’s wake but have received little scholarly attention. I argue that Keats shaped a new representational tradition in which Ruth becomes a figure of alienation and homesickness. In doing so, Keats departs from the Bible but aligns with contemporaneous anxieties about psychological, national, religious, and even racial otherness.

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Romance in Maria Polack’s Fiction Without Romance

"Romance in Maria Polack’s Fiction Without Romance" looks at the first Anglo-Jewish novelist’s engagement with 1790s debates about romance and realism. In her novel, Fiction Without Romance (1830), Polack does not simply reject romance, but instead suggests a reworking of the form to facilitate female education. By reading a Jewish writer’s work within the context of English, non-Jewish literary contexts, this essay traces the emergence of Jewish literary culture through its investments in literary reform.

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Situating the King Sisters within Literary Tradition

Although critics have studied extensively the Gothic writings of Charlotte Dacre (Rey, King, Rosa Matilda), they have rarely discussed her work as Jewish writing, and they have largely ignored the poetry and fiction of her younger sister Sophia King (Fortnum). In fact, both sisters, daughters of perhaps the most well-known Jew in England at the time, John King (Rey), never severed connections with their father and wrote both directly and obliquely as Jewish women; moreover, they were read as Jewish women. The historical trauma of the Jewish expulsion from Iberia and the persecution by the Inquisition is reflected in the writings of these Sephardic women. Fearlessly innovating within the Gothic, sentimental, and philosophical traditions of writing, they also subversively played against sexual stereotypes, linking their work to women like Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood, and anticipating the sexually explicit work of Philip Roth and I. B. Singer. Moreover, their use of the supernatural draws upon Jewish traditions of dybbuks and demons in the past and in the future. Reading the work of Charlotte Dacre and Sophia King re-inscribes the importance of Jewish contexts within Romantic aesthetics.

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Introduction: What We Ask About When We Talk About Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature

Nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish literature engages a wide range of thematic and aesthetic preoccupations. This volume brings together several essays that highlight such breadth, even as the essays converge upon several questions that recur consistently throughout this literature: what does it mean to advertise one’s subjectivity, especially where the expression of such subjectivity is inflected by aesthetic and formalist concerns that are historically connected to English nationalism? Such questions are especially relevant when considered alongside the historical context: Jews in England did not achieve political emancipation until 1858, and they were widely regarded as racially other for much of the century. Jewish writers do not answer such questions with one voice; however, their political and cultural contexts put pressure on their aesthetic choices, and we explore these choices in the essays that follow.

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About this Volume

About this Volume

Nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish literature engages a wide range of thematic and aesthetic preoccupations. This volume brings together several essays that highlight such breadth, even as the essays converge upon several questions that recur consistently throughout this literature: what does it mean

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Keats in Popular Culture

Keats in Popular Culture posits Keats’s two-hundred year reception history as an exemplary case for examining popular culture as a generative, shape-shifting borderland where liking/loving and responding to literature intermingles, sometimes indistinguishably, the tastes of the people and the elite. This collection of essays recalls three longstanding embarrassments for teachers and scholars of literary history—popular culture, media, and affect—which routinely have been defined in opposition to (while continuing to inform) the high canon of English literature. These essays aim to: 1) spotlight the positive affinity, and not antithesis, between Keats and popular culture in our time and his own; 2) examine Keats’s afterlives in multi-media creations involving authorial fashioning and participatory poetics; 3) posit what we might learn through such creations about how to read, view, and hear Keats in a growing new literary middlebrow culture; and 4) prompt reflections on how we as teachers and scholars can connect with broader mass audiences interested in Keats.

Date published: 

September, 2020

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Introduction: Keats in Between

This essay reflects on Keats’s crossover success as a hyper-canonical and popular poet for contemporary middle-brow readers, contextualizes scholarly discourses about his poetry’s longstanding (and often vexed) connections with popular culture, and introduces the essays in Keats in Popular Culture, which investigate popular culture artifacts and mediums as well as popular literature involving Keats. "Keats in Between" recalls three longstanding embarrassments for teachers and scholars of literary history—popular culture, media, and affect—which routinely have been defined in opposition to (while continuing to inform) the high canon of English literature, and it posits Keats’s two-hundred year reception history as an exemplary case for examining popular culture as a generative, shape-shifting borderland where liking/loving and responding to literature intermingles, sometimes indistinguishably, the tastes of the people and the elite.

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Latin America’s “Chiaroscuro” Byron

"Latin America’s 'Chiaroscuro' Byron" explores the ways in which Latin America and English Romanticism clashed and overlapped during the nineteenth century in their portrayals of Lord Byron. Offering a glimpse into the fervid Byromania spreading among young intellectuals in the Southern Cone, this essay traces how Byronic figures were adopted in Spanish and Portuguese by the novelist José Mármol and by the Brazilian poet Manuel Antônio Álvarez de Azevedo. Ultimately, Byron’s image was viewed in Latin America through a diversifying chiaroscuro effect, in which Argentina’s Byron was luminous and ethereal, but Brazil’s Byron was dark and brooding. But this influence exerted by Byron was not unidirectional. The essay concludes by suggesting ways in which Simón Bólivar served as an inspiration for Lord Byron, modeling both literary freedom and political independence.

July 2020

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