Reading Marxism and Literature Now: Book History and the Politics of Work and World

This essay seeks to contextualize Williams’s Marxism and Literature in the history of Marxist and structuralist debates about language and mediation. It emphasizes the book’s usefulness in thinking both about our profession and our relationship to other kinds of workers. Williams consistently emphasizes process over structure and roots much of his understanding of Marxism in the history of Romantic-era England. Understanding media as an active process has important consequences for the fields of book history and media studies, as well as for the larger field of English studies. I argue that in seeing language as labor, knowledge workers operate in solidarity not only with each other but with the workers responsible for producing the material media on which we disseminate our texts. In turn, such thinking provides a trajectory for decolonizing English studies.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

Reading Keats Together: Cleanth Brooks and the Collegiate Public

This essay considers Keats’s unique appeal to the New Critics of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. It returns to a landmark in American literary studies—Cleanth Brooks’s study of Keats’s "Ode on a Grecian Urn"—drawing on Brooks’s unpublished personal and professional papers to place his work in the context of mid-century disciplinary and methodological changes. At a time when greater access to American higher education created what we might call a “classroom public” for poetry, Brooks’s study of Keats advocates for and models the close, collective reading of poetry, idealistically figuring the university classroom as a site of social inclusion while also summoning the conservative historical fantasies associated with Southern Agrarianism.

The Keats Effects

How is the image of Keats “constellated,” as Walter Benjamin might say, in the romanticisms of our contemporary popular culture? This essay attempts to answer that question by exploring the “Keats effects” or what the poet Frank O’Hara calls “Keatsness”: the particular pulses of his poetic and cultural charge, at the charged moment of his own popularity in and outside his circle and as his poems and images have entered the currency of our own contemporary cultural discourses, what biographers of Romantic poets like to call our “popular imagination.” This essay pursues two discursive strains of the Keats effects: on the one hand, the distinctively Keatsian cocktail of outsider and outsized Cockney ambitions, restless experimentation with revered and popular forms, artistic and poetic allusions, complete with devoted fans and fiercely reactionary enemies; and on the other hand, the indelible and affecting record of personal pathos, the doomed poet whose fragile beauty is inseparable from the poems themselves, their making, their reception, and the fate of their maker. I consider how both of these Keats effects posit modes of impossibility that remain impossibly beautiful.

This Living Hand: Bright Star and the Etsy Effect

This essay argues that the Keats portrayed in Jane Campion’s Bright Star is a product of the twenty-first century’s Etsy culture—and that this portrayal, if somewhat surprising or even counterintuitive, effectively captures Keats’s understanding of the relationship between poetic making and imperfection. The paper both compares Keats’s presence on the handicraft-marketing platform Etsy.com to his characterization in Campion’s hand-centric film and identifies the ways in which the Keats of contemporary popular culture has become an appealing and textually reasonable model for entrepreneurial crafters and other aspiring artisans.

Response: Keats Out of Bounds

This brief response essay attempts to capture the overarching themes and sentiments of this collection while also commenting on the scope of popular culture in general and noting how gender might inflect a discussion of Keats’s contemporary relevance.