Saturday, July 7, 2007

Emma de Lissau

Amelia Bristow wrote Emma De Lissau: A Narrative of Striking Vicissitudes and Peculiar Trials; With Notes, Illustrative of the Manners and Customs of the Jews around 1830 or so. According to the author's preface, Sophia de Lissau was written first, with the intention of later writing about Emma, but "so painful was even the idea of such an undertaking to her feelings, added to the pressure of severe and protracted indisposition," that it almost didn't happen. However, because of public demand and interest, Bristow consented to writing the "back story" to Sophia de Lissau.

In the preface the author addresses questions about the truth and authenticity of Sophia de Lissau, and insists that although dates and names have been changed, everything else is true.

The character of Anna de Lissau, Emma's mother, "was conspicuous and foremost in decided hostility to the very name of the adorable Redeemer; and this sentiment of hatred against the blessed Jesus and his disciples, awfully distinguished and influenced all her actions.... 'I would rather perish everlastingly than accept of such a salvation,' said she once, in reply to a Christian servant, who had attempted to speak to her of the Saviour...." To Anna, salvation was only found in Judaism.

Anna's mother Violette, even while assisting a Christian in distress, "turned with unaffected horror and compassion from his erroneous creed." Leila, the mother of Violette, "recoiled with unaffected detestation from any personal intercourse with a Nazarene." She refused to even be in the presence of a Christian.

The family also had three sons, but they were all estranged from the family because of their harsh father (Eleazar), although none converted to Christianity.

Early in the book, Emma becomes a Christian, "and this momentous discovery was destined to take place under the roof of as determined an enemy of the Glorious Redeemer as any one of those who cried "crucify him," and daringly yet prophetically added the memorable words, "his blood be on us and our children." Awful prediction! and as awfully verified even to the present day among this devoted nation."

Emma exclaims to her father during his morning prayers (during which he "had been praying for the advent of the Messiah"), "the Messiah is come!" and then gave him a New Testament. He replied that "she must never again pronounce the name of this Messiah, who was a magician and imposter, dismissed her from his presence...." (p. 24)

The family disagrees as to what shall be done with Emma. Eventually they decide to give her an education by a Christian tutor, strangely enough. They hope that she will learn that Judaism is a minority religion in England, but also that it is the religion of her family.

Emma's grandfather admonishes her to keep the traditions of Judaism. The Goyim "are an accursed seed, children of Satan, and heirs of perdition!"

Emma's tutor, a Mrs. Russel, promises Emma's father that she will not try to convert Emma to Christianity; she keeps the letter of this promise (by not teaching her explicitly about Christianity), but not the spirit of the promise, because in her heart Mrs. Russel decides "to show the young Jewess the way of salvation." While Mrs. Russel taught her Christian pupils the New Testament, Emma did her needlepoint, but she sat in the same room and so thus learned the truths of Christianity by osmosis. After one year Emma's "heart and its supreme affections were devoted to the crucified Nazarene!"

At home, Emma was able to withstand the "sophistry" of the arguments brought against Christian interpretations of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. But she kept it a secret for the time being. Emma was "accustomed ... to the heartless, apathetic, undevout form of synagogue
worship (if worship it may be termed)." [Bristow likes to make these little digs against Judaism throughout the book].

Eleazar, Emma's father, is described several times as a "bigot" (although he is kinder to Emma than her mother is). Eventually Emma writes a note to her father saying that she is indeed a Christian.

Emma is treated harshly by her mother because of her faith; she is forced to live in a small sparse room. She is subjected to arguments and lectures from her mother and the family rabbi. Emma's mother states "An unequalled effrontery, and diabolical audacity, are distinguishing characteristics of this unholy sect, and owe their source to their base-born founder. Recollect you not his depraved and unnatural conduct towards his mother, and its consequences?" [Mom seems to know her New Testament fairly well, though she exaggerates a bit.]

Later she says to Emma, "The evil one has led you fearfully astray.... Remember, however, it is not as yet too late to renounce the abominable errors you have imbibed, and return to the God of Israel... if, after this solemn warning, you persist in adhering to the idolatry of the Nazarenes, your soul shall be swept away in the destruction appointed to them, with the addition of the awful punishment attached to apostasy!"

When Emma rejects her mother's advice and "all her [Anna's] tempting offers," she is subjected to a curse, and the Rabbi assured Emma that her beliefs had "for ever severed her from her family in this life, and any hope of salvation in the world of spirits."

Emma continues to be kept in seclusion under harsh circumstances, although her brother and her father try to show her kindness. When hearing of the death of her grandmother, Violette, she says: "And such ... must ever be my feelings, when called on to witness or hear of the departure of those I love. Alas! how tremendous is the certainty of their fate who deny the Christ of God! Surely they alone taste the bitterness of death, who meet it uninterested in the blood of the covenant!" (p. 124)

Emma's parents are at odds over her faith. Her father thinks is it made up. He cannot believe it is true.

A friend of Emma's, Catherine Levy, becomes a Christian and a bond is formed between the two, but when it comes out that Catherine has converted to Roman Catholicism, with all its attendant strange beliefs and customs, Emma is disappointed. Catherine, meanwhile, tries wholeheartedly to convert Emma to Catholicism (which is described and characterized as a false religion). Emma is even more disappointed when Catherine decides to marry a "bigoted Jew."

Rabbi Colmar, the rabbi who had often visited Emma during her time of distress over her family and faith problems, commits suicide due to her extreme depression. His suicide letter "bore witness of the utter insufficiency of the religion he had so rigorously observed, to sustain the soul in the day of calamity."

A rabbi named Wertheim tries to "allur[e] her back to the Jewish faith, to which he, in common with his nation, exclusively restricted the possibility of salvation." Emma witnesses to him of her faith, and quotes from the New Testament, which enrages the rabbi.

Emma describes what Jews do "heartless performance" of the law. "The law is spiritual, Wertheim, and only spiritual minds can apprehend its purity and perfection. You speak of fulfilling its holy requirements, but I believe, and feel assured, that the perceptive and ceremonial law was never perfectly obeyed, but by Jesus of Nazareth, of whose person and work the splendid institutions and ceremonials of our nation were but a type. Nor can our daily minute attention to carnal observances open, as is pretended, the gates of heaven to us, as a reward."

Emma meets another rabbi, Rabbi Selig, and draws respect from him after engaging him in debate about Jesus. Another young friend, Hannah, also becomes a Christian because of the influence of Emma.

And this ends Bristow's second conversionary novel.

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