Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture

Cambridge University Press recently published The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture by Nadia Valman, a British scholar who comments throughout the book on conversionist novels and the women who populate them (and the women who wrote them).

Valman covers a few of the 19th century conversionist authors, including some that have been exposed to the light of the Internet on these pages, such as Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, Madame Brendlah, and Amelia Bristow. Here is a representative excerpt from the book:

"Conversionist fiction developed between the 1820s and the 1840s into a complex expression of middle-class women's aspirations and frustrations. In their writing, Evangelical authors deployed the rhetoric of gender in order to articulate the distinction between Christianity and its Other, Judaism. In these texts, Judaism is represented as ritualistic, legalistic, materialistic, archaic and, crucially, masculine. At the same time, however, the distinctive philosemitism of Evangelical theology embedded in English culture a particular attachment to Jews. In Evangelical women's writing, this was expressed in the idealised figure of the Jewess."

I haven't seen any reviews yet, but from my lightning fast perusal of the book I would say that Valman seems to be a careful researcher with keen analytic insights. Worth a read, I'd say.

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