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Published in: Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 27, no. 1, 1999.

Abstract

THE ESSAYS COLLECTED in this issue of Victorian Literature and Culture seek to introduce Victorianists to some of the many Anglo-Jewish writers of nineteenth-century England. What differentiates this moment in Anglo-Jewish scholarship from most previous considerations is that we do not purport to fill a falsely constructed “void” of Anglo-Jewish literary silence; on the contrary, this collection seeks to amplify the fullness of nineteenth century Anglo-Jewish literary life. In 1846, Grace Aguilar, the important Anglo-Jewish writer and theologian, called out for the production of a “Jewish literature” that would aid the “right reverence[e] of Judaism,” and “advance” the Jewish people in Victorian England. All too aware of the way exclusion from Hebrew literary and religious texts often precipitated assimilation, conversion, and more generalized alienation from Jewish religious life, Aguilar sought new tools to combat Jewish religious apathy. Detailing the subtle conversionary and theological assumptions that so-called secular — yet clearly Christian — literature often performed, Aguilar reasoned that a Jewish literature could provide Jewish readers — and especially Jewish women — with literary pleasure and a simultaneous sense of Jewish values and ethics; likewise, such a literature could recast the generally negative images of Jewish people and Judaism which pervade the long history of English literature. With her emphasis on a Jewish literature, then, Aguilar sought to claim the cultural and ideological power literature held in Victorian England for specifically Jewish uses. Significantly, Aguilar’s tone in the statement above suggests that she saw no such Jewish literature in past moments of Anglo-Jewish history; Aguilar’s intensive production of such a literature in a variety of genres was her own response to this desire for Jewish literature.

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