Jews and gender in British literature 1815-1865
This thesis examines the variety of relationships between Jews and gender in early to mid-nineteenth century British literature, focussing particularly on representations of and by Jewish women. It reconstructs the social, political and literary context in which writers produced images and narratives about Jews, and considers to what extent stereotypes were reproduced, appropriated, or challenged. In particular it examines the ways in which questions of gender were linked to ideas about religious or racial difference in the Victorian period. The study situates literary representations of Jews within the context of contemporary debates about the participation of the Jews in the life of the modern state. It also investigates the ways in which these political debates were gendered, looking in particular at the relationship between the cultural construction of femininity and English national identity. It first considers Victorian culture's obsession with Rebecca, the Jewess created in Walter Scott's influential novel Ivanhoe (1819). It examines Rebecca's refusal to convert to Christianity in the context of Scott's discussion of racial separatism and modern national unity. Evangelical writers like Annie Webb, Amelia Bristow and Mrs Brendlah were prolific literary producers, and preoccupied with converting Jewish women. Particularly during the 18'40s and 1850s, evangelical writing provided an important forum for the construction and consolidation of women's national identity. Grace Aguilar's writing was an attempt to understand Jewish identity within the terms of Victorian domestic ideology. In contrast, Celia and Marion Moss, in their historical romances, offered narratives of female heroism and national liberation, drawing on the contemporary debate about slavery. Benjamin Disraeli's construction of a "tough version of Jewish identity was a response both to the contemporary stereotype of the feminised Jew and to the debate about Jewish emancipation. It also drew on the virile ideology of the Young England movement of the 1840s.