Women's Poetry and Religion in Victorian England: Jewish Identity and Christian Culture

By Cynthia Scheinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
“Sweet singers of Israel”: gendered and Jewish
otherness in Victorian poetics

“INSUF F ICIENT AND PARTIAL”: JEWISH PROPHETS, WOMEN
POETS, AND THE TYPOLOGICAL PARADIGM

Certainly any one would be surprised to find how large a part Poetry plays in the Holy Scriptures. For, if I am not mistaken, nearly half the sacred volume was written in metre… Hence it is sufficiently clear that a kind of relationship exists between those subjects which God has ordained to prepare the way for his Gospel and the dispositions and tone of mind of those whom we honour pre-eminently as poets or at least as disciples of the poets… Therefore I cannot help believing that it was in more than one way that the Hebrew seers and poets prepared their nation to receive the later revelation of Truth. (John Keble, Lecture XL of Lectures on Poetry (Praelectiones Academicae) 474)

Her various writings show that she has drunk true inspiration from the fountain to which she has so often resorted with the graceful vase of her natural genius. Miss Barrett is singularly bold and adventurous. Her wing carries her, without faltering at their obscurity, into the cloud and the mist, where not seldom do we fail to follow her, but are tempted, while we admire the honesty of her enthusiasm, to believe she utters what she herself has but dimly perceived. (George Bethune, The British Female Poets, 452)

Christian hermeneutics has to “save” – in every sense – the Old Testament. Yet it also has to throw out any aspect of it that implies it is not in need of saving. It thus has to posit the Judaic as a lack – insufficient and partial – and as an excess to be cast out, to inscribe it as outside. (Jill Robbins, Prodigal Son/Elder Brother, 10)

Christian cultural discourse has always had a complex relationship with the Jewish other who is irrevocably inscribed within Christian history and scripture. Despite varied histories of Christian persecutions – crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms, and holocausts that sought to erase the presence of actual Jewish people in Christian cultures – it has always been impossible to erase Jewish presence from the integral structure of Christian theological discourse. In this system, the Jew is a figure who, though “other, ” always has the capacity for conversion into

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