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

By Cynthia Scheinberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
“Judaism rightly reverenced”: Grace Aguilar's
theological poetics

INTRODUCTION: FROM “PECULIAR” TO “ELOQUENT”:
POETRY AS THEOLOGICAL STRATEGY

A lady, and that too young a lady, whatever the advantages of quick perception conceded to her sex, is, by the iron rule of custom, limited to fewer opportunities of acquiring that information and experience, which might restrict a too apt disposition to generalize from few facts. The notions which many form of Talmudic study, or of traditional doctrine, are founded not on what they sift from them, but on what they are told concerning them. The book before us bears evident traces of the peculiar readings of its fair writer, not designedly or even avoidably peculiar, so far as she is concerned… We will now turntothe more agreeable task of pointing out the many beauties that the work contains. Miss Aguilar is a poet, and of no mean grade… and wherever she quits the province of schoolmen and pours forth her own pious sentiments of the heart's duties, and the soul's destiny, she is fervid, eloquent and truthful. (Review of Grace Aguilar's The Spirit of Judaism). 1

We want Jewish writers, Jewish books… There is none now, and the fault is our own! We make no effort to enlighten our neighbors as to the true spirit of the hope that is in us, though no struggle is too great to obtain a proper position and estimation in the Christian world. I am writing warmly, bitterly, perhaps you will say, though I hope not; but the subject ever makes my heart beat, and my temples throb, with the vain yearnings to perceive the true spirit of Hebrew patriotism awakening in our people – that they would but feel; it is not enough to make the Jew respected, but to have JUDAISM rightly reverenced: and to do this, there must be a JEWISH LITERATURE, or the Jewish people will not advance one step. (Grace Aguilar, The Jewish Faith, 264–5)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Grace Aguilar (1816–47) was the most important Jewish woman writer in nineteenth-century England. Her prolific publishing history – all before her premature death at age thirty-one – included works of liturgy, theological prose, Jewish history, historical novels, domestic moral tales, short stories, and poetry. Yet Aguilar has remained virtually unexamined in recent feminist literary

-146-

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