American Naturalism and the Jews examines the unabashed anti-Semitism of five notable American naturalist novelists otherwise known for their progressive social values. Hamlin Garland, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser all pushed for social improvements for the poor and oppressed, while Edith Wharton and Willa Cather both advanced the public status of women. But they all also expressed strong prejudices against the Jewish race and faith throughout their fiction, essays, letters, and other writings, producing a contradiction in American literary history that has stymied scholars and, until now, gone largely unexamined. In this breakthrough study, Donald Pizer confronts this disconcerting strain of anti-Semitism pervading American letters and culture, illustrating how easily prejudice can coexist with even the most progressive ideals.
Pizer shows how these writers' racist impulses represented more than just personal biases, but resonated with larger social and ideological movements within American culture. Anti-Semitic sentiment motivated such various movements as the western farmers' populist revolt and the East Coast patricians' revulsion against immigration, both of which Pizer discusses here. This antagonism toward Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicities intersected not only with these authors' social reform agendas but also with their literary method of representing the overpowering forces of heredity, social or natural environment, and savage instinct.
In Blood Relations, Janet Adelman confronts her resistance to The Merchant of Venice as both a critic and a Jew. With her distinctive psychological acumen, she argues that Shakespeare’s play frames the uneasy relationship between Christian and Jew specifically in familial terms in order to recapitulate the vexed familial relationship between Christianity and Judaism.
Adelman locates the promise—or threat—of Jewish conversion as a particular site of tension in the play. Drawing on a variety of cultural materials, she demonstrates that, despite the triumph of its Christians, The Merchant of Venice reflects Christian anxiety and guilt about its simultaneous dependence on and disavowal of Judaism. In this startling psycho-theological analysis, both the insistence that Shylock’s daughter Jessica remain racially bound to her father after her conversion and the depiction of Shylock as a bloody-minded monster are understood as antidotes to Christian uneasiness about a Judaism it can neither own nor disown.
In taking seriously the religious discourse of The Merchant of Venice, Adelman offers in Blood Relations an indispensable book on the play and on the fascinating question of Jews and Judaism in Renaissance England and beyond.
Of all the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale, in which a young schoolboy is murdered by Jews for singing a song in praise of the Virgin Mary, poses a problem to contemporary readers because of the antisemitism of the story it tells. Both the Tale’s antisemitism and its “Chaucerianism”—its fitness or aptness as part of the Chaucerian canon—are significant topics of reflection for modern readers, who worry about the Tale’s ethical implications as well as Chaucer’s own implications. Over the past fifty years, scholars have asked: Is the antisemitism in the tale that of the Prioress? Or of Chaucer the pilgrim? Or of Chaucer the author? Or, indeed, whether one ought to discuss antisemitism in the Prioress’s Tale at all, considering the potential anachronism of expecting medieval texts to conform to contemporary ideologies.
The Critics and the Prioress responds to a critical stalemate between the demands of ethics and the entailments of methodology. The book addresses key moments in criticism of the Prioress’s Tale—particularly those that stage an encounter between historicism and ethics—in order to interrogate these critical impasses while suggesting new modes for future encounters. It is an effort to identify, engage, and reframe some significant—and perennially repeated—arguments staked out in this criticism, such as the roles of gender, aesthetics, source studies, and the appropriate relationship between ethics and historicism.
The Critics and the Prioress will be an essential resource for Chaucer scholars researching as well as teaching the Prioress’s Tale. Scholars and students of Middle English literature and medieval culture more generally will also be interested in this book’s rigorous analysis of contemporary scholarly approaches to expressions of antisemitism in Chaucer’s England.
"This innovative, well-researched study looks at anti-Judaic rhetoric in the Old English and Latin texts of Anglo-Saxon England-a land lacking real Jews. The author isolates a common pool of inherited images for portraying the Jew, and teaches us to hear, especially in the vernacular, their increasingly dark and disturbing inflections."
---Roberta Frank, Yale University
"The Footsteps of Israel is a fascinating study of a pervasive stereotype. Scheil's analysis of how Jews, with no real physical presence in Anglo-Saxon England, captured the imagination of writers of the period, is a superb achievement."
---Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society
"The elegance of Scheil's prose weaves a unifying thread through the vast literary and historical tapestry he presents, moving with grace from Latin to Old English, from Bede to later authors, from Wordsworth and Blake to modern writers. He speaks elegantly of these texts' conversations with the past, and the Jews emerge as both enemies and spiritual antecedents of the 'New Israel' of Anglo-Saxon England."
---Stephen Spector, State University of New York, Stonybrook
Jews are the omnipresent border-dwellers of medieval culture, a source of powerful metaphors active in the margins of medieval Christianity. This book outlines an important prehistory to later persecutions in England and beyond, yet it also provides a new understanding of the previously unrecognized roles Jews and Judaism played in the construction of social identity in early England.
Andrew P. Scheil approaches the Anglo-Saxon understanding of Jews from a variety of directions, including a survey of the lengthy history of the ideology of England as the New Israel, its sources in late antique texts and its manifestation in both Old English and Latin texts from Anglo-Saxon England. In tandem with this perhaps more sympathetic understanding of the Jews is a darker vision of anti-Judaism, associating the Jews in an emotional fashion with the materiality of the body.
In exploring the complex ramifications of this history, the author is the first to assemble and study references to Jews in Anglo-Saxon culture. For this reason, The Footsteps of Israel will be an important source for Anglo-Saxonists, scholars of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, scholars of medieval antisemitism in general, students of Jewish history, and medievalists interested in cultural studies.
The Inability to Love borrows its title from Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich’s 1967 landmark book The Inability to Mourn, which discussed German society’s lack of psychological reckoning with the Holocaust. Challenging that notion, Agnes Mueller turns to recently published works by prominent contemporary German, non-Jewish writers to examine whether there has been a thorough engagement with German history and memory. She focuses on literature that invokes Jews, Israel, and the Holocaust. Mueller’s aim is to shed light on pressing questions concerning German memories of the past, and on German images of Jews in Germany at a moment that s ideologically and historically fraught.
Pound in Purgatory, available now in paperback, overturns all previous explanations of Ezra Pound's anti-Semitism by uncovering its roots in economic and conspiracy theory. Leon Surette demonstrates that, contrary to popular opinion, Pound was not a life-long anti-Semite and consistently ignored or resisted anti-Semitic comments from his correspondents until after 1931.
From 1931 to 1945 Pound's poetry took a back seat to his activities as an economic reformer and propagandist for the corporate state. Pound believed he had a simple and practical solution for the economic woes of the world brought on by the Great Depression, and he became increasingly preoccupied with capturing political power for the economic reform he envisioned.
As the world spiraled toward war, Pound's program of economic reform foundered and he gradually succumbed to a paranoid belief in a Jewish conspiracy. Through an incisive analysis of Pound's correspondence and writings, much of it previously unexamined, Surette shows how this belief fostered the virulent anti-Semitism that pervades his work-–both poetry and prose-–from this time forward.
The publication of Martha B. Helfer’s The Word Unheard: Legacies of Anti-Semitism in German Literature and Culture marks a stunningly original new direction in the interpretation of canonical works of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature.
Between 1749 and 1850—the formative years of the so-called Jewish Question in Germany—the emancipation debates over granting full civil and political rights to Jews provided the topical background against which all representations of Jewish characters and concerns in literary texts were read. Helfer focuses sharply on these debates and demonstrates through close readings of works by Gotthold Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, Achim von Arnim, Annette von Droste- Hülshoff, Adalbert Stifter, and Franz Grillparzer how disciplinary practices within the field of German studies have led to systematic blind spots in the scholarship on anti-Semitism to date.
While all the authors discussed are well known and justly celebrated, the particular works addressed represent an effective mix of enduring classics and less recognized, indeed often scandalously overlooked, texts whose consideration leads to a reevaluation of the author’s more mainstream oeuvre. Although some of the works and authors chosen have previously been noted for their anti-Semitic proclivities, the majority have not, and some have even been marked by German scholarship as philo-Semitic—a view that The Word Unheard undertakes not so much to refute as to complicate, and in the process to question not only these texts but also the deafness of the German scholarly tradition. With implications that reach into many disciplines, The Word Unheard will be a foundational study for all scholars of modern Germany.