[The LP is sitting in her office, eating chocolate and minding her own business, when...]
BOOKS IN HER OFFICE: Pssst! We hear rumors about a move to a new office building.
LP [understandably startled]: Erm...ah...well, yes, a couple of years down the road or so. That's the idea, anyway.
BOOKS: This office here is remarkably spacious, but the next one? Maybe not so much. We were taking bets on who is going to move home with you.
LP: Move home with me? [Look of panic.] Where am I supposed to put you?! There are over a thousand of you in here! I mean, it's not like I don't enjoy your company, but...there's no room for a shelf full of Norton Anthologies.
BOOKS: Aw, c'mon. When you were in graduate school, you had three thousand of us in a one-room studio, right? Books in the dining area, books around all the walls, books in the middle of the room, books in the closet...
LP [sternly]: I'm not a graduate student now. I insist on having some living space that has been kept free of texts.
BOOKS: You know what that means...
LP: ...it means I need a new house.
PASSING COLLEAGUE: Have you maybe considered leaving a few hundred books on the free books table? Or donating them to the Presbyterian rummage sale? Selling them on eBay, maybe?
[The LP and the BOOKS think about this option for a moment.]
LP and BOOKS: Nah.
[The LP cranks up Craigslist, Zillow, and Realtor.com.]
BOOKS: Why aren't you looking at that house?
LP: Because it's "darling." This one over here is a "dollhouse," that one is "adorable," this other one is "charming," and this one--yikes!--is "absolutely charming."
BOOKS: You don't want a cute house?
LP: If the house is cute, then I can get one of us in there, but not both.
BOOKS: You do realize that your presence is optional, right? There's always a loft in the garage, or something.
LP: Anthologies ought to refrain from snark.
BOOKS: Surely that house is the right size?
LP: That house costs nearly $300K!
BOOKS: What about this 2000 sq. ft. modern colonial with an open floor plan?
LP: Wonderful. What am I supposed to do, stack the books in artistic patterns across the floor? Create floor-to-ceiling book columns? Bookcases require walls.
BOOKS: You could start a new trend! "Intertextual Decorating."
LP: *grits teeth*
BOOKS: This house has a big bonus room on the second floor...
[The LP and the BOOKS have a joint vision of several thousand books crashing through the ceiling and landing on the kitchen floor.]
LP and BOOKS: Nah.
BOOKS: I think this house must be perfect--it's got a big family room without too many windows, a living room, office space...
LP: Yes, but besides the fact that it's sitting on several acres, it isn't near any sidewalks.
BOOKS [patiently]: Let's think for a moment. What is that strange red object sitting in your driveway? Wait...let me think...Oh, yes! It's a car. Now, I've heard rumors that you humans drive cars places. To work, for example!
LP: But I like walking to work.
BOOKS: If you don't compromise on something, you're going to turn into your father's professor from grad school.
LP: No! Not...
BOOKS: ...books kept in the oven. Yes!
[Tune in over the next few months for the further adventures of the LP's library.]
The most recent installment in the Orlando Figes saga reminded me that self-reviewing is a venerable, if not exactly venerated, practice. One of the most famous nineteenth-century examples is Sir Walter Scott's review of his own Tales of My Landlord, which initially ran in the Quarterly Review. (To be exact, as Martin Lightfoot argued in 1968, this is a co-authored self-review, the bulk of which is by Scott; the other two writers are Scott's friend William Erskine [later Lord Kinneder] and QR editor William Gifford.1) The review was a salvo in the great Old Mortalitybattle, which, besides Thomas M'Crie's critique, also generated John Galt's Ringan Gilhaize and James Hogg's The Brownie of Bodsbeck. Unlike Figes, however, Scott doesn't puff himself: he criticizes his own novels on a number of grounds, particularly lousy plot construction and characterization. Besides countering M'Crie, the article further defends the historical novel--especially Scott's historical novel--as a legitimate genre. Overall, the article is an important critical self-assessment--which did not, needless to say, alwaysimpress other critics once the truth came out in 1836.
1 Martin Lightfoot, "Scott's Self-Reviewal: Manuscript and Other Evidence," Nineteenth-Century Literature 23.2 (1968): 150-60. JSTOR. See also Jonathan Cutmore's note.
Last night, Dad the Emeritus Historian of Graeco-Roman Egypt asked me if I listed this blog on my CV. Well, no, I responded. Leaving to one side the occasional guest appearances by cats, annoyed Vulcan captains, and GLADOS, I've never considered anything I've written here to be more than notes towards a final scholarly product. As I pointed out here, for example, a post on Walter Scott's The Monastery had to be entirely revised, reworked, and just re-ed in general before it could function in the context of my book chapter. My blog prose tends to drown in parentheticals, qualifiers, and other stylistic tics that require stern discipline; moreover, I frequently...ah...express my opinion of certain texts more strenuously than is generally considered appropriate in academic discourse. If I ever get around to writing an article about Florence; Or, the Aspirant (because, believe it or not, it does have literary-historical interest, if your literary-historical interests run to my kind of thing), it's highly unlikely that I will spend the entire essay bewailing my plight. Granted, one's tolerance becomes strained after spending too much time with angelic evangelical children who address other characters as "Mr. Jew," but articles are not the place to gnash one's teeth over a self-inflicted burden. That's what you use blogs for, no?
But this judgment call is getting a little tricky, because some of my blog posts are now showing up as citations in scholarly journals. In particular, the Rules for Writing Neo-Victorian Novels, which have even put in an appearance on someone's syllabus. Obviously, being cited is a Good Thing (and looks nice on one's annual report), but...if I'm going to note that my post is turning up in the scholarly literature, does that mean that I should also note the blog as well? Even with cats, annoyed Vulcan captains, and Glados?
It's been a while since I've written about Jewish conversion literature. The Young Jewess and Her Christian School-Fellows (1847), ascribed to Clara Moore, is intended for children instead of adults, but it shares the key tropes of novels targeted for an older demographic. Zillah Isaac, the young Jewess of the title, attends a school run by a woman with a depressingly obvious name, Mrs. Worthing. The worthy (sigh) Mrs. Worthing is, of course, a model of Christian virtue; her students are models of Christian virtue; and the whole point of the plot, such as it is, is to show Zillah "the beauty and the happiness of practical Christianity" (15). However, Mrs. Worthing has otherwise promised not to proselytize. One day, however, Zillah overhears Mrs. Worthing reading the story of Joseph to her students; expecting to hear more about Joseph the next day, Zillah hides outside the schoolroom door, only to find Mrs. Worthing reading one of the Gospels instead. Zillah responds emotionally to the narrative: she is "shocked" by Judas, feels "sorrow" about Gethsemane, alternately "grieve[s]" and "rejoice[s]" about Paul, and, ultimately, is reduced to tears by the Crucifixion (25-26). Even more, she tells Mrs. Worthing that "'I am so very sorry that the Jews were so wicked as to crucify Jesus of Nazareth!'" (26) Oops? Not to worry. It turns out that the deceased Mr. Isaac was a closet Christian, and soon-to-be-deceased Mama Isaac is also a closet Christian, so everyone is hunky-dory with Zillah herself becoming Christian. As she promptly does--thanks to the power of an exceptionally oversimplified notion of sola scriptura--and lives happily ever after with Mrs. Worthing after Mrs. Isaac dies.
Speaking with my literary historian's hat on, I see at least two noteworthy things about this novel. First, the introduction explicitly dissuades children from acting like the evangelical boy in Charlotte Elizabeth's Judah's Lion, who explicates Scriptural passages in order to convert Alick Cohen ("Mr. Jew" [!]). "Children," Moore tells the reader, "ought not to be preachers, in the literal sense of the word" (iii); instead, they should evangelize by modeling the Christian virtues. (Moore seems not to have paid attention to her own text, since such evangelization-by-example isn't what converts Zillah. Be that as it may...) Second, the novel gestures at one of the core tropes of Jewish conversion fiction, only to make it visible by its absence: the abusive family/community trope. Conversion fiction normally represents both Jewish families and Jewish communities as simultaneously close-knit and given to explosions of brutal violence (verbal or physical); the latter emerges only when a character, especially a female character, converts to Christianity. In other words, Jewish families seem ideal but are actually deeply disordered.1The Young Jewess and Her Christian School-Fellows invokes the trope when it reveals that, first, Mr. Isaac had secretly converted, and then that Mrs. Isaac is secretly on the brink of conversion: the nature of the Jewish family and community demands that the N.T. be read in secret, lest the convert be ostracized or assaulted. Moreover, Mr. Isaac does not confide in his wife until he is on his deathbed--a conventional moment of deathbed wisdom, to be sure, but also indicating a certain lack of trust. Indeed, by the end of the novel, Zillah's "true" mother appears to be Mrs. Worthing, the woman responsible for first exposing her to Christianity.
1 At the risk of citing myself, the long version of this argument is in “Protestants against the Jewish and Catholic Family, c. 1829-1860,” Victorian
Literature and Culture 31 (2003): 333-57.
Elizabeth Hardy's The Confessor: A Jesuit Tale of the Times, Founded on Fact (1854) was one of the initial offerings in the "Run and Read" library, a series of cheap didactic books intended to entertain ("entertain") railway passengers. (However, unlike the GoogleBooks scan, the original was presumably not missing five pages near the end.) Its title is a positive cornucopia of controversial code words: there's "confessor," which warns us that we're about to run into that great evangelical bogey, the confessional; "Jesuit," which indicates that conspiracy theories are about to be afoot; "tale of the times," which lets us know that the author is diagnosing some contemporary social malady; and, of course, "founded on fact," which usually means that nothing of the sort is involved. As is often the case with anti-Catholic fiction, the novel argues that Roman Catholicism maintains its power by destroying both the family and normative gender roles. In the introduction, the Rev. C. B. Tayler warns us that "[u]nhappily
for our once favored country, the arts and wiles of the
Jesuits are spreading throughout all ranks of society; and, from time to
time, some case like that of Miss
Talbot, or Margaret Griffith, or Miss
Knight, or that of the two young ladies who were lately removed
Preston, finds its way into the public newspapers, and proves to us what
is secretly going on all the while, wherever the Jesuits are at work"
(v), thereby turning The Confessor into a timely intervention
against the effects of Catholic toleration. Young women are especially
at risk, Tayler warns, because Jesuits (perhaps somewhat loosely
defined) want to lure them into convents; the wrong men seek
control over innocent women, in part by denying them their rightful,
divinely-ordained roles as wives and mothers. Although Tayler makes the usual claims about this novel's basis in Hardy's real-life experience (iv), its actual source is Michelet's Priests, Women, and Families, which Hardy repurposes in a rather remarkable melange of plot devices, including kidnapping, theft, and wrongful commitment to an insane asylum. All of these sensational events occur in the framework of two popular controversial plots: the interfaith marriage plot and the alienated property plot. But the oddest thing about this novel is that it's a controversial novel about the dangers of engaging in religious controversy.
The 1850s were a hot spot in the annals of Victorian anti-Catholic agitation, thanks to widespread angst (helped along by Lord John Russell) about the so-called papal aggression. Hardy, however, sets her novel's "now" in 1829, a particularly loaded choice of date: not the year of the papal aggression, but the year of Catholic Emancipation. For those classed in the "ultra-Protestant" category, it is no exaggeration to say that 1829 was the year in which the British government capitulated to Antichrist. Like many other Protestant controversialists, Hardy believed that if Catholics returned to power, "it is by no means certain that conscientious
Romanists would not rekindle the fires of Smithfield, because
persecution unto death is an unrepealed mandate of their church,—an '
act of faith,' of imperative obligation; and, what is more, would
evince, according to their creed, the height of Christian duty" (xiii). The events of this tale, then, are supposed to exemplify the most likely outcomes of tolerationist policies. Needless to say, the outcomes are extreme.
The Confessor has a first-person male narrator, a Scotsman named Major Melville, who represents the novel's ideal of strong Protestant masculinity. In addition, there are two inset narratives, one by the Englishwoman Mary Trevillion (with whom the Major is in love) and the other by Clotilde de Montmorency, later Lady Trevillion, the French and Catholic wife of Mary's brother Charles. Mary's romance with Melville has been in abeyance while she searches for the mysteriously vanished Clotilde, and her inset narrative explains the sad cirumstances. Although Clotilde and Charles had "talked over the interesting subject of religion, and entered into a
mutual agreement that each should be to the other conscience free, that
it should never interfere with their domestic peace" (24), it soon transpires that Charles cannot reconcile himself to the confessional, especially given the vulgar nature of the novel's first Confessor, Mr. Mac Cardwell. For Charles, the relation of confessor and penitent seems inescapably erotic: "[...] his eyes, when he would have fixed them on his wife, were attracted to
the deep recess—the half-drawn curtain—the deep arm chair. He pictured
Mac Cardwell its occupant, and Clotilde upon her knees; and he thought
that his senses must forsake him" (41). If this image of illicit privacy and female submission were not enough, Charles complains that in a space where "the husband is excluded," the wife may be revealing her "very imaginings" (42) to the priest. Later, an enraged Charles describes his wife's attempted secret rendezvous with Mac Cardwell as an "assignation" (81). As Jenny Franchot puts it, "[t]he inquiries of the confessor signaled the sacrilegious invasion into the unspeakable region of sex"; in a sense, the confessor is actually a mock-sanctified consumer of pornography.1 Matters are not improved when Charles finds that Mac Cardwell has conspired to steal a valuable casket from the corpse of a woman dead in a shipwreck; anxious to stop Mac Cardwell's escape, Charles struggles with him. As a result, a few chapters later, Clotilde is ordered to "separate" from her Protestant husband, and she vows to enter a convent if she survives her second pregnancy (121). Here, the hierarchy explicitly interferes in the marriage bed, consigning husband and wife to an unnatural and improper celibacy.
Both Protestants and Catholics were interested in the interfaith marriage plot, which played an important symbolic function in both the national tale and the historical novel. Strictly speaking, only Protestant authors (and liberal ones, at that) showed any signs of finding it a useful narrative resolution to international or religious conflict; Catholics, by contrast, consistently deconstructed the interfaith marriage plot as a Protestant power-grab. (They had reason: in nineteenth-century English law, custodial disputes between Protestants and Catholics skewed strongly in the Protestant parent's or family's favor.) More conservative Protestants like Hardy, however, had no truck with it either, and once we get beyond the confessor's interference, her account of the marriage's collapse--complete with kidnapped children and Clotilde's temporary insanity--actually hews fairly closely to Catholic tropes. (In a Catholic novel, however, the Protestant father would have been doing the kidnapping.) Once we have finished with Mary's long inset narrative about the marriage's failure and Clotilde's disappearance, the second half of the novel tracks Major Melville's heroic and picaresque attempts to find her and the two missing children. Along the way, he discovers that Clotilde's second confessor, Father Austin, is actually her cousin Augustine, who successfully maneuvers her into signing away her rights to some French property she has inherited (for the Church, of course). Major Melville's Protestant chivalry stands in stark contrast to Mac Cardwell's and Austin's effeminate plotting, as well as to the unwillingness of his sometime (and stereotypically chatty) Irish assistant, Bourke, to resist being excommunicated. When Bourke immediately knuckles under to a priest's threatening letter, an enraged Melville complains that his excuse is "most absurd and unmanly" (221). No man, the novel makes clear, can be Catholic--not just because of the hierarchy's interference with sexuality, but also because, to borrow from Oliver Buckton's account of the Kingsley-Newman controversy, the "openness, honesty, and straightforwardness" purportedly intrinsic to Protestant masculinity were impossible under the confessional's regime.2
Thus, it is hardly surprising that when the novel successfully resolves itself, Clotilde converts to Protestantism. However, this conversion does not occur through controversial disputation, and here is where the novel takes issue with mainstream evangelical controversial fiction. Every explicit attempt to make Catholic characters back down on points of theology simply fails. (Bourke is willing to engage in some convenient close reading of his orders, but he still abandons Melville.) There is a long and relatively technical debate between Mac Cardwell and the Protestant Doctor Bentley, but the only result is that Mac Cardwell forbids "all Scriptural allusions and conversation in the hearing of Clotilde" (60)--which, while a standard "loser's" gambit in the controversial novel, does not signal the confessor's impending conversion. Much more dangerously, Charles and Mary actually try to convert the far more suave Father Austin:
Hurried on by our desire to "snatch a brand from the burning," we
hunted all the libraries for the most approved theological works;
attended every church where the preacher was likely to make our subject
his; took notes of anything that suited our purpose, and returned home,
thus stored and thus instructed, with renewed vigor to the charge. We
forgot, all the while, that books as yet unread by us, and arguments to
us so novel, had formed the chief study of our opponent—if opponent he
might be called. We overlooked the fact, that, while our spiritual
education had been chiefly derived from Bible truth, his had comprised
the whole range of controversial defence; and we were unmindful, that
while we sought to gain the end by a straightforward path, our
antagonist was enticing us into a labyrinth, which might entrap us to
our ruin. (102)
In fact, their attempt to convert him inadvertently precipitates the crisis with Clotilde. This denunciation of naive Protestant assaults on highly-educated Catholics (let alone Catholic priests) directly attacks Grace Kennedy's Father Clement, in which young Protestant laymen and -women successfully proselytize the titular priest. Granted, the novel argues, the Trevillions' "spiritual education" is far superior, from the point of view of practical Christianity; nevertheless, it is sheer arrogance for them to claim that they can say anything that a cultured Jesuit would not already know. Even Dr. Bentley refuses to help them, warning that "his conversion is not dependent on us; that it is
neither your's, nor mine, nor any mortal interference, that can effect
such an end" (104). True conversion, Hardy insists, is a work of God, not of everyday men and women playing rhetorical games with Minotaurs in labyrinths. In that sense, Hardy winds up denouncing her own genre for cultivating the deadly sin of pride.
1 Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California P, 1994), 125.
2 Oliver S. Buckton, Secret Selves: Confession and Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography (Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 1998), 25.
James Malcolm Rymer, Varney the Vampyre (Wordsworth, 2010). One of the Victorian period's most famous penny dreadfuls, along with The String of Pearls. Yes, it's the Whole Thing--1166 pages of rather small print. You can see some of the original illustrations here. (PostScript Books)
John Banim, The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century (Woodstock, 1997). Facsimile reprint of one of Banim's best-known novels, following the adventures of Gerald Blount, an Irishman raised in England who is forced to sojourn in Ireland. More on the Banim writing team at the Catholic Encyclopedia. (PostScript Books)
Sarah Moss, Cold Earth (Counterpoint, 2010). Apocalyptoplaguefic involving archaeologists in Greenland. (Lift Bridge)
Steve Fellner, All Screwed Up (Benu, 2009). A prize-winning memoir by one of my colleagues. (Gift)
I've been doing one of my periodic sweeps through GoogleBooks, looking for new and exciting (er, to me) novels to add to my online collection. While looking for novels about Jesuits (one of those Victorian obsessions), I came across this evangelical conversion novel: Rachel Cohen, the Usurer's Daughter. That title does seem to be weighting the dice somewhat. (The author may be trotting out some Shylock tropes.)
Given how much time I've spent castigating GoogleBooks for various malfeasances, it's important to give props where props are due--and so, let me say that as someone thinking about teaching a course on Judaism and nineteenth-century British culture, I was really pleased to see Benjamin Farjeon's Aaron the Jew (3 vols., 1894) show up in full text. Aaron the Jew is, among other things, an anti-conversion novel, but it's of a startling sort. The plot hinges on a baby switch. (No, that's not why it's startling.) To avoid financial disaster, Aaron Cohen, an Orthodox Jew, agrees to raise a Christian child born out of wedlock. (The mother had been forced to give the baby up as part of a deal with a would-be husband. It's a sign of the Victorian times that the novel is not only sympathetic to the mother, but eventually lets her prosper.) But Aaron's own child, born at nearly the same time, dies suddenly, and fearing that the shock could kill his wife, Aaron passes off the baby girl as their own. (Mrs. Cohen is blind, which enables the switch.) Flash forward many years. The girl in question, Ruth, has been raised as a Jew...but refuses to embrace the faith. Here's where the startling part comes in:
Ruth's instincts were in her blood, transmitted by parents whom he had
never known, and of whose characters he was ignorant. Heredity lay at
the root of this domestic misery. As a rule, vices, virtues, and all
classes of the affections are hereditary, and the religious sentiments
are not an exception. Aaron had studied the subject, and was conscious
of the solemn issues dependent upon it. (285)
Throughout the novel, Farjeon insists that nature, not nurture, prevents Jews from converting to Christianity, and Christians from converting to Judaism. Ruth's unwillingness to learn Hebrew, for example, is not intellectual incapacity ("[a] parrot might have learned as much" ), but a by-product of what amounts to a religious immune system. Moreover, Ruth only reveals true affection for her parents at the very end of the novel, after she runs away and marries the (Christian) son of a peer: she decorates a house for them with "what was most precious to you and your dear wife" (407). In other words, Ruth finally achieves true sympathy with her adoptive parents only after her mind has returned to its predetermined religious path.
Farjeon's argument would have amazed/appalled quite a lot of Victorian Christians, not least because it pretty much leaves the entire missionary project wrecked on the shoals. However, as Michael Diamond's account of early twentieth-century British attitudes to Jews points out, Farjeon was part of a larger shift in nineteenth- and twentieth-century racial discourses that turned Jewishness into a matter of genetics. (One does wonder how Farjeon reconciled his theory with the origins of Christianity...) From a literary point of view, the novel engages with a number of antecedents, ranging from Harringon and Daniel Deronda to The Merchant of Venice and, perhaps, Pudd'nhead Wilson. It also touches on contemporary debates within late-Victorian Judaism, including the rise of the Reform movement.