We haven't had any religious poetry in a while, so let's turn to W. Henry Ludlow's The Hebrew's Daughter, A Fragment of a Jewish Tradition, in Five Cantos (comp. 1852; pub. 1854). This appears to have been Ludlow's only foray into the world of any sort of verse--that he was willing to put before the public, at least. As the poem's title suggests, it participates in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tradition of "fragment" verse, poems whose purportedly mangled forms echoed the contemporary fascination with ruins; certainly, ruin, in both its figurative and literal sense, turns out to be the poem's order of the day. Ludlow tries some cautious experiments with rhyme and meter, writing primarily in iambic tetrameter couplets but sometimes veering from trimeter to pentameter (especially in the big storm scene) or breaking out into triplets, quatrains, and envelope rhymes. Not surprisingly, the poem's formal technique is not thrilling. But for those interested in Jewish subjects in Victorian poetry, this poem is interesting for two reasons: its reworking of the Shylock mythos and its subversion of the by-then conventional Jewish conversion narrative.
First, the plot. Elam has a daughter, Zillah, for whom he seeks a possible guardian after the death of her mother. The mother in question was a secret Christian convert who tutored Zillah in the basics, and so, Zillah "was led more faith to place,/On Christian oaths, than do her race" (10). This turns out to be a problem when Elam temporarily decamps. Alas, Elam had refused a loan to a supposed Christian, Hun; in revenge, Hun seduces Zillah (words only, no action), then locks her up in prison until one of his followers finally decides that this is really not quite the thing. Elam, who returns to find himself sans child, threatens Hun with a scary magic spell, then takes off for the Holy Land. Zillah also takes off for the Holy Land. And so does Hun, who is, dare we say, not feeling so great about himself. Due to divine intervention beyond our control, Zillah and Hun are shipwrecked; Hun, continuing to not feel so great, rescues Zillah (who, understandably, runs away very fast once she sees his face). After much stereotypical wandering and lamenting, Zillah finds her father on the brink of death, obtains his forgiveness, and--after he repents of cursing Hun--watches him die in peace. Then...she goes insane, leaving us with Hun sadly watching over her, hoping "to see once more arise/The light of reason in her eyes!" (59)
As this plot outline suggests, Ludlow begins by using Shylock to structure his plot: Elam, who embodies the Law, is the money-lending father; Zillah, who embodies Love, is his Christian-tending daughter; Hun is the Christian in need of cash. The legalistic Jewish father and the emotional Jewish daughter are par for the course in fictions about the Jews. Most often, the former symbolically gives way to the latter, with the tyrannically masculine Law superseded by the rule of feminized Love. In that sense, the Shylock plot and the conversion plot are always bound up in each other. Ludlow further emphasizes that link with another familiar figure from conversion narratives, the secret Christian convert: the deceased mother (in the Shylock plot, she generally is) had "taught her, ere she died/The creed of Jesus crucified," with the proviso "not to let her Father see/Her to the Saviour bend the knee" (10). Zillah thus exists in an ambiguous space, Jewish in public but Christian in private; further ambiguity arises from that allusion to "her Father," which immediately refers to Elam but, more problematically, also suggests God the Father, whose Son she does not openly avow. As a result, the symbolic transition from Judaism to Christianity, from paternal Law to maternal Love, stumbles badly. This deliberate narrative botch gets only worse once we consider Hun, about whom "nothing certain was there known" (9), and who enacts the Shylockian conversion romance only to lock Zillah up in a Gothic tower. Neither secretly-Christian mother nor nominally-Christian lover can conduct Zillah to Christian community.
Instead, Zillah's chunk of the plot takes her back to the father's Law. Meeting him once again, she confesses her sins at his request, and is forgiven for her "disobedience" (52). Yet here the abortive conversion plot rears its head again, for Zillah finds no rest in this paternal forgiveness. Although Elam is allowed a "good death" once he retracts his curse against Hun, Zillah's agony over her sin leads to fantasize that all of nature condemns her as his "murderess" (55), and all that is left of her is "reason's wreck" (55). What are we to make of this? Zillah's mental collapse resonates tellingly with the state of Judaism in the rest of the poem, and it is here that we see how the poem's fragmentary form embodies its attitude to post-Christian Jews. Like so many others, Ludlow relies heavily on the complaint as the dominant mode of Jewish utterance: Elam, for example, sadly asks why Jerusalem's "children roam/In foreign lands as if they hated home?/Why did our God forsake our chosen land,/And let his temple fall by heathen band?" (48) Similarly, the insane Zillah bursts out into a hymn that, even as it promises that the Jews shall one day be restored, nevertheless sobs along with "Judah's daughter's ever weeping" (58). Even before the tragedy plays out, Zillah and Elam are already part of the band of Jews who "wander far,/Nor have they now a guiding star" (5), and this vision of eternal exile and dislocation recurs in Ludlow's repeated descriptions of both Zillah and Elam as physically and/or mentally "wandering." As wanderers without guidance or goal, both Zillah and Elam seem eternally condemned to life without a fully-developed narrative arc. Zillah's strange in-between state as disobedient Jew but not-quite Christian further underlines the incompleteness in which these characters live; it is no accident that their apparently cyclical return to the Holy Land is merely yet another reminder that they have been displaced, with no right to enter Jerusalem. In that sense, Zillah's return to her father and the Law he represents is equally fragmented: she can neither re-enter her first spiritual "home" nor transition to the Christian community putatively associated with her mother. Well before 1890s psychological theory, Ludlow makes "madness" the understandable outcome of such a shattered, "wandering" existence .
Despite the poem's title, Zillah winds up exiled from the conversion plot. It is Hun, the villain, who dedicates his life to protecting the mad Zillah as what appears to be self-imposed penance. And it is Hun who is on the receiving end of the poem's finger-wagging moral: "I pity all whose mental strife/Was such as gall'd Hun's later life;/Remorse of those who late repent,/Is heaviest of punishment" (59). Yes, says the reader, but isn't he rather better off than Zillah? Elam, the staunch Jew who finally repents, is saved from pain at the last moment; Hun, the professed Christian turned real Christian, repents and spends the remainder of his life undergoing what we are to assume is divinely-ordained agony; Zillah, who abandoned her faith and tried to return, is left to a suffering she cannot possibly interpret. The Christian may get the poem's last word, but "bad" Christians who abuse their faith also, by extension, bear the weight of the poem's moral condemnation.
 On which see Carol Margaret Davison, Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 145-46.