1913 is a bit late for me, it's true, and the novel was published on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Still, I couldn't but be intrigued by The Young Champion, a children's novel about Grace Aguilar. Abram Samuel Isaacs (1851-1920), the author, was a professor at NYU and rabbi who wrote a combination of monographs, popular history poetry, and children's books, along with editing The Jewish Messenger for over two decades (see this biographical sketch [PDF] for more details). As one might expect, the book's intent is didactic, but the author's representations of Jewish-Christian relations are of particular interest.
The novel is really almost plotless: the young Grace, on the cusp of adolescence, spends time playing with her friends, keeping her diary, hanging out with Mrs. S. C. Hall, meeting Moses Montefiore, spotting Benjamin Disraeli, and, above all, listening to her parents tell stories about Jewish history. The novel's real subject, that is, is the emergence of an explicitly Jewish writer's vocation. For Isaacs, Jewish subjectivity emerges through shared story-telling experiences, whether Grace's parents' oral retellings of Biblical, rabbinical, and classical narratives or Grace's own aspirations to publish historical fiction and poetry. Early on, Grace's mother reminds her that she regularly "speak[s] to you" on religious topics, while her father "reads to you" about Jewish heroes and history (14), emphasizing that an ideal Jewish education is always mediated through the parents' own language; when her father introduces stories from Josephus, he is quite open about not "follow[ing] him word for word" (158). Jewish parents serve as narrators, editors, and gatekeepers, but also as guardians of Jewish tradition; by the same token, the Aguilars' educational practice binds up all knowledge with domestic affect, so that to think of Jewish history is also to think of parental care. Within the family, the father handles Grace's historical education, while the mother is in charge of her religious instruction (pointedly, Isaacs makes Mr. Aguilar immediately defer to Mrs. Aguilar when there is a slight disagreement about what Grace ought to know about Judaism when). Their pedagogy produces, in turn, a child whose understanding of authorship--which will itself meld "male" and "female" spheres, as modeled by her parents--is outwardly-directed: she wishes to write not for personal glory, but rather to enhance domestic feeling (107-8), erase the residual "ignorance" of Christians about Jews (108), and teach mutual toleration (108-9). Grace's vocation is educational, but also community-building, part of a larger project to ensure that Jewish history culminates, as it were, in a comfortably pluralist England.
Although Grace cites Biblical models of heroic women to authorize her public calling, the novel suggests that she truly models herself after Josephus. The novel's title, "the young champion," initially affiliates Grace with the chivalric knights of medieval romance, but within the text, "champion" refers only to Josephus and to Grace: he "was enabled to become a champion of his people even in exile" (155), a "champion of Israel" when no longer a soldier (156), while Grace's mother speaks of her daughter's calling to "champion the cause of Israel and promote a kindly and noble humanity" (29-30) and Grace herself tells Mrs. Hall that "I want to champion my people and my religion" (71). Why cast Grace as a second Josephus? For Isaacs, Josephus is an exemplary boundary-crosser, a figure who actively negotiates between antipathetic cultures; in speaking to his Roman captors, he instructs them and the world at large in "what the Jewish religion really was" (156). This is, to say the least, a rather oversimplified explanation of what Josephus was doing, but what's key here is that Isaacs celebrates the Jew-as-translator, articulating the truths of Judaism to a previously unresponsive public. (Not that they were exactly responsive afterwards.) At the same time, we return to the quest-romance overtones of the title. Josephus acts as "champion" both as a soldier and as an author; he becomes available for women's emulation once he transitions from physical violence to constructive authorship. Pen, sword, mightier than.
However, it is also significant that Isaacs wants to distingush sharply between Josephus-the-soldier and Josephus-the writer, because it speaks to his understanding of modern Jewish history. He positions Grace, the new Josephus, in a space and time of remarkable Judaeo-Christian cooperation. The Aguilars appear to have more Christian friends than Jewish ones, and Grace's mother speaks enthusiastically of "our English inheritance" (57); more importantly, despite Mr. Aguilar's tales of Jewish suffering under the Inquisition (the Aguilars are themselves descended from Sephardic exiles), he assures Grace that "[i]n happy England we have rest, and need not dwell too much on the ages of terror" (163). This enthusiastic endorsement of early nineteenth-century England as a Jewish safe haven, echoed by Grace's belief that her calling is to support Jews in England instead of Palestine (77-78), rejects the persistent trope of the mourning Jew, eternally conscious of his or her exile and forever un-homed. English antisemitism, in this reading, boils down to a kind of residual ignorance, of the sort chastized by one of Grace's friend's mothers: "There are many churches, but only one church. And I think the good, the pure, the loving, belong all to one church or synagogue, by whatever name it might be called" (111). Isaacs' ideal Christian is a universalist, but so is his ideal Jew; religious practices ought not to interfere with virtuous communities. (Grace's birthday dinner, at which Jews and Christians dine together, emblematizes this vision of coexistence.) Grace's career as a Jewish "champion" thus turns out to be less about mobilizing forces against persistent antisemitism, which the novel represents as almost entirely vanquished (despite noting injustices, such as Jews' inability to sit in Parliament), than about wiping out the final vestiges of mutual incomprehension in Jewish and Christian readers alike.