Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra: Adelaide O'Keeffe, the Jewish Conversion Novel, and the Limits of Rational Education
Abstract

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (1814) is a historical novel by the Irish author Adelaide O'Keeffe that features religious conversions from paganism to Judaism, and from Judaism to Christianity. O'Keeffe stages these conversions within the context of late Enlightenment debates about the ability of rational educational approaches to inculcate religious belief. I compare Zenobia to Edgeworth’s Harrington, Rousseau’s Émile, Mme de Genlis’ Adéle et Thèodore, and Hamilton’s Agrippina. Zenobia applies two popular modes of fictional representation of education to the teaching of religion. The first of these modes is that of the philosophical experiment, most often presented as a utopian pedagogical fantasy in which a child and educator live apart from society and in which various educational approaches and techniques can be applied to the child without outside interference. We find examples of this approach in Rousseau’s Émile (1762) and Mme de Genlis’ Adéle et Thèodore (1782). The second mode is that of practical, applied pedagogy in which teachers contend with outside influences and a child’s already-established habits and prior associations. O'Keeffe’s particular contribution to pedagogical literature is her use of both modes to represent religious training.


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