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Amy Levy

Critical Essays

Naomi Hetherington

Publication Year: 2010

Amy Levy has risen to prominence in recent years as one of the most innovative and perplexing writers of her generation. Embraced by feminist scholars for her radical experimentation with queer poetic voice and her witty journalistic pieces on female independence, she remains controversial for her representations of London Jewry that draw unmistakably on contemporary antisemitic discourse. Amy Levy: Critical Essays brings together scholars working in the fields of Victorian cultural history, women’s poetry and fiction, and the history of Anglo-Jewry. The essays trace the social, intellectual, and political contexts of Levy’s writing and its contemporary reception. Working from close analyses of Levy’s texts, the collection aims to rethink her engagement with Jewish identity, to consider her literary and political identifications, to assess her representations of modern consumer society and popular culture, and to place her life and work within late-Victorian cultural debate. This book is essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate students offering both a comprehensive literature review of scholarship-to-date and a range of new critical perspectives.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

Many of the chapters in this volume were first discussed at a colloquium on the work of Amy Levy held in 2002 at the University of Southampton. The editors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Arts and Humanities Research Board and the AHRB Parkes Centre for the Study of Jewish/ Non-Jewish Relations, which funded the colloquium. We would also like to ...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-24

... Cambridge, and the Cambridge setting of the poem as well as its melancholy evokes several of Levy’s verses.1 “Xantippe” (1880), to which Feinstein alludes, dramatizes women’s marginal position in the intellectual life of the university.2 It is a passionate plea for women’s education in the voice of Socrates’ wife, Xantippe, who was excluded from his circle of male philosophers on accoun ...

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1. “We Are Photographers, Not Mountebanks!”: Spectacle, Commercial Space, and the New Public Woman

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pp. 25-46

... which to examine the gendered culture of consumerism and spectacle in fin-de-siècle London. In this novel, the Lorimer sisters not only produce images for the marketplace by running a photography studio but also become spectacles as women in business and participants in urban life. Disavowing the status of “mountebanks” but needing the business that publicity brings, the ...

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2. Why Wasn’t Amy Levy More of a Socialist? Levy, Clementina Black, and Liza of Lambeth

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pp. 47-69

... celebratory investment has become increasingly difficult, as a Jewish intellectual, as a sexual dissident, as an archetypal “New Woman,” as the possessor of a strong and culturally pivotal poetic identity, Levy seems to offer contemporary British and American feminist criticism an image of many of the things it would still like to find valuable in itself.1 As Linda Hunt Beckman points ...

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3. Between Two Stools: Exclusion and UnWtness in Amy Levy’s Short Stories

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pp. 70-89

... method as admirable as it is unique.”1 Though Levy referred dismissively to her short stories as “potboilers,”2 Wilde’s assessment is both perceptive and accurate. The short story form seems to me to suit her as a prose writer better than the novel. The quality that, in his obituary for Levy, Wilde praised in her prose writing—her “extraordinary power of condensation”3—can appear as ...

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4. Amy Levy and the Literary Representation of the Jewess

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pp. 90-109

... me a woman.”1 Esther’s curse boldly reverses the words of the blessing recited daily by the Jewish male, thanking God for not making him female. For Levy, this Oriental “pride of sex” lies at the root of the wretched position of Jewish women that is indicted in the novel.2 But her citation of Jewish liturgy indicates a religious critique too. Indeed, the thanksgiving for masculinity in Jewish ...

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5. “Such Are Not Woman’s Thoughts”: Amy Levy’s “Xantippe” and “Medea”

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pp. 110-134

... also a strong endorsement of Thomson’s philosophical pessimism. Levy clearly identified with Thomson, admiring the passion in his work: the “hungry cry for life, for the things of this human, flesh and blood life; for love and praise, for mere sunlight and sun’s warmth.”1 Levy also makes clear that Thomson’s “nudity of expression” and moments of “absolute vulgarity” threaten his reputation ...

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6. “Mongrel Words”: Amy Levy’s Jewish Vulgarity

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pp. 135-156

... some Jews have grown suddenly rich, and are loudly ostentatious, is this a cause that the flagrant injustice be done, that they, with these characteristics, be held up by the name of their religion?”1 In the same year, a reviewer of Amy Levy’s novel of middle-class Anglo-Jewry, Reuben Sachs, accuses the author of “persuading the general public that her own kith and kin are the most hideous types of ...

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7. Passing in the City: The Liminal Spaces of Amy Levy’s Late Work

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pp. 157-179

... ambivalent state, an endless journey between the oppositions of race, of sexuality, and of culture. This experience and the liminal subjectivities it produces are particularly the effect of the transient environment of the modern city. This chapter suggests that the idea of “passing” (and the multiple resonances of the word) can also be used to explore the profoundly ambivalent emotions ...

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8. “A Jewish Robert Elsmere”? Amy Levy, Israel Zangwill, and the Postemancipation Jewish Novel

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pp. 180-197

... Mayer Sulzberger, wrote to the journalist Lucien Wolf in London asking whether Amy Levy might “be induced to write a Jewish story for us?”2 The impetus for this request was the American edition of Levy’s novel Reuben Sachs (1888), which criticizes Jewish materialism in a world where religion no longer has a strong hold.3 Levy’s suicide in September 1889 led Wolf to recommend ...

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9. Verse or Vitality? Biological Economies and the New Woman Poet

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pp. 198-220

... fraught enterprise, and the ideas these New Women sought to appropriate were used against them. New Woman writers of the fin-de-siècle met with resistance from critics who subjected their work and persons to socio-scientific scrutiny. In the year 1889, arguments against women’s participation in the public, and elite, discourses of science and poetry coalesced around the deaths of two ...

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pp. 221-226

... searched the University of Chicago stacks for a copy of Reuben Sachs or a collection of her poems. Finding nothing, I was at Wrst a bit surprised, then perturbed, and then resigned. At Chicago, one hardly ever used interlibrary loan: if it was not in the Regenstein Library, then it was not worth looking at. Amy Levy must have been, sadly, a minor writer, not very good even if she had influenced ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 227-236


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pp. 237-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443071
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821419069

Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Levy, Amy, 1861-1889 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Levy, Amy, 1861-1889 -- Religion.
  • English literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Women -- England -- London -- Intellectual life.
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