Abstract

Abstract:

The 1858 kidnapping of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara by officials of the Papal States in Bologna unleashed a media frenzy across Europe and North America, giving voice to widespread expressions of outrage over the overreach of the Catholic church and the anachronism of Papal rule. Jews in the German-speaking world did not just follow the sensationalized reporting on the fate of this Italian Jewish boy baptized by his Catholic nurse. They also produced a body of melodramatic fiction and drama that took the Mortara case as its inspiration. This literature, written by rabbis and those with close ties to rabbinical leadership, responded to the Mortara affair by creating narratives with happy endings where Jewish children taken into custody by the church inevitably return to their parents and embrace Jewish tradition. Discussing literary texts by Salomon Formstecher, Leopold Stein, Abraham Treu, and Sara Hirsch Guggenheim, this article explores how German-Jewish writers self-consciously transformed the Mortara affair into melodramatic literature designed for the purposes of entertainment. Melodrama hardly marked a withdrawal from the arena of political protest, however. Studying how these texts functioned to entertain their readers, this article explores how this body of literature drew its energy from an interplay of fantasies of Jewish power and vicarious experiences of Jewish victimhood. In doing so, the analysis reflects on the social function of melodrama in nineteenth-century Jewish life, bringing to light the mechanisms that Mortara fiction used to produce pleasurable feelings of self-righteousness in its Jewish readers.

pdf

Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.