MARION AND CELIA MOSS: TRANSFORMATIONS OF “THE JEWESS”
Both to defend themselves and their religion against conversionist exposés, as well as to critique Anglo-Jewish men for defining them as the primary religious educators without providing them with the necessary knowledge, Anglo-Jewish women began to write. From the 1830s through the 1860s and 1870s Jewish women themselves called for increased female education, primarily on the grounds that, as mothers, they needed Jewish knowledge to pass on to their children.1 Grace Aguilar, the most famous and highly praised of these writers, popular with Christians and Jews throughout the world, argued strenuously for the vernacularization of the Bible precisely so that it would be accessible to Jewish women. Abigail Lindon was the first English Jew to produce a Hebrew/English, English/Hebrew dictionary to the same purpose. Anna Maria Goldsmid argued for publication of sermons in English so that women, as “mothers and instructors,” could become educated enough in their own homes to teach their children;2 she also started the West Metropolitan School for Girls. Marion Moss started her school and her Jewish Sabbath Journal, the first Jewish women’s periodical in modern history, and wrote sermons and tales and recommendations for synagogue reform, so as to make the tradition more accessible to women. As she says, “We would have seats provided in the synagogue for old and young, rich and poor, of both sexes. We would have all taught to understand the Scriptures, in the language of the inspired writers.”3 Miriam Mendes Belisario published her “Sabbath-Evenings at Home, or Familiar Conversations on the Jewish Religion, its Spirit and Observances,” ostensibly to help women teach their children in the domestic sphere.4 And Celia Levetus published her tale, “The Two Pictures,” in the American Jewish periodical the Occident, which its editor characterized as “a domestic story, illustrative of the pernicious effect that results from want of proper attention to the education of females.”5
Two of the Anglo-Jewish women who most passionately took up the cause of female education were Marion and Celia Moss. While their work is not representative of all early Anglo-Jewish women’s writing, the problems on which it focuses—female education, reform, emancipation—do reflect concerns that all Anglo-Jewish women writers felt and to which they all had different responses. Moreover, the Mosses’ writing resembles that of the other early and mid-Victorian Jewish women writers in that all of these writers felt they must stake out a position for or against the form of the most significant text about Jewish women to have emerged in the dominant context in the early Victorian period—the romantic father/daughter plot of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.6 Even when they approached these problems and this genre from different perspectives, their dialogue helped create a community of writers who knew each other’s work and responded to each other’s symbol systems. In this way, fiction like that of the Mosses was crucial to the formation of the Anglo-Jewish subculture.
The Mosses’ position was in favor of historical romance, with some revisions. In prefaces to their early historical romances, Marion and Celia Moss explicitly acknowledge a debt to Scott. Having had few Jewish literary role models, they assimilated the form from the dominant culture that most prominently featured Jewish women. But they do not merely assimilate the historical romance form—they alter it, so as to make it serve their Jewish—and Jewish women’s—ends. They use the romance of the Jewish home to engage in a dialogue with two groups simultaneously—with non-Jews, on the subject of “the removal of Jewish disabilities,” and with Jewish men, on the subject of the removal of Jewish women’s disabilities. In their fictions, they see the Jewish home as the microcosm for these struggles for Jewish emancipation in the Christian world and women’s emancipation in the Jewish world. By assimilating the romance form of English Christian novels after Ivanhoe, the Mosses legitimate their writings among non-Jewish readers, and promote toleration for Jews. However, in contrast to the Jewish daughters of conversionist fiction, their Jewish daughters are going to confront their fathers with their oppression face to face, and, without converting, break out of their traditionalist confines.
Two of twelve children born to Joseph and Amelia Moss of Portsea, Marion and Celia Moss grew up poor. Their great-grandfather was one of the founders of the Jewish community in Portsmouth, established in 1747; their grandmother, Sarah Davids, was the first Jewish child born there. They seemed to have been raised in a secularizing household, for their father Joseph read romantic poetry to them while they sewed, including Byron’s Childe Harold, Moore’s Lalla Rookh, and Scott’s Lady of the Lake. They were not like Miriam Schreiber of the conversionist novel The Jewish Maiden, to be wooed away by the first philo-Semite presenting them with Byron. The two of them often amused the family from early on by telling fairy tales. When Joseph found them writing these stories down, however, “he became alarmed, having all the prejudice of the day against the idea of girls leaving the beaten track, and he threatened to take away their books and burn them. In fear of this, they learnt by heart most of their favourite poems.”7 But Joseph fell into an illness that kept him bedridden and unable to earn enough to support the family for two years. So in 1839, at ages sixteen and eighteen, without their parents’ knowledge but with the encouragement of George Staunton, MP, Marion and Celia Moss published a collection of poems by subscription entitled Early Efforts, which sold well enough to enable them to help their family and to encourage them to keep writing. They moved to London and became teachers, and soon published their collections of historical romances, The Romance of Jewish History (1840), and after that succeeded well enough to deserve a second edition, Tales of Jewish History (1843). Celia married and moved to Birmingham, and Marion continued to publish poems in periodicals. In 1855, Marion, married since 1845 to the French Jew Alphonse Hartog, established the first Jewish women’s periodical in history, the Jewish Sabbath Journal, which was at first supported but later attacked by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. In the wake of the editor’s attack, eleven numbers having been produced, the Sabbath Journal foundered for lack of funds (see chap. 2 for details). Except for a poem here and there, Marion rarely published again in her lifetime. Instead, until her death in 1907, she concentrated on developing her school and raising her children, many of whom became famous.8 Meanwhile Celia published another volume of the historical romances she had written in the 1840s titled The King’s Physician and Other Tales (1865).9 Perhaps because she moved away from London, she died with less fanfare than her sister.
The Mosses dedicated their important first collection of tales, The Romance of Jewish History (1840), to Edward Bulwer Lytton. Bulwer Lytton had been an admirer since Early Efforts was published. Perhaps because their own father was ambivalent about their writing careers, they sought and found an alternative father figure in the novelist of “dark and stormy nights.” If so, this was a rather bizarre choice. In Leila, published two years before, Bulwer Lytton had made the wicked Jewish father Almamen stab his spiritual Jewish daughter Leila as she was about to be baptized a Christian, reviving the ritual murder accusation.10 Perhaps dedicating a romance of Jewish history to a conversionist could be seen as part of the Mosses’ strategy to promote Christian toleration. More likely, the Mosses’ need to be recognized as legitimate led them to find a literary “father” whose approval would guarantee them a reading. But, at the same time, their need to be recognized as legitimate in this non-Jewish sphere led them to place their hopes in a Christian whose sympathies were far from clear. The appeal to a conversionist “father” must have signalled to many Jewish men how far outside the accepted bounds of their subculture the writing of romances really was.
The Mosses were not the only Anglo-Jewish women writers to appeal to a patriarch to legitimate their writings. Maria Polack personifies her readership as a stern Jewish male tutor, and positions herself as a humble pupil to be chastised by this generalized Jewish father.11 Grace Aguilar seems to have enjoyed a close relationship to her consumptive father, who promoted her education,12 so that perhaps she felt less in need of justifying her intellectual endeavors by referring to his permission. In prefaces to her domestic tales, such as Home Influence, she addresses herself to Christian mothers rather than a Jewish father. Still, in her works on doctrinal Jewish subjects, she either submits them to the editorship of a rabbi (as in the case of Spirit of Judaism) or appeals to her Jewish male audience for a sympathetic reading (as in Jewish Faith). In her diaries, Judith Montefiore constantly invokes her husband’s importance and zeal to legitimate her activities and writings—she depicts herself as her husband’s moral support, smoothing the way for his achievements. A. M. Goldsmid, who in other respects is among the most independent of the group of writers, justifies her assertion that mothers need to take the main responsibility for their children’s education this way: “My father, who has acted, both in public and private, on the opinion that religious education can be best conducted at home, shares with me this hope.”13 Only Charlotte Montefiore, who published her polemic A Few Words to the Jews. By One of Themselves anonymously, never seemed to bolster her claims to be heard by referring to a father or father figure. Perhaps her anonymity and social position were sufficient enough protections. The Mosses’ tendency to invoke an idealized father in the preface seems ironic when compared with the tyrannical, neglectful, or condescending fathers that appear over and over in the fictions themselves. Under cover of fiction, the writers seemed to feel they could criticize Jewish patriarchy, while when they appeared as themselves, in essays, they seemed to feel such criticism inappropriate, unsafe, and contrary to the separation of spheres. For proof that such criticism could in fact be dangerous, one need look no further than Abraham Benisch’s angry editorial response to Marion Hartog’s criticism of him in the Jewish Sabbath Journal.
In their dedication to The Romance of Jewish History, the Mosses argue for historical romance as a Jewish women’s genre. They argue that Jews must respond to conversionists and anti-Semites, who have portrayed Jewish women badly. Jewish men are not likely to take on the task, however, since fiction is a genre for which Jewish men have not spoken: “Our men of genius have neglected the lighter branches of literature, directing their attention almost exclusively to theology, metaphysics, and philosophy.”14 Jewish men think fiction trivial, part of the women’s sphere, but this is not the only reason the men neglect the genre. The Mosses add that Jewish men also neglect the form out of a fear of anti-Semitism, for “even those who have desired to tread the more flowery paths of romance, have been prevented from appearing before the public, from a feeling that however much they might excel, the prejudice existing against us as a nation, might reflect an odium on their work, and consign it immediately to oblivion.” Interestingly, according to the Mosses’ assessment, Jewish men feel they have more to fear from publishing a romance novel than from publishing theological, philosophical, or metaphysical works—works that announce themselves as Jewish more directly than many romances might. Perhaps their fear is that non-Jews will perceive their religious works as typically Jewish forms, and therefore unthreatening, while they will perceive the romance as an attempt to appropriate a genre to which they have no claim, and to compete for undue public attention. If in one sense the “flowery paths of romance” appear trivial to the men, in another, they seem to be quite dangerous. For both of these reasons, the Mosses perceive that men are unlikely to respond to the conversionist novels in kind, and set themselves to the task.
The Mosses do not share the men’s fear of anti-Semitism. True, as they remark in their dedication, they believe they are “subjecting [themselves] to a severe ordeal by appearing in [their] present characters” as romance writers, and that “at the present moment the attention of the whole civilized world is directed to our nation” to be “our judges”—apparently, referring to the various Jewish emancipation movements going on throughout Europe.15 Still, they believe they “shall not be judged unfairly.” In their writing, they “follow the plan of the ‘Romance of History’ ” in order, “by blending fiction with historical fact, to direct the attention of the reader to a branch of history too long neglected.”16 If Jewish men fear that their attempts at romance will inspire outbreaks of anti-Semitism, these Jewish women feel that their romances will reduce anti-Semitism by creating understanding and sympathy among their non-Jewish readers. As they explain, “we must revert to the circumstances which have induced us to publish the present work; namely, the fact that the English people generally, although mixing with the Jews in their daily duties, are as unacquainted with their history, religion, and customs, as if they still dwelt in their own land, and were known to them but by name.” Whereas continental reformers often found causes for anti-Semitism within themselves and their own self-education, these Anglo-Jewish women share the tendency of Anglo-Jewish men to see anti-Semitism as a fault of the anti-Semites.
In sound Anglo-Jewish fashion, the Mosses attempt to persuade the anti-Semites to abandon their error. Their method of persuasion is not to show the Christian readership pictures of their Jewish contemporaries, however, at least not immediately; it is “to pourtray the Jews as they were while yet an independent people—to mark the most interesting events that took place after Judea became a kingdom—the decline of her splendour, and her final fall.” Eventually they plan “to trace the destinies of her children after they were scattered through every nation, and bring down the history to the present year.” In other words, they plan to acquaint the non-Jewish reader with the history, religion, and customs of the Jewish people, from the glories of Jonathan’s self-sacrifice and the Maccabbees’ national liberation struggle to the degradation of the martyrs of Worms.
But while they want to dwell on the particulars of Jewish historical experience, they “do not intend this production to be considered in the light of a history.” In fact, throughout the text, they mention the history books from which they are taking their descriptions, as if to show that the romantic coloring, rather than the accuracy of the historiography, is the innovation for which they are claiming their readers’ attention. Moreover, they explicitly suggest that readers should not take their work as either complete or historically accurate in all its details and plots, for “our wish is to call the attention of the reader to the records of our people—to awaken curiosity—not to satisfy it.” By entertaining non-Jewish readers, not with histories of Judaism, but with romance narratives set at crucial moments in Jewish history, they hope to inspire their public with “curiosity” about Jews. In the end, by romancing the Jewish past, they hope to inspire their public with sympathy for the Jewish cause in the present day. “Blending fiction with historical fact” is not so much appropriating a non-Jewish form, in their view, as it is assimilating that form to promote the liberal cause of toleration.
While promoting toleration for Jews is the Mosses’ goal with regard to their non-Jewish audience, promoting moral reform within the community is their explicit goal with regard to their Jewish audience. The Jewish men’s fear of anti-Semitism is misguided, in the Mosses’ opinion, for “the time is now arrived, or is rapidly approaching, when such narrow-mindedness, the growth of a barbarous and priest-ridden age, will disappear. Our yoke is lightened, and will be more so every day.” In the context of Victorian liberalization, the Mosses sought to encourage a shift in the Jewish male character away from a narrow-mindedness that was men’s inheritance from centuries of persecution. Much of the Mosses’ fiction is devoted to imagining a new type of Jewish man, one who is neither ritualistic nor tyrannical nor cringing, one who is neither “cramped” nor stooped with fear.17 The implication, although in the preface they do not state it, is that there is also a need for a shift in the Jewish female character, and indeed, nearly every one of their tales centers on the drama of a Jewish female coming into conflict with her father over her independence. Jewish women need to become more autonomous and more educated. The Mosses’ silence on this issue in the prefaces suggests that they felt it would not be seen as a legitimate justification for their foray into print.
Indeed, the Mosses justify their entrance into print using rhetoric that would place them well within the bounds of Victorian Jewish men’s domestic ideology. Their stories are attempts to educate Jewish children, the activity allotted them by Jewish men who were assimilating Victorian domestic ideology, as discussed in chapter 2. In the preface from her 1865 collection The King’s Physician, Celia Levetus recounts that in the 1840s she felt the particular need, not only to educate non-Jewish readers, but to educate Jewish youth who were ignorant of Jewish history: “It was considered by the writer that Jewish History, after the dispersion, was too little known or studied by the rising generation, and she wished, by selecting a few striking incidents and well-authenticated traditions, to awaken a desire to know more of records fuller of instances of fervent piety, courage, endurance, and constancy under suffering, than those of any other people.” Here it is not the non-Jews who need to be awakened to Jewish history, but young Jews who need to have their attention focused on the moral attributes (rather than the particular rituals) of their diaspora ancestors.18 This reformist vision of the Jewish woman writer as a teacher of ethics to youth would have fit in well with the Anglo-Jewish men’s idea of women’s moral mission.
In the tales themselves, the Mosses fulfill the aims they express within their prefaces in regard to their Christian audiences. At the same time, they leave some aims to be derived by the reader from the tales themselves, an explicit statement of which might open them to criticism from the authorities in both the Christian and Jewish communities. They do adopt the historical romance genre and the father/daughter plot of their non-Jewish models. Like the conversionist novels, the Mosses’ tales depict spiritual Jewish daughters who are in conflict with their tyrannical Jewish fathers, and who leave their father’s house for a romantic suitor. But if the Mosses’ and the conversionists’ tales have a similar form, they have a different meaning. From the setting to every major character and relationship to every major turn in the plot, the Mosses alter what they have assimilated and depict a complex Jewish community that eludes the stereotypes of most conversionists. If the non-Jewish novels of Jewish identity are part of a larger non-Jewish cultural shift in perspective toward Jews from coercion to persuasion, the Jewish novels of Jewish identity are responses from a marginalized subculture to the criticisms and temptations posed by both the mainstream culture and their own communities. By using the non-Jewish plot and form, these writers are able to legitimate their fictions within a non-Jewish context; but they alter the dominant form even as they assimilate it, tailoring it to defend Jewish women against the charge of conversionism, defend the Jewish reform movement from the charge of Protestantism, and argue for Christian toleration. The Mosses take conversionist plots like Bulwer Lytton’s and subject them to a series of transformations, a move they do not announce explicitly in their prefaces.
In addressing their Jewish audience, they likewise fulfill their expressed aim to be moral educators of the young, providing exciting stories of the Jewish dispersion. But just as the Mosses are able to transgress the boundaries of conversionist fiction in their tales, so also they use the veil of fiction to step outside of their communally prescribed role of moral historian and criticize the new domestic ideology being adopted by Jewish men. If in their prefaces, they felt they had to invoke a non-Jewish patriarch (George Staunton or Bulwer Lytton) to legitimate their writings, in the tales, they are able implicitly to depict Jewish patriarchs who are hardly appealing, transgress the demand that they “murmur not,” and argue for an expansion of women’s education and their political equality within the Jewish community. In addition, it quickly becomes clear from their tales that these women are not simply interested in a vague moral reform within the community; rather, they desire to encourage the new movement for religious reform that was slowly making its way from Germany to England. Under cover of romance, the Mosses engaged in a great deal of polemic to which it would have been unsafe to give voice when speaking directly to their public.
One example of many from the Mosses’ work is Marion Moss’s “The Twin Brothers of Nearda, A Tale of the Babylonian Jews” in Tales of Jewish History (1843). Moses Ben Yussuf is a Babylonian Jewish merchant and slave owner in the outlying village of Nearda. “A lineal descendant of the guilty but unfortunate Zedekiah, the king whose weakness and idolatry had plunged his people into ruin,” Ben Yussuf “preferred retaining [his] rich possessions and pursuing [his] mercantile pursuits in the land of [the Jews’] captivity” to returning to Judea with Ezra, the leader who brought the Babylonian Jews back from exile to Jerusalem.19 His materialism prevents his becoming a political Zionist, much to the Mosses’ disapproval. In their poems in Early Efforts, the Mosses constantly expressed a yearning for return to Zion that Ben Yussuf scorns. Ben Yussuf is instead constantly at the synagogue, praying and embroiled in its politics. This materialist’s outward observances, however, obscure a lack of true piety.
Ben Yussuf has a daughter, Paula, whom he treats with “oriental” opulence—her apartment is clearly drawn from a Beckford-inspired notion of the East, with its silk pillows, gilt embroidery, etc. The Mosses orientalize their Jewish female characters as much as non-Jews of the “La Belle Juive” tradition ever did.20 Ben Yussuf’s wife having died in childbirth, Paula’s father “worships” her. He believes she “had more knowledge, perhaps, of the realities of life, at fourteen, than most Eastern women acquire in a lifetime. Her mind, gifted by nature, and enriched by education, had arrived at maturity at an age when most are yet in the childhood of intellect” (1:224). Still, although he recognizes her intellectual superiority, he also does not allow her to leave her room. “Many wondered, that the child of the cold and heartless being, whose name was a byword of selfishness, could be so gentle and loving” (1:225)—and so self-controlled. Paula is constantly hiding her true feelings from her father, fearing his anger. The setup of the absent mother, the tyrannical materialistic father, and the more intelligent spiritual “Eastern” and self-sacrificing daughter is virtually the same as that in the novels of Jewish identity by Christians.
The tale begins with Asinai and Anilai, orphaned twin Jewish brothers, who have been brought up by their gentle uncle. Just before his death when they are twelve years old he is forced to sell them into Moses Ben Yussuf’s service as slaves. This is only one example of the father figure who in these tales is constantly abandoning or breaking faith with his children. If their uncle destroys their trust by his absence, the twins’ master, Moses Ben Yussuf, manages to destroy their trust with his all-too-menacing presence: he whips them, puts them in chains, underfeeds them. One night, after Asinai’s refusal to leave his brother to go on an errand, Ben Yussuf scourges both brothers, then tells his daughter what he has done. Appalled, for she is attracted to Anilai, Paula sneaks out of her luxurious imprisonment to see the slaves, finds them vowing to quit her father’s service, and faints. When she awakes, she finds herself in the slaves’ hut. She reveals her love for Anilai, who returns it; she gives the brothers money, and they escape. Ben Yussuf is enraged, and vows to recapture them, but the young men elude capture and become outlaws. Paula’s first act of disobedience to her father stems from her attraction to a marginalized man. Romance involves acting on her own desires, which are in conflict with her father’s. It means expressing her individual feelings rather than controlling them. It means not fitting into the traditional patriarchal power structure of the Jewish family.
Meanwhile Ben Yussuf becomes embroiled in synagogue problems and in trying to send money to Jerusalem for the rebuilding efforts there. If he is not a Zionist in the sense that he is ready to move there, he still lends monetary support, like the Jews of England in the Mosses’ day, or the Jews of the United States in the late twentieth century. Just as Scott’s Rebecca seems like a nineteenth-century Jewish woman in her ethical monotheism and her charitable acts, so Ben Yussuf is a modern diaspora Jewish figure displaced onto a fictionalized past era. A reformist caricature of a traditionalist Jew, Moses spends his public time working for Jewish concerns while in private he lords it over his daughter and his domestics. There is a split between his public and his private self, which becomes increasingly absolute as the tale proceeds. Even Paula begins to “distrust” him. Although, like the Victorian daughter of Jeptha, she attempts to obey and cheer her father, when alone she sings laments by the river asking how it is possible to “sing the songs of Zion in a strange land” and weeping over Babylonian Jews’ “servitude” (1:118).21 Whereas her father refused the chance to return to Jerusalem, she longs for it. It is difficult to tell whether the servitude she laments is that experienced at the hands of the Babylonians or at the hands of her father.
While at the river, she is surprised by a man, who argues that God did not ordain slavery.22 It is as if the man were speaking to her secret longings, and she readily agrees. The man reveals himself to be Asinai and professes love and offers her escape from her father. The romantic hero has appeared in response to Paula’s desire to rebel against her dutiful role. But this is the wrong romantic hero; the scene is clearly written so as to enable the reader to see that Paula is capable of making her own choice. She is not simply going to escape from her father; she is going to move toward a particular ideal. She refuses Asinai, for it is not he but his brother Anilai who represents that ideal. The trajectory of the tale is clear: Paula will have to make the choice to forgo her filial duty to her father in order to join her lover, Anilai, who has become an “outlaw,” compared by the narrator to Robin Hood or Rob Roy. Paula will increasingly “distrust” her father, who will increasingly deserve her distrust. She will cease to find mirth in his gifts and in her domestic duties (principally caring for the garden) and will flee to make her own individual choice. Recognizing Ben Yussuf’s materialism and hypocrisy, Paula will embrace idealism, in that “her hopes of happiness were set on things beyond the power of gold to purchase.” Moses will not make her choice easy, attempting to marry her off to Abishai, son of the Nasi (leader) of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, in order to secure his own prominence, showing “that debasing selfism that degrades man below the brute creation” (231). Moses will continue to be “a cold, callous, selfish man, calculating to the utmost, even the returns his affections … would bear” (244). Like Shylock or Schreiber, he will understand his feelings about his daughter in mercantile terms.
A young dutiful but spiritual woman struggles with her father’s materialism and eventually leaves him for another man. The mother is dead and there is no son. The plot is repeated over and over again in the Mosses’ fiction.23 It sounds virtually the same as that of The Jewish Maiden, and not accidentally. Jewish women had almost no Jewish models of fiction writing to draw from.24 Despite Marion Moss’s contention in “Malah, the Prophet’s Daughter,” that the Jews’ “imaginative and inflammable natures gave a colouring of romance to the most common events of every day life,” the romance form she is adopting had no Jewish antecedents.25 The Mosses modeled their tales on those of Walter Scott, Latch Ritchie (The Romance of French History), and Henry Neal (The Romance of English History).26 This assimilation of genre and plot itself is an emblem for Victorian Jews’ attempts to anglicize and become assimilated into dominant Victorian society. The attempt was supported, not only by such liberal Christian Englishmen as Bulwer Lytton and Lord Palmerston, but by a subscription that included Moses Montefiore and many of the most influential Jews in the community. Because they seemed to promise successful acculturation without conversion, these novels were ardently desired by the Jewish elite as entry tickets into dominant Victorian cultural life.
But if this plot is virtually the same as The Jewish Maiden, it is not exactly the same. There are four principal differences—the setting, the father, the daughter, and the suitor. First, the setting. The romances of history that served as the Mosses’ models were set in England or France, while the Mosses’ tales could be set anywhere or at anytime that Jews lived. Except for Benjamin Disraeli’s Alroy, written in 1831, in English literary history there had never been a tale about Jews set in “Jewish space”—a space in which Jewish communal life influences the action. By contrast, Shylock is singularly uninfluenced by any Jewish community, as are Isaac and Rebecca. Shylock says, “I represent the law,” but there is never any evidence of a halachic community operating in the play. Already in the setting, then, one begins to sense that in the Mosses’ efforts to assimilate there is also an effort to represent Jews as having a distinct collective identity regulated through distinct institutions and distinct communal decision-making procedures. There is an effort to set Jews in the context of historically appropriate locations and milieus. This change of setting suggests an important general point. The Mosses’ fictions do not merely mimic their models, they enter into a dialogue with them. If the historical romance is the emblem of Jewish attempts to assimilate, it is also instrumental in the Victorian Jews’ attempt to alter dominant perceptions of them, and to define themselves to themselves. It is a polemical practice and an exercise in self-definition as well as an experiment in literary adaptation.27
Of all the principal characters in the father/daughter plot, it appears that the Mosses typically alter the character of the father least of all. Like Shylock, Isaac, and Solomon Schreiber of Jewish Maiden, Moses Ben Yussuf seems to have trouble telling the difference between his ducats and his daughter. Yet for the Mosses the conflict between father and daughter finally centers less on his materialism than on the issue of his authority and her obedience. When Paula refuses to go to Jerusalem to marry Abishai, Moses threatens to “enforce obedience,” and if she does not behave well to her betrothed, Moses says, “I will have thee scourged, even as I would the meanest slave who disobeyed my will” (1:242). The Jewish patriarch is revealed as a thinly veiled slave master. When he forces Paula to play the harp for Abishai, she says, “Give me air, for I am suffocating” (1:250), the classic nineteenth-century symptom of a woman suffering from patriarchal oppression. In tale after tale by the Mosses, the daughter finds herself painfully rejecting the basis on which her father legitimates his demands—traditional patriarchal Judaism’s gender roles. In tale after tale, the daughter finds herself distrusting her father and losing confidence in him. In Celia Moss’s “The Slave,” for instance, Isaac, the father of Judah and Rachel, strikes his son unconscious and imprisons him in a “worse than Egyptian bondage” for Judah’s disobedience and breaks “the confidence that had subsisted between” himself and Rachel, who will no longer obey him.28 In “The Pharisee, or, Judea Capta,” Eve’s father Eli tries to force her to marry Elias against her will. She says she has learned “to fear, but not to love” her stern father, for “man may struggle, may brave wrath, may break the chains that bind him, but woman must obey and endure, though her heart break under the trial.” Although she pays lip service to the need for this obedience, she says “there is an earnest desire in my soul to feel and know that a father’s affection is to me more than a name.”29 Secretly she plights her troth to Julius, her reformist cousin, breaking her bond of obedience to her father.
Over and over in these tales one finds a father, who, if he does not break his daughter’s confidence through his strict demands that she obey the letter of his law, breaks faith with her either through neglect, or through his powerlessness to help her in time of need. Thus Jacob, Judith’s old father in “The Storming of the Rock,” is powerless to save her from the Philistines, although she prays to him for aid, “Father, father! … let not these rude men touch me. I cannot bear their looks.”30 Thus while Malah the prophet’s daughter is being sexually assaulted by Sadoc the courtier, her father is absent. Later, when Malah is abducted, her father is in prison for having prophesied against the king. He is not a tyrant, but due to his important job in the world he is absent from home when his daughter needs him most. His daughter cannot depend upon him. In the same vein, virtually every tale in Celia Levetus’s collection The King’s Physician is about a daughter who has been left behind by her father’s death and who is now in search of a new father—one whom she can choose, because he is not bound to her by an accident of birth.31 If the conditions of proper daughterhood are being negotiated here, so are the conditions of proper fatherhood; Levetus’s heroines seek a fatherhood that will be more than a name. If M. G. Lewis provides only one option for a Jewish father—that he be a materialist tyrant—these tales offer a more complex critique. The Jewish father can be a traditionalist tyrant, a weak man cringing in the face of anti-Semitism and powerless to defend his daughter against Philistines, or an absent man abandoning her for his work.
But for all the complexity this multiplicity of paternal errors introduces into the tales, the most significant of these father types is still the traditionalist tyrant, precisely because in that type one can trace a direct assimilation of the Christian writers’ Jewish father—and one can detect the Mosses’ alteration of it to fit a context relevant to Victorian Jews. Compare the conflict between Moses and Paula over her obedience and his enforcing presence to the conflict found in Ivanhoe, for example. In that plot, there is never any question of the daughter’s obedience, although Rebecca does approach many matters differently from her father. She will undo his avaricious deals in secret, but she will not disobey him to his face. In The Jewish Maiden, Miriam Schreiber hates her father, but will not disobey him until after his death. The spiritual daughter’s inability to rebel against her materialistic father makes sense because the conversionists need the father figure to remain intact: they need his evil to be invincible, so as to justify as an act of salvation the hegemonic persuasion focused on his daughter. But in the Jews’ own texts the father can be rebelled against, because he is not being invoked as the demon in a hegemonic discourse.
In the non-Jewish texts the father’s traditionalism is a part of his materialism; his love for material things—principally, gold—results in a love for external ritual forms, “dead letters” with no connection to the needs of the inner spirit. In the Jews’ texts, by contrast, the father’s materialism is a part of his traditionalism, a result of his devotion to external ritual forms rather than spontaneous expressions of love for God. The difference between the conversionist father/daughter conflict and the Mosses’ version rests on which term, traditionalism or materialism, is deemed the cause and which is deemed the effect. It is a subtle difference, but crucial nonetheless. For if in the conversionists’ texts the father represents materialism and the daughter spirituality, in the Jews’ own texts the daughter represents the voice of individual conscience while the father represents the voice of the law; she is the voice of liberty while he is the voice that demands obedience to the letter of tradition and will enforce it if necessary. That is, the father represents traditionalism, and the daughter represents reform.32 The Mosses have translated the father/daughter plot into terms that make sense within the Jewish communal context, in which reformers and traditionalists argued with one another on the question of how much freedom to permit the conscience of the individual.
In the Mosses’ reformist endeavor, this means that the daughter will be honored over the father. For since Marion Moss is controlling the plot, Paula’s experience of suffocation at her father’s hands will not last forever; the romance form ultimately means that individual choice will be honored over duty to traditional affiliations.33 Just at the moment when Paula’s father threatens her with enslavement, romance intervenes in the form of the suitor: she is rescued by Anilai and whisked away to the brothers’ hideout. Later Paula sends her father into a rage by saying, “Ask me to make any sacrifice which conscience does not disapprove, and thou shalt find me ever a willing and obedient child” (2:24). The terms of Jewish romantic obedience to the law rest in the individual “conscience.” When fathers are good (generally only in stories directed to a Jewish-only audience), it is because they respect the daughter’s conscience, and grant her the right to make her own choices, as in Marion Hartog’s “Milcah: A Tale of the Spanish Jews in the Fifteenth Century.” When Milcah’s betrothed, Jacob Ben Asaph, caves in to Inquisition pressure and apostasizes, Milcah has to decide whether or not to honor the engagement. Enoch, the good father, “had not said to his child, ’Thou shalt not wed with the lover of thy youth.’… for they who are compelled to fulfil one duty, while their heart yearneth after one that is away, make but poor worshippers.… Therefore ‘Thou shalt make thine own choice.’ ”34 The father speaks in the form of the law (“Thou shalt”), but his commandment is that the daughter should take the law into her own hands. The romance form itself is aligned with the good father’s recognition of the daughter’s individuality—that is, with the victory of reform over tradition. The father’s reformist commandment produces a better form of worship. The Mosses have altered the plot they have assimilated so as to reflect the tensions that exist between various factions of the Anglo-Jewish community in its movement into the modern world.
The Mosses’ other two major alterations in the family romance, besides the setting and the father, concern the shape of change they hope to see in the newly emancipated Jewish community. The first concerns their transformation of the Jewish female heroine. To be sure, the typical Moss heroine is just as self-sacrificing and controlled as most Victorian heroines. Some things must remain the same, it appears, if the Mosses’ assimilation of the dominant plot is to remain recognizable. Like the Victorian version of Jeptha’s daughter, cheering her self-recriminating father after he has foolishly forced her into permanent exile, many Moss heroines would literally rather die than express their anger or sense of abandonment.35 In “Gertrude; or, Clouds and Sunshine,” the title character has grown up in luxury, but must learn to adjust when she loses her father and the family’s wealth to a shipwreck on the way to America. Although devastated, she is able to ask, “while I have [my mother] to love me, what more can I desire?”36 Still, when she and her mother move in with her grandparents—a traditionalist and devout grandfather and a grandmother gone quietly senile—her equanimity is challenged. Her mother, who is “Patient, enduring, and self-denying” (63), “save when employed completing my education, toiled incessantly at a kind of embroidery in which she excelled, to support herself and me” (62–63). When her mother finally dies of overexertion, cheering Gertrude to the last, Gertrude must face her own ordeal, supporting her grandparents with her work, and waiting for Earnest, her fiancee, to find a way to support her, although he has lost his career to an accident with a scalpel. At one point, when he must leave her to find work in England, she thinks, “It was well for me at that moment that I had been so long schooled in suffering and self-denial, that after a moment’s silence I could say, ‘Do what you think best, dearest Earnest, and I will be contented’ ” (73). The extremity of this and other portraits of the self-denying woman in the Mosses’ work recalls Nina Auerbach’s ironic assertion that women writers often punish their female characters for desire more severely than male writers do: “women novelists have tended to cast a lugubrious and punitive glower over the lives of their heroines.… women writers tend to deny the flexibility, scope, and joy that are a vital dimension of all human life.” The Victorian women writers’ paradigm of women in particular, Auerbach remarks, “was endowed with an often monstrously outsize nobility that led to her extinction.”37
Still, if the Jewish female heroine fits this dutiful self-sacrificing description perfectly, she does not at all resemble her Jewish female counterpart in the conversionist novels in terms of education. Chapter 1 argued that a fundamental feature of conversionist fiction is the representation of the Jewish woman as undereducated, especially in “secular” culture. Thus Miriam Schreiber is first introduced to Byron by the Christian man who will become her husband. It was not that Jewish women disagreed that female education was lacking in the Jewish community. On the contrary, it should already be clear, they were the primary promoters of increased female education in the community. But the acts and texts with which they advocated for this cause are all directed exclusively at Jewish audiences; and in this context the women feel they can afford to air the community’s dirty laundry.38 In those fictions directed at two audiences simultaneously, the women feel the need to keep up a polemical front. Moses Ben Yussuf tells Paula that he has “lavished on thee health, time, and money … to educate thee, a female child, as if thou hadst been a son who could transmit my name from generation to generation” (1:241). Over and over again, the Mosses give us female characters who have been trained as well as sons. Malah, the prophet’s daughter, is herself a prophet. Tales of women who are storytellers, message givers, or well-trained martyrs resisting conversion abound, clearly in opposition to the conversionist polemics describing female undereducation and the vulnerability it creates.39
In addition, the Mosses imagine female characters who consistently take power into their own hands at crucial moments. In Celia Moss’s “The Slave,” Jehoida, a supporter of Saul, falls out of favor upon Saul’s death and David’s ascension to the throne. Jehoida is imprisoned and his impoverished wife is forced to sell their daughter Abia into slavery for seven years to Absalom’s daughter Tamar.40 A lutist, singer, and poet, Abia lightens Tamar’s anguish over having been raped by her brother Amnon. Later, she cross-dresses as a male minstrel in order to deliver a message from Tamar to King David warning him of Absalom’s plot against his life. Still later, she repeats her adventure, with David’s permission, for “when a woman’s heart is resolved, but few men can resist their passionate pleading.”41 Like many Moss heroines, Abia spends the greater portion of her life outdoors rather than inside the domestic sphere. In other words, Abia takes a traditionally “male” role in the stories, which according to the domestic ideology examined in the preceding chapter, would make her liable for the censoring hand of the father. But oftentimes these heroines escape the expected punishment. In another tale, Berenice who loves Judas the Maccabee, dares to speak first to him of love just before he goes off to battle. “I trust he will not love me less, because for his sake I cast aside all forms and ceremonies, and dare to offer that, which in other circumstances should be humbly sued for.” Her suit of love sounds very much like a reformer casting aside forms and ceremonies, as if the projects of religious reform and reform of gender codes were aligned. And Judas does not despise her love, but rather questions the timing of it, saying in the present crisis he must “tear each gentler feeling from my heart, and live or die but for my country.” Berenice, however, recognizing that this attempt to separate the personal from the political will exclude her from involvement in either realm, argues back: “And am not I a Jewish maiden? Am not I an Asmonean? And thinkest thou my woman’s heart could not bear—aye, firmly bear—as much as thine? Try me—I will not shrink, I will not falter; but cast aside the weakness of my sex.” By placing “Jewish maiden” in parallel with “Asmonean” (the name for the governing Jewish dynastic line of the Maccabees), Berenice suggests that she ought to be allowed to participate as much in the political life of the community as in the domestic sphere, casting aside the “weakness of her sex” as she had cast aside all forms and ceremonies. Public and private collapses here into a singular assertion of heroic female identity. Judas responds by looking on her with “love and admiration,” and they are married, with Mattathias’s permission, at midnight before the battle.42 The depiction of intelligent, courageous, powerful women in the Mosses’ fiction simultaneously refutes the conversionist charges that Jewish women are malleable and undereducated, and argues for a more expansive role for Jewish women within the community. It simultaneously argues for emancipation from external philo-Semitic conversionism, and from internal patriarchal condescension.
If in their portrait of the father the Mosses represent their understanding of tradition, and in the portrait of the daughter they represent the new female-centered reform, in the portrait of the suitor, they represent their vision of the new Jewish man. In “The Twin Brothers,” the man Paula will leave her father for is not a Christian or a Babylonian, but a Jew. This already represents a major break with the romances the Mosses inherited as sources. For in seeking to criticize Jewish patriarchy the Mosses are not seeking to vitiate the Jewish community altogether.43 If some Jewish men (principally, fathers) are constantly breaking faith with Jewish women (principally, their daughters), not all Jewish men are doing so. As the concept of romance replaces the concept of arranged marriages, the hopes of Jewish women are transferred from their father to their suitor. And not just any suitor, either, but one who can represent an ideal alternative to the father who disappointed them. Marion Moss’s ideal suitor in “The Twin Brothers,” Anilai, is a former slave, a marginalized Jew whose band is comprised of all of “the discontented of the towns and villages in the vicinity” (1:131). Starting out as an “outlaw”—as one outside of the traditional law—gives Anilai the advantage of not having been introduced into the traditionalist hypocrisy of religion and money into which Paula’s father has become immersed.
Anilai and Asinai are self-made men, who have “raised them[selves] from the degradation and miseries of slavery, to a position which rendered them feared and admired” (2:45)—they are individualists out of necessity. And indeed, Anilai becomes a gentleman in the end, and he and Paula are wed. Moreover, besides raising himself to be a middle-class gentleman, Anilai is a religious reformer, for “he prayed as he had prayed when a child—not in prescribed sentences. That was no prayer of form. The words of homage come warm from the heart” (2:5). Drawing on inspiration from the prophets, as reformers did, Anilai believes that spontaneous devotion from individuals is more genuine than prayers said by rote in communally prescribed and received traditional forms. Finally, like a good middle-class Victorian reformer, Anilai is conscious of the dilemmas of fitting into the diaspora Babylonian society, for through his merits, he is offered the governorship of an entire section of the country. When the prince making this offer proposes to give him Parthian wives in order to cement their friendship, he replies: “the God of my people is a jealous God; he brooketh not that … the young men of Israel wed with the daughters of the stranger. … But His law teacheth his children … to reverence their governors and rulers; and by His Holy Name I swear … to administer the laws impartially, and to be in all respects a true and loyal subject” (2:89–90). Anyone who knows the history of the Victorian Jews’ attempts to have the words “on the true faith of a Christian” removed from the oath of abjuration so that they could enter Parliament will immediately recognize the fantasy operating here.44 Anilai, a middle-class, reformist Jew, manages to convince the governors of his country to admit him to a high level office without an oath of abjuration. A middle-class reformer and emancipationist—he is the Mosses’ ideal of the early Victorian Jewish man. Marion Moss agrees with the conversionists that some alternative to the oppressive Jewish father must be found. But where the conversionists offer a charismatic Christian figure such as Glanville, Moss finds her alternative figure within a more broadly construed Jewish community, providing a portrait of variety within the community that eludes most non-Jewish writers. Marion Moss has assimilated the father/daughter plot of Shakespeare, Scott, and Lewis, but has rewritten it so as to take place within a complex Jewish context. She has altered the inherited plot so as to include the introduction of the sons.
This typical plot of the Mosses’ historical romances of the 1830s and 1840s may appear from a late-twentieth-century feminist perspective to have several limitations. In setting the materialistic and traditionalist father against the spiritual and reformist daughter, the Moss sisters have provided a critique of Jewish women’s position in the Jewish home, but do not appear to have provided a model for a truly independent woman who could make her own choices. Paula must depend on Anilai to save her and protect her, a damsel in distress being rescued by her knight. She leaves her father’s house only to enter the house of another man. Indeed, women who attempt to step beyond this paradigm, unless, like Berenice, in a righteous crisis, are often condemned as “demons.” In Celia Moss’s “The Slave,” for example, Absalom’s Syrian bride Yemima tries to enter into affairs of state, and inspires this comment from the narrator: “Most beautiful is the nature of woman when her soft hand smooths the couch of sickness, or her gentle voice speaks comfort to the wretched. In all the relations of society she can soften man’s rugged heart, and wake him to good and kindly feelings; but when she forgets her proper sphere, and mingles with the ambitious, the blood-thirsty, the selfish and cold-hearted, the fallen angel becomes a demon. Thus it was with the wife of Absalom.”45 Such a programmatic statement of dominant Victorian gender spheres is somewhat belied by all of the female heroines who enter affairs of state and receive admiration for doing so. Still, the necessity of mouthing these cultural codes in order to assimilate limits the feminist possibilities of these writers. It is difficult to create a politicized women’s community when one is focusing on maintaining the domestic sphere.
These protofeminists were certainly aware of such limitations, however. Marion Moss sends a cautionary note to Anglo-Jewish women when in a coda to “Twin Brothers” she has Anilai, perfectly content fifteen years into his marriage, begin lusting after a Parthian woman, who brings about his downfall. Both Marion and Celia Moss were all too aware of the limitations of their vision for Jewish women’s independence, since that independence was dependent on a man, who himself was subject to the desire to assimilate. On the other hand, within these limitations, the Mosses go far to mitigate the loss of their female characters’ independence. The two men’s houses are not identical. The women leave a traditionalist tyrant’s house for a gentle reformer’s. Inasmuch as they could not yet imagine, in the 1840s, the scenario of the New Woman that would develop in the 1860s and 1870s, the Mosses still tried to reduce the damage to women’s independence implicit in this transfer of houses.
Principally, they lessened the damage through the limitations they placed on the suitor. For the suitor had to have more qualifications than being a middle-class reformer to marry one of their heroines. The Mosses tended to ensure that he had some experience of disempowerment that would allow him to sympathize with the “slavery” of Jewish women. Having himself escaped from slavery, Anilai does not subject his wife to slavery—that is, until he forgets his origins and tries to become a Parthian. Often suitors in the tales have physical disabilities. Ernest, a medical man, the suitor of Gertrude, cuts himself with a scalpel on their wedding day, and must have his arm amputated. His career is ruined, as is their wedding, and it is only when Gertrude wins a lottery that they are able to marry, she having control of both the money and the arrangement of their affairs.46 Asher, the suitor in “The Priest’s Adopted,” is a pale thin hunchback, “weak and deformed,” who is spurned or shrunken from or joked at and so “retir[es] altogether from notice, ch[ooses] the remotest corner, the least noticed spots.”47 It is this feminized man with his beautiful singing voice who speaks truth to power and criticizes Nebuchadnezzar’s imperialism to his face at a festival, reminding the king of “the misery of the vanquished, the groans of the captives, … the ruins of nations …, the curses heaped upon the lawless and grasping ambition, [and] the justice of an avenging God” (39), causing the king to slip into “a state of madness” (41) and become “helpless and speechless” (41). And it is this feminized man, although deformed, who wins Ada’s affection, after her first husband, the corrupt Ezra, practices polygamy, beats his wives, and sells Ada into slavery. The hunchback emancipationist turns out to be the proper suitor.
Perhaps the most fascinating and thoroughgoing portrait of a disabled reformist suitor appears in Celia Moss’s “The Pharisee, or, Judea Capta.” Eli, a strict Pharisee who believes “there was … no such thing as love” (2:227), and who “look[s] on a woman as a piece of furniture” (2:207), has his marriage to Dora arranged by his father. The romantic Mosses give a scathing critique of arranged marriage in Eli’s treatment of Dora, for he gives her money, jewels, and slaves, but not love, and “love was as necessary to the heart of Dora, as sunshine to the flower. She drooped beneath coldness and neglect” (2:207). However, Dora, “like most Eastern women,” “murmured not” (2:207),48 for she realizes that Eli is too busy with worrying over the Jews’ oppression at the hands of the Romans and their drift from the halacha into decadence in imitation of their Hellenistic neighbors to pay too much attention to her trivial sentimental desires. The Mosses criticize the split between public and private, inner and outer, for as the plot bears out, Eli’s unromantic view of marriage and his traditionalist attempt to wrap himself in “the outward observances of religion” (2:208) leads to his own downfall.
Dora has the ill luck to bear Eli a daughter first, and he refuses to look at the infant, named Eve. When next she has a son, he rejoices, but only to find that his son, Benoni, “was cursed … for the cruelty [Dora’s] husband had shown the firstborn” (2:208). For Eli’s cruelty to Eve, that is, Benoni is cursed with muteness. The father’s oppressive and traditionalist sexism leads to a feminizing of the son, the taking away of his use of language, the male Jew’s source of power. This discovery turns Eli’s heart away from Dora completely, and he sends her back to her mother, or as in the language of the Mishnah, he “puts her away.” She is absent from the narrative for fourteen years. He turns away from Benoni as well, whom he believes to be unfit to receive and transmit the law. Eli is furious at Benoni because he “has never called me father” (3:52), and he adopts a foster son, Elias, who later turns out to be a Roman spy, and who proves to be the family’s undoing.
While Eli is tutoring Elias in the law, Benoni is sent to study and live in the women’s quarters, raised and taught with his sister Eve by an intellectual slave woman, Kesiah, whose granddaughter Hindlah also lives with them. Retrospectively, Benoni explains his own feminization less as a result of his father’s treatment than as his own choice: “I sought not companions of mine own sex, lest in their rude mirth they should mock my misfortune” (3:159). While Eli observes strictly the separation of himself from women, refusing even to look at his daughter, his son grows up living among women. And while Eli is a traditionalist, Benoni, without the benefit of his father’s strict religious education, turns out to be a reformer, for when he and Eve bury their dead mother-substitute Kesiah, they perform a reformist ritual: “although the rites of their faith were not all performed, never were prayers more pure and fervent breathed over dust” (3:62). In the romance novel, sincerity counts for more than ritual exactitude. It is the disabled Benoni who will become the suitor of the Jewish woman in this tale. It is the man who suffers the curse of his father’s traditionalist sexism who becomes a reformist hero.
Given the dynamics of the father/daughter/suitor plot, Benoni the suitor ought to be marrying Eve, the oppressed daughter. Since this marriage would constitute incest, however, Celia Moss provides an alternative for both children. Eve ends up with Julius, a Hellenized Jew who reads Sophocles to her, who promises to be “father, mother, brother” (2:237) to her, and who is hated by Eli for educating his daughter in Greek. As Eli castigates him, “Thou hast forsaken by degrees the faith of Jehovah. Thy very name was borrowed from the Romans. Thy birth was in the land of the oppressor” (2:240). Julius, however, disputes that an acculturated and reformist Jew is necessarily a traitor, for in defense of his own father’s reformist ways he tells Eli: “if he has not thy austerity in the practice of form and ceremony, he performs more essentially the duties of a Hebrew by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. The sons of Israel, in the remotest lands, have cause to bless his bounty” (2:240). Like a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, that Victorian Jewish association par excellence, dispensing aid to foreign Jews, arguing on behalf of English Jews to Parliament, and helping to organize local charities, Julius’s father is an acculturated Jew whose Jewishness consists in his ethical actions rather than in his ritual acts.49 Still, although he appears a viable alternative to Eli’s strict Pharisaism, Julius is not yet ready to be married to Eve as far as Celia Moss is concerned. Before he can fulfill all of the conditions for being a suitor, Julius must be wounded in the doomed war against Titus and Vespasian, and must choose death rather than becoming Titus’s slave. Only after this ordeal, and his escape due to a Roman man’s friendship—only after he is wounded and enslaved—is Julius deemed fit to become Eve’s husband. He must suffer physical pain and emotional longing; he must know what it means to be oppressed.
Benoni also must undergo an ordeal before he can marry Kesiah’s granddaughter, Hindlah. Hindlah is Eve’s other half, for she says Eve is her “more than sister” (2:245). She is beautiful whereas Eve is intellectual. The two of them together constitute an ideal of a Jewish woman, as the traitor Elias perhaps understands when he plans to marry one and have an affair with the other. Benoni, then, has fallen in love with his sister’s other half. But his disability ensures that he is constantly unable to express his feelings to Hindlah. “Often, oh! how often he longed for language to tell her how dear she was to him” (3:66). Again, Benoni’s “heart swelled almost to bursting, but he was powerless even to utter the rage he felt” (3:96). His disempowerment from the use of the male Jew’s proudest gift, the use of language, frustrates him, but humbles him, too. Finally, in a burst of love and rage, Benoni “burst the string that had bound his tongue for so many years and swears his love to Hindlah” (103), but his power to speak comes only after it is too late, for she has already bound herself to Elias in order to save Benoni and Eve from death. Once during the narrative, when Elias is about to kill Eve, the gentle and peaceful Benoni claims a violent masculinity—he takes a bow and arrow and shoots Elias’s eye out, saving his sister from ruin. In romance fashion, the feminized man is able to invoke violent masculine power in order to protect the woman he loves. But this violent expression is not characteristic of him, and it is only after years of suffering as a Roman slave, after he is altered, withered, aged, and saddened, that Benoni is finally made happy when Elias dies: he and Hindlah are married and have a child, a son to carry on the alternative patriarchal tradition. He is able, after years of suffering, to make with Hindlah a “beautiful scene of domestic happiness” (3:186). In the meantime, his father, too, has undergone a complete transformation. Eli comes to see Elias’s treachery, repents of his cold Pharisaism, blesses his children, asks forgiveness of Julius, and, with many apologies, is reunited with Dora.
This pattern of the suitor’s suffering suggests that while these writers see an alternative Jewish male authority as the only escape from their female characters’ conflicts with their fathers, they construct these alternative authorities in such a way as to place a greater measure of power in the hands of the female protagonists. These alternative men intervene at crises in the father/daughter relationship to help the women disobey their fathers and follow their own consciences. They are “enablers.” And they are reformers as well. In the Mosses’ hands, the romance genre is deeply allied with religious reform, the literary and the religious practice each valuing the individual’s experience over prescribed forms. Yet, although the Mosses feel they must invoke another male hero as the means of enabling the heroine to make her own choice, they reveal a deep resentment of this restriction on their Jewish heroines’ freedom, which they play out on the bodies of their alternative male characters. If the fathers, whose traditionalism is unbearable, have to be killed off or completely transformed, the alternative men, the supporters of religious and national reformation, need to undergo a gender reformation that can only take place through their marginalization, suffering, and physical deformation—through a gradual recognition of their own feminization vis-à-vis traditional Judaism’s standards and the dominant culture’s coercive power. The reformers who become suitors in these tales present a masculinity that is qualitatively different from the aggressive and charismatic masculinity characteristic of either the fathers or the Christian suitors in conversionist or Jewish men’s novels of Jewish identity.
From these transformations it ought to be clear that these Anglo-Jewish women writers do not simply assimilate the historical romance form they inherit from the non-Jewish novelists of Jewish identity. They use the form to engage in a dialogue simultaneously with two audiences, the dominant Christian and the Jewish. In engaging with the dominant readership, they attempt to use the form to elicit sympathy for the removal of Jewish disabilities, and to respond to conversionist charges that Jewish women were oppressed, undereducated, and malleable. In engaging with the Jewish community, they use the form to claim power for themselves by extending the power of individual choice to women, by arguing for women’s ability to write and to be educated, and by creating an alternate reality in which women will have the ability to control whether and whom they will marry and on what terms.50 By confronting both the external and the internal world, these romances are attempting to theorize the Victorian Jewish community’s dual movement into the modern world.
As the work of theorists, the Mosses’ romances bear comparison to the work of many other Anglo-Jewish women writers flourishing during the period, work that taken together defined a generation of Anglo-Jewish responses to emancipation and reform—work that has now been all but forgotten. It was a woman, Grace Aguilar, who was the first Jew to produce a widely read anonymous secular history of the Jews of England, a history that, although well received at the time, has not been reprinted in this century.51 It was she who in The Spirit of Judaism was the first to call for a translation of the Bible into the English vernacular, on the model of Moses Mendelssohn’s translation of the Bible into German, a suggestion that was subsequently taken up by Abraham Benisch in England and Isaac Leeser in America without acknowledging her.52 Charlotte Montefiore’s A Few Words is a remarkable series of essays on religious reform, Jewish materialism, the split in the community between rich and poor, the laborer’s Sabbath, the passover, the feast of weeks, and the Jewish woman, along with an allegory about acquiring moral tenets. Her Caleb Asher is a scathing critique of conversionists’ methods. Her Cheap Jewish Library, which she funded and edited anonymously, provided didactic Jewish tales for working-class Jewish families. In her own time her works were reprinted and hotly debated. Two of her works have been lost. Anna Maria Goldsmid’s preface to her translation of Götthold Salomon’s sermons could be called the first act of the English reform movement. But David Woolf Marks, the first rabbi of the reform synagogue in Burton Street, borrowed the terms of Goldsmid’s preface to justify his reforms without acknowledging her.53 It was she who called most critically for the English Jews to send aid to persecuted Jews in Rumania. Judith Montefiore was the role model of many Jewish women, keeping diaries of her travels in aid of Jews in the Levant, and writing the first modern Jewish cookbook in English.54 Yet she is frequently remembered only as Moses’ wife. It was women who set up the most successful literary libraries, The Cheap Jewish Library and the “Little Miriam” series, and started the literary periodical The Jewish Sabbath Journal, when Haim Guedalla’s earlier attempt, Sabbath Leaves, lasted just five issues. These women provided many of the most important texts and institutions for reflecting on Anglo-Jewish experience in the early and mid-Victorian periods.
They had a measurable effect on each other and on their community, especially on Victorian Jewish women’s self-perception. Grace Aguilar and Charlotte Montefiore corresponded and Aguilar published in Montefiore’s Cheap Jewish Library.55 Marion Hartog wrote poems in honor of Judith Montefiore and Grace Aguilar, and she corresponded with many young female writers in the provinces and in London.56 True, as Linda Gordon Kuzmack argues, a Jewish women’s movement as such did not really begin in England and America until after 1880. But there were still many separate writings by individual Jewish women in the period between the start of the agitation for the removal of disabilities in England in 1830 and the mass immigrations of the 1880s, and there were many separate acts that, taken together, represent a new movement of Jewish women into the arenas of literature and politics.57 If there was as yet no coordinated Jewish women’s movement, there were individual Jewish women who were active, not only through their writings, but also through the pressure they brought to bear on powerful men, and through the educational and charitable societies they founded.58 If they did not produce a unified movement with self-sustaining political institutions, their actions nevertheless influenced their female contemporaries. Marion Hartog’s Jewish Sabbath Journal certainly influenced the group of “Jewish ladies of Liverpool” who “form[ed] an association for the promotion of cheap Jewish literature, having in the first instance immediate reference to the Sabbath Journal.”59 Aguilar’s mother Sara collected many tributes upon her daughter’s early death, some of them showing that her influence spread across the Atlantic. A Mrs. R. Hyneman wrote:
Thou wert a stranger unto us; thy name
Alone was wafted o’er the Atlantic wave,
But true hearts mourn’d thy loss when tidings came
That thou wert in the cold and silent grave,
Aye, true hearts grieved for thee.
The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia paid its tribute on its twenty-eighth anniversary, November 3, 1847, just after Aguilar’s death: “Where so many ‘Women of Israel’ are assembled, it would seem ungrateful not to pay a small tribute to the memory of the benefactress of her sex and nation—the pious, the wise, the excellent, the beloved Grace Aguilar, to whose talents and piety we are indebted for the best religious books of modern times.” The Ladies of the Society for the Religious Instruction of Jewish Youth of Charleston called Aguilar’s death “a national calamity.”60 But perhaps the best proof of these writers’ power to inspire other women, at least from their own class, is the testimonial Grace Aguilar received from a group of middle-class Jewish women just before her trip to the Continent in 1847. This moving tribute, presented by several hundred of “the most influential ladies of our community … in acknowledgment of the great service which that gifted authoress has rendered to her coreligionists, and to the females in particular, by her numerous and clever writings” (JC, April 16, 1847), praised her as follows:
Until you arose, it has, in modern times, never been the case, that a woman in Israel should stand forth the public advocate of the faith of Israel. … You have taught us to know and to appreciate our own dignity, to feel and to prove that no female character can be more worthy than the Hebrew mother—none more pure than that of the Jewish maiden—none more pious than that of the women in Israel. You have vindicated our social and spiritual equality with our brethren in faith; you have by your own excellent example triumphantly refuted the aspersion that the Jewish religion unmoved the heart of the Jewish woman.61
If Jewish women writers have not been recognized by most later historians as having effected changes in Anglo-Jewish life in the modern period, they were recognized by their contemporaries, both as early feminists and as promoters of Jewish reform.
The emergence of a disparate group of women writers debating the issues of female education, Jewish emancipation, and religious reform separates the English Jews from the German, French, and American Jews, none of whom produced many women writers in this period. Many scholars of the Anglo-Jewish enlightenment have claimed that English Jews, in contrast to their coreligionists on the Continent or across the ocean, had no theory of what constituted emancipation or reform. Rather, their method was more practical—they tested laws by running for office, and anglicized without really articulating the reasons why.62 But the truth is that the English Jews had a set of highly articulated theories. It was just that these theories were articulated by women—in polemics, in prefaces to their fictions, and especially in romances set in the Jewish home. The fictions were considered trivial by many Jewish men at the time and since, and in the biased transmission of history their theories have been left behind. These women are the unacknowledged Mendelssohns of England.
. In these public calls for increased female education, middle-class Anglo-Jewish women both resembled and differed from their German counterparts. As Marion A. Kaplan argues in The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 42–57, for German-Jewish women of the 1890s as for Anglo-Jewish women of the 1850s, “motherhood was central to the definition of Jewish womanhood.” And just as for the earlier generation of Anglo-Jewish women, the responsibility for child rearing and a child’s moral education was central to the definition of Jewish motherhood. Both groups attempted to pass on middle-class notions of respectability to their children. But while Anglo-Jewish women desired and were expected to pass on Jewish religious knowledge and values, German-Jewish women were expected to pass on the value of self-education or cultivation called Bildung rather than religious knowledge. In this “secular” knowledge of Dickens, Scott, and Goethe, German-Jewish women were self-taught, so they did not feel the need to call for the extension of female education. Also, women in Germany were responsible for the “informal transmission of Judaism—affective, private, and personal, including foods, family, and hearth” (70–71) while Anglo-Jewish women seem to have been responsible also for introducing daughters and sons to Jewish texts. The greater existence of anti-Semitism in Germany than in England seems to have led German-Jewish mothers to downplay the elements of their education that were specifically Jewish. At the same time, German liberalism and emancipation lagged behind by about forty years. For a discussion of men’s relation to Bildung, see George L. Mosse, German Jews beyond Judaism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).
. “Miss Abigail Lindon’s Dictionary,” JC, Apr. 3, 1846. Götthold Salomon, Twelve Sermons Delivered in the New Temple of the Israelites, at Hamburgh, trans. Anna Maria Goldsmid (London: John Murray, 1839). Goldsmid believes “that religious education can be best conducted at home” (iii) by “mothers, whose especial vocation it is, diligently and lovingly to foster true piety in the hearts of their children” (iii). Her argument is that female education is needed to fulfil maternal duties.
. See Marion Hartog, “To the Reader,” JSJ, Feb. 22, 1855: “Alone, at present, in this onerous undertaking, I hope soon to see myself surrounded by a band of friends and cooperators. Israel has gifted sons, and daughters too, with minds full of high and holy aspirations for the benefit of the rising generation. To these I appeal for aid” (1). Several men wrote, but by far the majority of contributors to the Journal were women.
. See Celia and Marion Moss, dedication to Romance of Jewish History, 3 vols., 2nd ed. (London: A.K. Newman, 1843); and see Grace Aguilar, in the dedication to her third novel-length tale, “Adah, A Simple Story,” 1838, Grace Aguilar MSS. Maria Polack responded to Ivanhoe with an antiromance, Fiction without Romance; or, the Locket-Watch (1830).
. Ibid.; “Death of Marion Hartog,” JC, Nov. 1, 1907. Numa Hartog, Marion’s son, was a community hero for having won the seat of Senior Wrangler at Cambridge after challenging the University Tests Act. Her daughter, Helena Darmesteter, was a well-known portrait painter, and Marcus Hartog, her son, was known for scientific studies.
.Fiction Without Romance; or, the Locket-Watch, 2 vols. (London, 1830): “endeavoured, as much as possible, to keep within the limits of simplicity; for, were I to soar above the mediocrity of my power, my ignorance would soon be detected and despised.… I shall receive [criticism] as the wholesome chastisement which a judicious tutor bestows on the pupil whom he wishes to train towards proficiency.”
.King’s Physician, Jacob’s father has been taken prisoner by Ernest Von Adheim, Count of Wolfstein, for lending him money and requiring repayment. Jacob sets about trying to free him, a dangerous task both for himself and the community. He gets an audience with the duke, who agrees to send his guards to look for Jacob’s father at Wolfstein’s castle. The guards search but cannot find Jacob’s father, and Jacob is about to be delivered to Wolfstein as a liar, but says the Shema and prays that his father’s “spirit may reveal itself to me for one moment; so that I may know I die not accusing the innocent” (166). His prayer is granted: when he stamps his foot on the ground a secret trap door is sprung, revealing his father’s dead body. Wolfstein is punished. Jacob settles down and “his descendants are still to be found, amongst whom his history is still told, with pride in his courage and filial piety” (167). The story of the search for the dead father is what is passed down here; a literary folk tradition replaces study of Torah.
.Madonna or Courtesan? esp. 69–80. Bitton-Jackson does not identify the characteristics of La Belle Juive as “oriental,” but does remark that her “perfection of feminine beauty” was supposed to have originated “in the ‘cradle of mankind’ ”—that is, the East. The fictional Jewish woman’s “ultimate function without exception is that of dispensing love” (72), and like Mary Magdalene, she is the sensual woman redeemed. The Mosses adopt this tradition uncritically as romantic. It is one aspect of their assimilation.
.Early Efforts. A Volume of Poems By the Misses Moss, of the Hebrew Nation. Aged 18 and 16 (London: Whittaker, 1839), in such poems as “The Jewish Captive Song” and these lines from “The Conclusion” (144):
.Godiva’s Ride: Women of Letters in England, 1830–1880 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 108, points out that while religion could bind women to their father’s authority, it could also “authorize resistance to patriarchal authority, including husbands’ and fathers’,” as it does here.
.JC, June 13, 1902, which says the Mosses produced “works on Jewish history … at a time when the literature on this subject was almost terra incognita.” Grace Aguilar mined the one potential source, the renditions of Aggadot, or Talmudic apologues, to be found in Morris Raphall’s periodical HRR. In particular, she chose to base two tales on Aggadot that focused on gender relations, rewriting the Aggadah’s gender politics to her satisfaction—see chap. 4.
.Romance. Also see Aguilar, preface to “Adah”: “ ‘I know but one Author,’ you once said, ‘whose portrait of a Jewess pleased me, and that was Sir Walter Scott. The modern tales in which that race is introduced, are written by Christians, who know nothing of, and are consequently prejudiced against them.’ From the hour that observation was made Adah has been present to my imagination.”
.King’s Physician, by Levetus, JC, Aug. 4, 1865. The reviewer first gives a historical overview of popular vernacular Jewish literature, directed toward unlettered men, women, and children, and then applies the notion of a vernacular Jewish literature to his own day:
.Romance, 14. See also Levetus, “The Martyrs of Worms: A German Tale,” King’s Physician, in which the father is described as “of a despised and degraded nation, and although yet in the prime and vigour of life, the bowed head and stooping body of him who stood before the haughty noble showed a consciousness of humiliation and self-abasement” (85). Here the father is the very opposite of a tyrant—but in his humiliated state, still untrustworthy in time of crisis, as far as the daughter is concerned. From a sociological perspective, it might be possible to explain this emphasis on fathers’ absence and powerlessness by suggesting that since fathers’ major roles in the separation of spheres were outside the home, the daughters would have felt abandoned by them whose primary commitments were in the public rather than the private sphere. For a similar argument, see Kaplan, Making of the Jewish Middle Class, 53. An approach focused less on the effect of economic specialization within middle-class families in general and more on the effect of the Mosses’ father’s personality might suggest that his burning of their books indicated to his daughters that he could not be trusted to understand their emotional needs.
.King’s Physician, 82–121. Zillah’s father has been killed in a pogrom in Frankfort and she has been brought up by Judah, a wealthy Jew. In his crisis with the authorities she gives him her inheritance, saying, “Am I not … thy child? when the cruel people of Frankfort slew my father, didst thou not protect my mother and myself …? and when I called for my father, didst thou not say, I will be thy father, poor or orphan?’ and since that day have I not been as a child to thee? have not I looked upon thee with the love and reverence I should have paid to the dead?’ ” In one after another of these tales, the biological father must be dead so that a truly loving father/daughter bond can be established by contract.
.Anglo-Jewish Novel, claims that the Mosses’ “weakly executed” (31) tales only address a non-Jewish audience and are purely “propaganda fiction” (40) without relevance to the Jews’ own community. “Female Jews are always noble. … Noble Jews receive a temporal reward. The men conquer their enemies; the women are rescued” (32). This unrealistic propaganda fiction is characterized, Zatlin argues, by a “reliance on stereotypes, didacticism, and heavy-handed direct address” (4) and the characters lack a deep characterization. But to fault the tales for not conforming to the standards of novelistic realism is to fault them for achieving exactly what they set out to do. One must understand the development of their historical romance genre, with all its conventions, in its own rich soil, as a particularly Jewish female response to a particular set of historical conditions. Not to attempt this is to condescend to history and set a critic’s own literary critical limits on the past. Besides being remarkable documents of early reform, written in a decade of Victorian women’s leadership in reform (see Joseph Kestner, Protest and Reform: The British Social Narrative by Women, 1827–1867 [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985]), many of these tales are immensely enjoyable.
.The Romance (London: Methuen, 1970), speaking of Don Quixote as the emblem of romance: “Don Quixote represents the idealization of the self, the refusal to doubt inner experience, the tendency to base any interpretation of the world upon personal will, imagination and desire, not upon an empirical and social consensus of experience” (42).
.Anglo-Jewish Novel, argues that with respect to the novels of Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick, Samuel Gordon, and Isidore Ascher, their work “indicates the Jewish woman’s need to control herself” (54). She has become a domineering social climber, busybody, and henpecker—the misogynist take on the “New Woman,” in fact.
.King’s Physician, 61. Subsequent references will appear in the text. Also see Aguilar, Vale of Cedars, in which the Jewish heroine, Marie Henrique Morales, never dares breathe her affection for Arthur Stanley the Christian Englishman but dutifully marries a Jewish man and dies for love.
.Romance, who tells “those sweet tales of our people which none can tell so well as thou” (1:24). Rachael, in Celia Moss, “The Priest’s Adopted,” Romance, inspires the deformed grandson of a king to speak against his Babylonian oppressors by “pour[ing] into his eager ears the tales of past power and splendour of Judea” (2:26). Ramah, in Marion Moss, “The Promise; A Tale of the Restoration,” Romance, has a “high and intellectual” forehead, and a “gifted and sensitive mind” (2:84). Mattathias, father of the Macabbees, in Celia Moss, “The Asmoneans,” Romance, tells his daughter Imla that “I have instructed thee in all the truths of our blessed religion. I have taught thee to revere the will of the Almighty, and honour his laws” (2:134). Kesiah, in Celia Moss, “The Pharisee, or, Judea Capta,” Tales, is a slave who is a “woman of strong understanding … who, while preserving a warm attachment to her native country and her own religion, had not disdained to adorn her mind with the beauties of Greek and Latin authors” (2:217). She teaches the children all she knows, and in the crisis of the narrative, she captures the traitor Elias, an orthodox man who would have betrayed her to the Romans.
.Romance 1:132. See Grace Aguilar, “The Escape,” in Home Scenes and Heart Studies (London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1894), 162–85, in which the heroine, Almah, cross-dresses as her husband’s servant, the male Moor Hassan Ben Ahmed, in order to save her husband Alvar from death in the Inquisition. While Abia is rewarded for her adventure, the result of Almah’s transvestism is much more ambiguous—first, because she dresses the part of a servant, and of a member of another race, and second, because as soon as Alvar is freed she basically is rendered unconscious for the duration of the tale.
.King’s Physician, 59–80. Note the similarity to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, written approximately at the same time. Both texts attempt to offset women’s powerlessness by disempowering the suitor, opening the way for what Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar call “the marriage of true minds,” The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 371.
.Throughout their tales, the Mosses claim the “Eastern” quality of their Jewish female characters. It was a long-standing tradition of anti-Semitic discourse to orientalize the Jewish woman, but the Mosses seem to adopt that convention uncritically themselves.
.Making of the Jewish Middle Class, 108, suggests that the transition from arranged marriages to “modern” marriages based on love and “accident” was also taking place among German Jews, perhaps a bit more slowly than in the more liberal English atmosphere.
.Twelve Sermons, trans. Anna Maria Goldsmid. Goldsmid calls (1) for publication of sermons to promote “home instruction” and “the formation of the religious character of the young,” citing the need for vernacular religious education; and (2) for more English explanations of Judaism, in the “hope, that from their perusal, many of my Christian countrymen may derive a better knowledge than they previously possessed, of the actuating faith of the Jew” (iv). David Woolf Marks, Sermons Preached on Various Occasions at the West London Synagogue of British Jews, 4 vols. (London: R. Groombridge and Sons, 1851), in a prefatory note, calls (1) for vernacular sermons to furnish “Jewish families with the means of home instruction,” citing the “dearth of Jewish discourses in the English language;” and (2) for the “setting forth a fair exposition of the doctrines which are taught in our synagogue,” citing “misrepresentations concerning our opinions and practices” (v), both among other Jews and Christians. That is, he repeats Goldsmid’s terms exactly.
.JC, July 1, 1864, reprinted from Christian Work, June 1864; and “Jewish Women’s Work in Philanthropy and Education,” JC, June 13, 1902, a retrospective, primarily on the Mosses. For the pressure Jewish women could bring to bear on men, see for example American reform founder Isaac Mayer Wise, Reminiscences, ed. David Philipson (Cincinnati: Leo Wise and Company, 1901), 215, who records a meeting with a “bevy of Portuguese Jewesses” who convince him to edit the Reform journal the Asmonean, and later convince him to write a volume of Jewish history.
.Mrs. R. Hyneman, Philadelphia, Nov. 8, 1847; Female Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Nov. 3, 1847; Ladies of the Society for the Religious Instruction of Jewish Youth, Charleston, South Carolina, Nov. 23, 1847. All from Grace Aguilar MSS.
.The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989). Also see David Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780–1840 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 175: “English Jewry did not generate a significant Haskala movement. And lacking the political pressures of a comprehensive emancipation process—emancipation turned on the ability to hold office … — English Jewry experienced no conspicuous ideological ferment.”