Grace Aguilar: Rewriting Scott Rewriting History

  • Elizabeth Fay


In this chapter I will use a reading of Grace Aguilar’s Vale of Cedars; or, The Martyr (posthumously published 1850) and Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) to center a discussion of Aguilar’s uses of Jewish identity to construct a literary and authorial identity.2 My reading will begin with the observation that Aguilar’s Jewish heroine not only bears the Catholic name “Marie,” but in contrast to Scott’s Orientalized Rebecca, is also unmarked physically, culturally, or behaviorally by her Jewishness.3 Indeed, the secret of being Jewish presents a captivating mysteriousness for the unsuspecting English hero, Arthur Stanley, but it is only decipherable through Marie’s essentializing spirituality, an unstigmatized resource that is the only inheritance from Scott’s Rebecca that Aguilar allows. I want to begin with the steps leading up to this point of departure, and end with an assessment of the complex literary negotiations Aguilar makes.


Jewish Community Jewish Identity Jewish Woman Sacred Text Jewish History 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Preface to William Godwin, St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century, 4 vols. (1799; reprint New York: Garland Publishing, 1975), ix.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Michael Galchinsky analyzes Scott’s role in particular in relation to the pressure on the Jewish community to convert to Anglicanism (The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer: Romance and Reform in Victorian England [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996], 39–58). The apparent tolerance of conversionist writers like M. G. Lewis (Jewish Maiden, 1830), Amelia Bristow (Rosette and Miriam, 1837), Edward Bulwar Lytton (Leila, 1837), and Thackeray (Rebecca and Rowena, 1843) was, Galchinsky argues, a masquerade for the pressure to convert, a masquerade Aguilar clearly intends to uncover (39). Other Jewish women who also wrote against conversionist pressures included Marion Hartog, Charlotte Montefiore, Anna Maria Goldsmid, Maria Polack, Celia and Marion Moss. See also: Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England, 3rd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1964);Google Scholar
  3. David S. Katz, The Jews in the History of England, 1485–1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994);Google Scholar
  4. and Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979; reprint with a new preface, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999). For a discussion of the principal activist bodies for conversion—the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (founded 1809) and the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews (founded 1842)—see Michael Ragussis’ chapter “The Culture of Conversion” in Figures of Conversion: “The Jewish Question” and English National Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), esp. 15–26. For Ragussis’ discussion of Scott, Ivanhoe, and conversionism, see 89–116.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For my understanding of midrash, I have relied on Geoffrey Hartman and Sanford Budick, eds., Midrash and Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  6. Sander Gilman, Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986),Google Scholar
  7. and Geoffrey Hartman, “On the Jewish Imagination,” Prooftexts 5 (September 1985): 201–20.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 2–5, and 16–17.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Jeanne Wood, “‘Alphabetically Arranged’: Mary Hays’s Female Biography and the Biographical Dictionary,” Genre 31 (1998): 117–42;Google Scholar
  10. Paula McDowell, “Consuming Women: The Life of the ‘Literary Lady’ as Popular Culture in Eighteenth-Century England,” Genre 26 (1993): 219–52;Google Scholar
  11. and Gary Kelly, Women, Writing, and Revolution, 1790–1827 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 236–46. 10. The eleventh-century commentator Rashi, says that Leah’s eyes were “weak” from crying at the prospect of being forced to marry Esau; Rashi’s grandson, Rashbam (twelfth century) says that the normative meanings of the word are “soft” and “beautiful” (The Soncino Chumash: The Five Books of Moses with Haphtaroth, ed. A. Cohen [New York: Soncino, 1983], 170). Aguilar’s printed version transposes the first and last three words of the Hebrew text. argue, on which Aguilar’s maternalism rests (see The Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Novel [Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981], 35–7).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Alice Chandler, A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century English Literature (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1970), 159–60;Google Scholar
  13. Richard Faber, Young England (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 106–21.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    On literary uses of Jewish stereotypes, see Frank Felsenstein, Anti-Semitic Stereotypes: A Paradigm of Otherness in English Popular Culture, 1660–1830 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995);Google Scholar
  15. Edgar Rosenberg, From Shylock to Svengali: Jewish Stereotypes in English Fiction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960);Google Scholar
  16. and Bryan Cheyette, Construction of “The Jew” in English Literature and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Sheila A. Spector 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Fay

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations