“For Luz is a Good Joke”: Thomas Lovell Beddoes and Jewish Eschatology

  • Christopher Moylan


“What is the lobster’s tune when he is boiling?” asks the would-be overman Isbrand in Death’s Jest-Book, the Gothic drama Thomas Lovell Beddoes wrote and revised from 1825, when he was a medical student at the University of Göttingen, until his suicide in 1849. Answers to this question come in the songs scattered throughout the Jest-Book: in the scatological ballads of the oviparous tailor and flatulent new Cecilia, the eerie complaint of a mis-evolved new dodo crying with frog voice in the gloom, and the siren lisp of “the little snakes of silver throat/ever singing ‘die, oh die.’”1 The strangeness and emotional extremes of Beddoes’ poetry have long attracted a small but devoted following. Only in the last thirty years or so, however, have critics integrated what were once considered Beddoes’ eccentricities—social and political estrangement, homosexuality, and emotional difficulties—into a reading of questions of identity in the grotesque world of his play.


Emotional Extreme Romantic Irony Magic Potion Mythical Creature Grand Cycle 
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    Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Selected Poems, ed. Judith Higgens (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1976), 48.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Lovell Beddoes, The Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, ed. with intro. H. W. Donner (London: Oxford University Press, 1935; reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1978), 634.Google Scholar
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    Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic Commentary to the Book of Genesis, A New Translation, trans. Jacob Neusner (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985), 1:295. Genesis Rabbah, also called Bereshith Rabbah, is an aggadic midrash on the Book of Genesis. For other midrashic references to luz of the spine, see George Foote Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, the Age of the Tannaim, 3 vols. (1927–30; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 2:385.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Neil Gilman, The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought (Wooodstock: Jewish Lights, 1997), 132.Google Scholar
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    Caroline Walker Bynum. The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 54.Google Scholar
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    Michael Bradshaw, Resurrection Songs: The Poetry of Thomas Lovell Beddoes (Burlington: Ashgate, 2001), 102–3.Google Scholar
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    Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997), 76.Google Scholar

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© Sheila A. Spector 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Moylan

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