The Primal Scene: The Skeleton in Britain’s Closet
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Published just several years before the traditionally acknowledged termination of the classic British Gothic period, Maria Edgeworth’s 1817 novel Harrington may seem an unusual and even illogical point of departure for a study of the Jewish Question in Gothic fiction. What Harrington is singular in providing, however, is a remarkably self-conscious exploration from early nineteenth-century England of the psychopathology of anti-Semitism. Conceived as ‘an act of reparation’ for Edgeworth’s previous and numerous anti-Semitic literary portraits (Ragussis, Figures: 62)1 — the most famous of which are Sir Kit’s nameless Jewish wife, his ‘stiff-necked Israelite’ (31) in Castle Rackrent (1800) and the eerily inhuman, Shylockean coachmaker-creditor Mordicai in The Absentee (1811)2 — Harrington features an unsettlingly plentiful storehouse of anti-Semitic stereotypes. As Susan Manly has noted, Harrington ‘powerfully represents the unselfconscious anti-semitism of its mid-eighteenth-century Londoners’ (‘Introductory’: xxvi). It also furnishes, with an eye to their dismantling, a sense of the nature, prevalence, and entrenchment of such stereotypes in early nineteenth-century England. While Gothic fiction’s Wandering Jew does not appear in all of his fullfledged and demonic glory, that ‘Jew whom Christians most abominate’ (Harrington: 95) is frequently invoked by way of pejorative name-calling.3 Further to this, many of the ingredients of his graphic Gothic portrait are present in the novel’s memorable and fascinating primal scene.
KeywordsJewish Identity Jewish Question Ritual Murder Primal Scene Jewish Nation
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