Singing in a Foreign Land

Anglo-Jewish Poetry, 1812-1847

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Karen A. Weisman
Jewish Culture and Contexts
  • University Park, PA: 
    University of Pennsylvania Press
    , July
     2018.
     264 pages.
     $75.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780812250343.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Description

In Singing in a Foreign Land, Karen A. Weisman examines the uneasy literary inheritance of British cultural and poetic norms by early nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish authors. Focusing on a range of subgenres, from elegies to pastorals to psalm translations, Weisman shows how the writers she studies engaged with the symbolic resources of English poetry—such as the land of England itself—from which they had been historically alienated.

Weisman looks at the self-conscious explorations of lyric form by Emma Lyon; the elegies for members of the British royal family penned by Hyman Hurwitz; the ironic reflections on hybrid identities written by sisters Celia and Marion Moss; and the poems of Grace Aguilar that explicitly join lyric effusion to Jewish historical concerns. These poets were well-versed in both Jewish texts and mainstream literary history, and Weisman argues that they model an extreme example of Romantic self-reflexivity: they implicitly lament their own inability fully to appropriate inherited Romantic ideals about nature and transcendence even while acknowledging that those ideals are already deeply ironized by such figures as Coleridge, Shelley, and Wordsworth. And because they do not possess a secure history binding them to the landscape of British hearth and home, they recognize the need to create in their lyric poetry a stable narrative of identity within England and within the King's English even as they gesture toward the impossibility—and sometimes even the undesirability—of doing so.

Singing in a Foreign Land reveals how these Anglo-Jewish poets, caught between their desire to enter the English lyric tradition and their inability as Jews to share in the full religious and cultural Romantic heritage, asserted a subtle cultural authority in their poems that recognized an alienation from their own expressive resources.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Karen A. Weisman Teaches in the English Department of the University of Toronto.

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