Women Writers and the Campaign for Jewish Civil Rights in Early Victorian England

  • Nadia Valman

Abstract

In the parliamentary debate of December 1847 on the admission of Jews to Parliament Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury, articulated what was at stake in the question of Jewish emancipation. Hansard reports his speech:

Some years ago they stood out for a Protestant Parliament. They were perfectly right in doing so, but they were beaten. They now stood out for a Christian Parliament; and perhaps they would have a final struggle for a male Parliament. His noble Friend [Lord John Russell, who had proposed the motion to remove Jewish disabilities] was too candid to conceal his ultimate intentions; but he would just ask him, before he proceeded much further, to consider that, according to the principle laid down by him, not only Jews would be admitted to Parliament, but Mussulmans, Hindoos, and men of every form of faith under the sun in the British dominions. [Cheers].1

Ashley, evidently supported by a good number of MPs, considered opposition to the principle of Jewish emancipation as crucial to the preservation of a white, male, Christian Parliament. In opposing constitutional reform in these terms he was also constructing a particular version of English national identity. Indeed, the public debates on Jewish civil rights in mid-nineteenth century England were an occasion for the contestation of the future relationship between religion and the state, during which a number of models for understanding the place of the Jews in the polity were articulated by both Jews and non-Jews, politicians, clergymen and novelists.

Keywords

Explosive Assure Arena Egypt Kelly 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    M. C. N. Salbstein, The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain: The Question of the Admission of the Jews to Parliament, 1828–1860 (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982), p. 50.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    For the most detailed and nuanced discussion of the debates and their relationship to contested ideas of British political tradition, see David Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture, 1840–1914 (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1994), Chapters 1–2.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Ibid., p. 28.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Linda Gertner Zatlin, The Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Novel (Boston, MA: Twayne, 1981), p. 40; Bryan Cheyette, Contemporary Jewish Writing in Britain and Ireland: An Anthology (London: Peter Halban, 1998), Introduction, p. xiv.Google Scholar
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    See Michael Galchinsky, The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer: Romance and Reform in Victorian England (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1996) and Michael Ragussis, Figures of Conversion: ‘The Jewish Question’ and English National Identity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995). In her brief account of Victorian Jewish women’s redefinition of their role in the British Jewish community through philanthropy and writing, Linda Gordon Kuzmack does not consider the ways in which they also participated indirectly in political campaigning through writing. See Linda Gordon Kuzmack, Woman’s Cause: The Jewish Woman’s Movement in England and the United States, 1881–1933 (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1990), pp. 7–17.Google Scholar
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    See Nadia Valman, ‘Jews and Gender in British Literature 1815–1865’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1996), Chapter 3.Google Scholar
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    Jane Rendall, The Origins of Modern Feminism: Women in Britain, France and the United States, 1780–1860 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985), pp. 74–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Charlotte Elizabeth, ‘The Jewish Press’, Christian Lady’s Magazine, 18 (October 1842), p. 367.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    See bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (London: Pluto Press, 1981), pp. 140–3 for a critique of the way that white women campaigners of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries identified their social and political disabilities with enslaved black people. See also Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History (London: Verso, 1992), pp. 104, 107. Rigby’s text is a similar example of the universalisation of an historically specific instance of political inequality through an association with the grievances of upper-class Englishwomen.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Quarterly Review, 84 (December 1848), pp. 173–4, quoted in Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 337–8.Google Scholar
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    Grace Aguilar, Home Influence: A Tale for Mothers and Daughters, 2 vols (London: Groombridge & Sons, 1847), vol. i, p. v (original emphasis).Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    Grace Aguilar, Records of Israel (London: John Mortimer, 1844), pp. 46–7. In the preface to the same volume, Aguilar complains that ‘The awful sufferings and martyrdoms of the Hebrews … are passed over, with scarcely a notice, as the justly ordained punishment for our awful sin of rejection, when eternal salvation and temporal happiness were so mercifully proffered’ (pp. v–vi). But the object of her book, she argues, is to present a Jewish history of martyrdom ‘in the same glorious light’ as Christian marytrdom, not, in other words, to protest at its injustice (p. vi).Google Scholar
  17. 29.
    For Evangelical leaders’ discouragement of involvement in the political sphere see D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), pp. 72–4. Evangelicals were nevertheless very active in some of the most important social reform campaigns of the period, such as the anti-slavery and ‘Ten Hours’ campaigns. Yet, as Bebbington argues, their motives were conservative rather than liberal, focusing on the obstacles which slavery and long working hours presented to missionary activity and regular worship. See Bebbington, pp. 132–7. Similarly, Evangelicals generally opposed the campaign for Jewish civil rights, and although the Philo-Judean Society was established in 1826 to express the views of those Evangelicals who did support the campaign, their support was premised not on liberal principles but because it might provide a more effective means of achieving Jewish conversion. See Scult, Millennial Expectations and Jewish Liberties, pp. 88–134.Google Scholar
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    Grace Aguilar, The Vale of Cedars; or, The Martyr: A Story of Spain in the Fifteenth Century (London: Groombridge and Sons, 1850), p. 172.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 174.Google Scholar
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    [Grace Aguilar], ‘History of the Jews in England’, Chamber’s Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts, 18 (Edinburgh: William and Robert Chambers, 1847), p. 16.Google Scholar
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  22. 36.
    Ibid., pp. 17–18.Google Scholar
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    Early Efforts: A Volume of Poems, by the Misses Moss, of the Hebrew Nation, aged 18 and 16 (London: Whittaker, 1839), p. 52. Further references to this edition will appear in parentheses.Google Scholar
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    For a longer account of the national romances and historical romances of Sydney Owenson, Jane Porter and Anna Porter see Gary Kelly, English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830 (London and New York: Longman, 1989), pp. 92–8. The Moss sisters’ romances provided for an Anglo-Jewish readership a literature similar to that of the Porter sisters, whose recasting of medieval and renaissance history in terms of modern bourgeois ideals ‘expropriated the “national” past for the professional middle classes’ vision of present and future’ (p. 95).Google Scholar
  25. 41.
    Moira Ferguson, Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670–1834 (New York and London: Routledge, 1992); Clare Midgley, Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780–1870 (London and New York: Routledge, 1992). There was a significant overlap between supporters of abolition and supporters of Jewish emancipation. Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, who was in the forefront of the campaign for Jewish emancipation in the early 1830s, was a member of the Anti-Slavery Society and greatly encouraged by their successful public agitation. He canvassed support for the Jewish cause from other abolitionists, particularly Dissenters. Prominent abolitionists like Stephen Lushington and Zachary Macaulay were also supporters of Jewish emancipation. See Salbstein, The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain, pp. 62–7 and A. Gilam, The Emancipation of the Jews in England, 1830–1860 (New York: Garland, 1982), p. 78.Google Scholar
  26. 44.
    The Misses C[elia] and M[arion] Moss, Tales of Jewish History, 2 vols (London: Miller & Field, 1843), vol. i, pp. 117–18. Further references to this edition will appear in parentheses.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    The Misses C[elia] and M[arion] Moss, The Romance of Jewish History, 2 vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1840), vol. ii, p. 88.Google Scholar
  28. 48.
    Mrs Leman Grimstone, Character; or, Jew and Gentile: a Tale, 2 vols (London: Charles Fox, 1833), vol. i, p. 91. For a full account of the work of Grimstone, see Kathryn Gleadle, The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women’s Rights Movement, 1831–51 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Nadia Valman

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