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English Literature

Biblical and Hebraic Influences

The Bible has generally been found to be congenial to the English spirit. Indeed, the earliest English poetry consists of the seventh-century metrical paraphrases of Genesis and Exodus attributed to Caedmon (died c. 680). Here the emphasis is on the military prowess of the ancient Hebrew warriors. Abraham in his fight against the five kings (Gen. 14) takes on the character of an Anglo-Saxon tribal chief leading his thanes into battle. One early biblical work was Jacob and Josep, an anonymous early 13th-century poem written in the Midlands dialect. As in France, biblical figures also appear in the medieval miracle or mystery plays staged in York and other towns. A more religious understanding of the Old Testament was achieved later, in the period of the Reformation, with works such as the Greek academic drama about Jephthah written in 1544 by the Catholic Christopherson. This Hebrew judge inspired several dramatic works, notably the ballad "Jephthah Judge of Israel," quoted by William Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2) and included in Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765); and Jephthes Sive Votum (1554), by the Scottish poet George Buchanan, who also wrote a Latin paraphrase of the Psalms (1566). Other biblical works of the 16th century were God's Promises (1547–48) by John Bale; The Historie of Jacob and Esau (1557), a comedy by Nicholas Udall in which Esau represents the Catholics and Jacob the faithful Protestants; the anonymous New Enterlude of Godly Queene Hester (1560), which had strong political undertones; Thomas Garber's The Commody of the most vertuous and Godlye Susanna (1578); and The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe (1599) by George Peele mainly about Absalom. From the Middle Ages, biblical and Hebraic influences had a profound impact on English culture. Works inspired by the Bible were especially prominent in the 17th century, first during the era of Puritanism, and later when the undogmatic, practical temper of Anglican piety led to a new evaluation both of the Jews and of the Hebrew scriptures. The Puritans were particularly drawn to the Psalms and to the records of the Judges of Israel, with whom they were apt to identify themselves. John *Milton, their greatest representative, knew Hebrew, and his epic Paradise Lost (1667) and Samson Agonistes (1671) are steeped in biblical and Judaic lore. The Puritans' doctrine of election and covenant also derived to a great extent from Hebrew sources. They made the "Covenant" a central feature of their theological system and also of their social life, often undertaking their religious and political obligations to one another on the basis of a formal covenant, as recorded in Genesis. There are interesting developments of the covenant idea in the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and John Locke (1632–1704), and also in Milton and the 17th-century religious radicals known as the Levellers. The same period saw the publication of other works based on the Bible or Jewish history, such as the Davideis (1656), an anti-royalist epic poem by Abraham Cowley, and Titus and Berenice (1677), a play by Thomas Otway based on the tragedy Bérénice by Jean Racine. John Dryden dramatized Milton's Paradise Lost unconvincingly as The State of Innocence and Fall of Man (1677). His famous satire Absalom and Achitophel (1681), in which David represents Charles II, reflects the contemporary political scene. In the 18th century, various minor writers provided the librettos for Handel's oratorios, over a dozen of which deal with Old Testament themes ranging from Israel in Egypt (1738) to Judas Maccabaeus (1747). Hannah More, who wrote Belshazzar (one of her Sacred Dramas, 1782), was one of several English writers who paid attention to this figure. Others were Henry Hart Milman (Belshazzar, 1822); Robert Eyres Landor, who wrote The Impious Feast (1828); and Lord *Byron, whose Hebrew Melodies (1815) contains a poem on this subject. William Wordsworth revealed an imagination shaped by biblical forms and patterns, and in "Michael" the dramatic focus of the whole poem is the picture of an old man setting up a heap of stones as a covenant between himself and his son at their parting. In a more scholarly field, the Christian Hebraist Robert Lowth devoted much time to the study of Hebrew poetry in the Bible. One novelist in whom a fairly strong Hebraic background can be discerned is Henry Fielding, whose Joseph Andrews (1742) was intended to recall the lives of Joseph and Abraham.


During the third decade of the 19th century, the biblical figure of Cain was the center of some literary controversy and interest. The publication of an English translation of Salomon Gessner's German prose epic Der Tod Abels (1758) in 1761 set a fashion, and Coleridge's "Gothic" work on this theme was one of many. Byron's attempt to transform the first murderer into a hero in his Cain (1821) roused a storm of protest, provoking The Ghost of Abel (1822), a riposte by William Blake. A less revolutionary side of Byron is seen in his Hebrew Melodies, which includes poems on Jephthah's daughter, Sennacherib, and the Babylonian Exile. The 19th century produced many other works of biblical inspiration by English writers. One which had a great vogue in its day was Joseph and His Brethren (1824), a grandiose epic poem written under a pen name by Charles Jeremiah Wells. In his Poems (1870), Dante Gabriel Rossetti used Midrashic and legendary material for his treatment of the conflict between Satan and Lilith and Adam and Eve in "Eden Bower." Alfred Austin wrote The Tower of Babel (1874); and in defiance of the censors Oscar Wilde first published his daring comedy Salomé in French (1893), the English version only being allowed on to the British stage in 1931. A number of leading 20th-century writers maintained this interest in the personalities and themes of the Old Testament. They include C.M. Doughty, with the dramatic poem Adam Cast Forth (1908); George Bernard Shaw, in his play Back to Methuselah (1921); Thomas Sturge Moore, author of the plays Absalom (1903), Mariamne (1911), and Judith (1911); the poet John Masefield who wrote A King's Daughter (1923) on Jezebel; D.H. Lawrence, with his play David (1926); Arnold Bennett, whose Judith had a brief, sensational run in 1919; and Sir James Barrie, who wrote the imaginative but unsuccessful play The Boy David (1936). The works of the Scots playwright James Bridie include Tobias and the Angel (1930), Jonah and the Whale (1932), and Susannah and the Elders (1937). A number of anti-biblical Old Testament Plays were published in 1950 by Laurence Housman. Figures from the Bible are also introduced in A Sleep of Prisoners (1951), a symbolic play written by Christopher Fry, whose The Firstborn (1946) transformed Moses into a superman. Curiously enough, most of the Jewish writers who emerged in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries avoided biblical subjects and devoted their attention to social and historical themes. However, Isaac Rosenberg wrote a Nietzschean drama, Moses (1916).


In the general abandonment of medieval Christian authorities during the Reformation, there was a certain tendency to look to the medieval Jewish philosophers and exegetes for guidance. The thinking of writers like John, Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667), and the "Cambridge Platonists" was in part shaped by the Bible and by Maimonides. The Platonist poet Henry More (1614–1687) drew heavily on both Philo and Maimonides, and made frequent reference to the Kabbalah. Like many other English writers of his time, More had, however, only a very imperfect idea of what the Kabbalah contained. Two earlier writers whose works contain kabbalistic allusions are the Rabelaisian satirist Thomas Nash and Francis Bacon. Nash's Pierce Pennilesse His Supplication to the Divell (1592), a humorous discourse on the vices and customs of the day, draws from the Christian Kabbalah; while Bacon's The New Atlantis (1627) describes the utopian Pacific island of Bensalem, where the Jewish colonists have a college of natural philosophy called "Solomon's House" and are governed by rules of kabbalistic antiquity. Genuine kabbalistic motifs, admittedly obtained at second hand, are to be found in the late 18th century in the works of William Blake. His notion of the sexual inner life of his divine "Emanations" and "Specters" is at least partially kabbalistic, while his portrait of the "Giant Albion" is explicitly derived from the kabbalistic notion of the Adam Kadmon ("Primal Man"). Kabbalistic notions and images later played a part in the occult system employed by W.B. Yeats (1865–1939) in his poetry; and in the mid-20th century the Kabbalah acquired a considerable vogue, exemplified by the poetry of Nathaniel *Tarn and by Riders in the Chariot (1961), a novel by the Australian writer Patrick White.

The Figure of the Jew

Jews were expelled from England in 1290, and the great medieval English works in which Jews were portrayed, notably John Gower's Confessio Amantis (c. 1390), William Langland's The Vision of Piers Plowman (three versions c. 1360–1400), and Geoffrey Chaucer's Prioress's Tale (one of the Canterbury Tales, c. 1390) were all composed about a century later. The figure of the Jew was therefore almost certainly not drawn from life, but rather from imagination and popular tradition, the latter a mixture of prejudice and idealization. This approach is not untypical of medieval writing generally, which often used stereotypes and symbols and gave them concrete shape. The evil stereotype of the Jew is clearly based on the Christian account of the crucifixion of Jesus, including his betrayal by Judas (identified with the Jew in general) and his often-stated enmity toward the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. This provided the basis for the image of the Jew in the early mystery or "miracle" plays, current from the 13th century, which presented the Bible records in dramatic form. A contemporary touch was sometimes added by representing Judas as a Jewish usurer. There is an historical link between the dramatizing of the Crucifixion and the rise of the blood libel, which reached its culmination in the notorious case of Hugh of Lincoln (1255). This accusation became the subject of several horrific early poems, including the old Scottish ballad of "The Jew's Daughter," reproduced in Percy's Reliques. In this ballad the story is slightly varied, the ritual murder being committed by a young Jewess. Chaucer's Prioress's Tale, a story of child murder committed by Jews, explicitly refers the reader to the case of Hugh of Lincoln a hundred years earlier, the suggestion being that the killing of Christian children by Jews was habitual. Echoes of these medieval fantasies continue to be heard down the centuries, and they provide the starting point for Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (c. 1589) and for Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596). Both Marlowe's Barabas and Shakespeare's Shylock obviously delight in the murder of Christians either by knife or by poison, a partial reflection of the charges leveled at the trial of the unfortunate Marrano physician Roderigo Lopez. The stage Jew down to the Elizabethan period looked rather like the Devil in the old mystery plays, and was very often dressed in a similar costume: this explains why, in Shakespeare's play, Launcelot Gobbo describes Shylock as "the very devil incarnation," while Solanio sees him as the devil come "in the likeness of a Jew."


The Jew, however, aroused not only fear and hatred but also awe, and even admiration. Thus the medieval imagination had room not only for Judas, but also for heroic Old Testament figures such as Isaac and Moses. There is no doubt that the Israelites at the Red Sea in the old mysteries were also clearly identified as Jews. Judah Maccabee (another Judas) was one of the famous Nine Worthies of early legend, along with David and Joshua. Shakespeare, who refers to the Jews in seven of his plays, draws on this tradition in the closing scene of his comedy, Love's Labour's Lost. Another early Christian tradition which carries undertones of admiration and awe is that of the Wandering Jew. Ahasuerus, as he is sometimes called, in the early ballads was a "cursed shoemaker" who churlishly refused to allow Jesus to rest on a stone when he was on his way to Golgotha, and for this was made to wander the world forever. As the Jew who lives on eternally to testify to the salvation offered to the world, he is by no means an unsympathetic figure. In later romantic literature, particularly in poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Queen Mab, 1813) and Wordsworth ("Song for the Wandering Jew," 1800), he finally symbolizes universal wisdom and experience. The anonymous interlude Jacob and Esau (first published in 1568) includes acting directions which state that the players "are to be considered to be Hebrews, and so should be apparalled with attire." Thus, both Jacob the saint and his brother Esau, the lewd ruffian, are clearly Jews. The portrait of the Jew therefore becomes ambiguous: he is both hero and villain, angel and devil. There is more of the devil than the angel in the early portraits, but the balance varies. What is lacking is the middle, neutral ground of everyday reality, for little attempt is made to visualize the Jew in his ordinary environment. It is, however, worth noting certain speeches in The Merchant of Venice, especially Shylock's famous lines beginning, "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" Here, there is at least a glimmer of realism. Jews are usually referred to by writers of the Elizabethan and succeeding periods in derogatory terms, the very word Jew invariably suggesting extortioner, beggar, thief, or devil's accomplice. But the resettlement of the Jews in England after 1656 and the new undogmatic character of 17th-century Anglicanism led to some change. George Herbert's poem "The Jews" (in The Temple, 1633) breathes a strain of devout love for Israel as the exiled people of God. Herbert was imitated a few years later by Henry Vaughan who, in an equally passionate poem of the same title, prays that he "might live to see the Olive bear her proper branches." The reference is to the metaphor of the olive used by the apostle Paul (N.T. Rom., II), when he speaks of Israel as destined one day to be restored to flourishing growth. William Hemings based his drama, The Jewes Tragedy (1662), on the Jewish revolt against Rome, as described by Josephus and Josippon. Milton's Samson Agonistes presents a picture which is in part that of the heroic Jew of the Bible, in part a self-portrait of the poet himself. This marks a new phenomenon: the subjective projection of the author into the portrait of the Jew, and it was not to be repeated until much later, by such 19th-century poets as Byron and Coleridge, and by James Joyce in the figure of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses (1922).


In 18th-century drama the Jew continued to be portrayed as either utterly evil and depraved or else completely virtuous. One dramatist might often produce both types, as did Charles Dibdin in The Jew and the Doctor (1788) and The School for Prejudice (1801). Richard Brinsley Sheridan introduces an unpleasant Jew, Isaac, in his comic opera, The Duenna (1775), balanced by a virtuous Jew, Moses, in The School for Scandal (1777). The hero of an anonymous play, The Israelites (1785), is a Mr. Israel, who practices all the virtues that the Christians only profess. The most sympathetic portrayal of all is that of the Jew Sheva in Richard Cumberland's play, The Jew (1794). A kind of Shylock in reverse, Sheva is the English counterpart of the hero of the German dramatist Lessing's Nathan der Weise (1779). In fiction there was a similar tendency to extremes. The vicious and criminal Jew painted by Daniel Defoe in Roxana (1724) is balanced in Tobias Smollett's novel The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753), where the benevolent Joshuah Manasseh insists on lending the hero money without interest. Yet Smollett himself had a few years earlier (in The Adventures of Roderick Random, 1748) drawn a no less exaggerated portrait of the Jewish usurer in Isaac Rapine, whose name suggests his character. The same duality in the portrait of the Jew is noticeable in the 19th century. Maria Edgeworth, having produced a gallery of rascally Jews in her early Moral Tales (1801), compensated for those in Harrington (1816), a novel largely devoted to the rehabilitation of the Jews, whom she represents as noble, generous, and worthy of respect and affection. All this was part of the new liberal attitude generated by the French Revolution and the spread of the belief in human equality and perfectibility. To entertain anti-Jewish prejudices was to subscribe to outmoded social and ethical forms. Thus, "Imperfect Sympathies," one of the Essays of Elia (1823–33) by Charles Lamb, expresses mild reservations about "Jews Christianizing, Christians Judaizing," Lamb having little time for Jewish conversion or assimilation. The novel Ivanhoe (1819) by Sir Walter Scott introduces Isaac of York, the medieval usurer who, though described as "mean and unamiable," is in fact radically humanized in line with the new conceptions. He has become grey rather than black, and his daughter Rebecca is entirely white, good, and beautiful. Scott has come a long way from the earlier stereotypes, and the Jews, far from being murderers, preach peace and respect for human life to the murderous Christian knights. In later 19th-century English novels there are many Jewish portraits. William Makepeace Thackeray always pictures his Jews as given to deceit and as suitable objects for social satire. In his Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo … (1846), which includes the record of a visit to the Holy Land, Thackeray indulges in a rather more emphatic strain of antisemitism. Charles Kingsley and Charles *Dickens, on the other hand, both have sympathetic as well as unfavorable portraits. Kingsley's bad Jews are to be found in Alton Locke (1850), and his good Jew in Hypatia (1853), while Dickens introduces Fagin, the corrupter of youth and receiver of stolen goods, in Oliver Twist (1837–38), and Mr. Riah, the benefactor of society and ally of the innocent, in Our Mutual Friend (1864–65). Charles Reade has as the central character of his novel It is Never too Late to Mend (1856) a Jew, Isaac Levi, who initially more sinned against than sinning, ends by taking a terrible revenge on his rascally foe. George Henry Borrow, an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, was obsessed with Jewish exoticism, but disliked Jews as people. He used a Hebrew title for Targum (1835), a collection of translations, and in his most famous work, The Bible in Spain (1843), recorded his encounter with the alleged leader of Spain's surviving Marranos and included his own verse translation of Adon Olam. In his novel The Way We Live Now (1875), Anthony Trollope drew the fantastically wicked Jew Augustus Melmotte on a melodramatic scale and with no real attempt at verisimilitude. But in the following year, the ultimately noble Jew makes his appearance in George *Eliot's Zionist novel, Daniel Deronda (1876). This shows the Jews not merely as worthy of sympathy, but as having within them a spiritual energy through which mankind may one day be saved and made whole. The 19th-century belief in race and nationality as a source of vital inspiration has here combined with a certain moral idealism to produce a remarkable vision of the Jewish renaissance, in some measure prophetic of what was to come after the rise of Herzlian Zionism. Something similar is to be found in the novelist and statesman Benjamin Disraeli, who never tired of vaunting the superiority of the Jewish race as a storehouse of energy and vision. In Tancred (1847) and his biography of Lord George Bentinck (1852) he maintained his belief that the Jews were "the aristocrats of mankind." George du Maurier propagated a Jewish caricature nourished by the new Nietzschean philosophy of race. Svengali, the evil Jew in his novel Trilby (1894), is the eternal alien, mysterious and sinister, a sorcerer whose occult powers give the novel the character of a Gothic thriller. Svengali belongs, of course, to an "inferior race," and his exploits are ultimately designed to corrupt the "pure white race" personified in the novel's heroine, Trilby. On the other hand, George Meredith, in The Tragic Comedians (1880), presents a romantically attractive Jew, Alvan, who is actually a portrait of the German-Jewish socialist Ferdinand Lassalle. Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine also showed unstinted sympathy and admiration for the Jew in his novel of Jewish life in Morocco, The Scapegoat (1891), although his account is not without some inner contradictions. The non-Jewish Anglo-American Henry Harland, using the pen name Sidney Luska, published three novels – As It Was Written (1885), Mrs. Peixada (1886), and The Yoke of Thorah (1887) – in the guise of an immigrant of Jewish background describing the life of the German Jews of New York. The poets Wordsworth and Byron were drawn to the romantic glamour of the Jewish past, the former in a touching descriptive lyric, "A Jewish Family" (1828), the latter in the more famous Hebrew Melodies. Like Blake, Shelley was repelled by the Old Testament's stress on the Law and the Commandments – his instinct being toward free love and anarchism – but was drawn to the figure of the Wandering Jew. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, too, in his "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (in Lyrical Ballads, 1798) shows an interest in the same theme evidently derived from his reading of M.G. Lewis' gruesome novel The Monk (1796). Coleridge translated Kinat Jeshurun, a Hebrew dirge on the death of Queen Charlotte by his friend Hyman *Hurwitz, calling it Israel's Lament (1817). The warmest and most detailed accounts of Jews are to be found in the poetry of Robert *Browning, who seemed determined to show that even post-biblical Jews, such as the medieval Rabbi Ben Ezra and the Jews of the Roman ghetto, could be given sympathetic, even noble, treatment. Browning tried to do in poetry what *Rembrandt had done in paint – suggest the mixture of everyday realism and sublimity in the lives of Jews. Matthew Arnold, the most "Hebraic" of 19th-century English writers, paid tribute to Hebrew culture in his elegy "On Heine's Grave" (New Poems, 1867), while Algernon Charles Swinburne gave expression to great indignation in his poem "On the Russian Persecution of the Jews" (1882).


English poets of the 20th century have shown less interest in Jews. T.S. Eliot makes a return to the medieval stereotype of avaricious extortioner in his phrase: "My house is a decayed house,/and the jew squats on the window sill, the owner/spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp/…" (Gerontion and other references), although elsewhere he speaks with veneration of Nehemiah, the prophet who "grieved for the broken city Jerusalem." In Catholic writers such as Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and Graham Greene, there is a similar rendering of the dark image of the Jew. Belloc, an anti-capitalist, held that the Jews and Protestants were the arch-enemies of civilization and evolved a belief in a "Jewish conspiracy" (The Jews, 1922). Greene revived the medieval connection between Judas and the Devil in A Gun for Sale (1936) and Orient Express (1933), and in Brighton Rock (1938), where the Jewish gang-leader Colleoni – one of the most sinister villains in English literature – leads the hero, Pinkie, to damnation. Frankly antisemitic portraits can also be found in the writings of D.H. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis. A more mild and benevolent portraiture emerges from the biblical dramas of James Bridie, Laurence Housman, and Christopher Fry. George Bernard Shaw brought back the Jew-Devil stage tradition in burlesque form in Man and Superman (1903); and various characters in Major Barbara (1905), Saint Joan (1923), and The Doctor's Dilemma (1906) express Shaw's not unkindly view of the Jew in modern society. An important development in the 20th century was the attempt to abandon the old stereotype and depict Jews in natural, human terms. John Galsworthy took the lead in his novels and more particularly in his play Loyalties (1922). Here the Jew, Ferdinand de Levis, is the victim of a robbery at a country-house party. The other guests band together to defend the thief because he is one of them, whereas the Jew is an alien. Galsworthy has carefully purged his imagination of the kind of emotional attitudes that determined the reaction of Shakespeare and his audience to the basically similar situation in The Merchant of Venice, and the result is an objective study in social psychology. A similarly unemotional approach is to be found in James Joyce's Ulysses, where the central character, Leopold Bloom, is neither exactly hero nor anti-hero but something in between. Less flamboyant Jewish characters appear in novels by E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey (1907); and C.P. Snow. The latter's The Conscience of the Rich (1958) is devoted to the affairs of a Jewish family who differ from the English upper class around them only in an extra touch of gregariousness and more tenacious adherence to tradition.

Palestine and Israel in English Literature

Ever since medieval times English writers have recorded impressions of their visits to the Holy Land or written imaginative works based on Jewish historical themes. One of the earliest books of this kind was the Voiage (1357–71) of the 14th-century Anglo-French traveler Sir John Mandeville. Outstanding works over the centuries were Henry Maundrell's A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter 1697 (1703); The Fall of Jerusalem (1820), a play by Henry Hart Milman, dean of St. Paul's, who also wrote a History of the Jews (1829); Eothen (1844), travel impressions by Alexander William Kinglake; The Brook Kerith (1916), a novel by the Irish writer George Moore; and Oriental Encounters. Palestine and Syria 18941896 (1918) by Marmaduke William Pickthall. Britain's Mandate in Palestine, which led to a political confrontation with the yishuv, and the State of Israel found wide reflection in English fiction, generally of inferior merit. G.K. Chesterton, an antisemite who condoned massacres of Jews during the First Crusade as "a form of democratic violence," was nevertheless attracted to the Zionist ideal of emancipation through physical toil, recording his impressions of a visit to the Holy Land in The New Jerusalem (1920). A thinly disguised account of Jewish-British relations in Ereẓ Israel is combined with an accurate description of Palestine under the Romans in W.P. Crozier's The Letters of Pontius Pilate (1928). Some writers were intensely pro-Zionist, others violently hostile and pro-Arab. Muriel Spark's The Mandelbaum Gate (1965) was a tale of divided Jerusalem with an anti-Israel bias, but another non-Jewish novelist, Lynne Reid Banks, who wrote An End to Running (1962; U.S. ed., House of Hope) and Children at the Gate (1968), settled at kibbutz Yasur. Of the many books about Palestine and Israel written by English Jews outstanding was Arthur *Koestler's dramatic Thieves in the Night (1946).

The Jewish Contribution

Before the Expulsion of 1290, the Jews of England were culturally an integral part of medieval French Jewry, speaking Norman French, and conducting their business affairs in Hebrew or Latin and their literary activities almost exclusively in Hebrew. Berechiah ben Natronai ha-Nakdan, the 12th–13th-century author of Mishlei Shu'alim ("Fox Fables"), is probably identical with Benedict le Poinctur (i.e., punctuator, Hebrew Nakdan), who is known to have been living in Oxford in 1194. Berechiah's "Fox Fables" compiled from a variety of Jewish, Oriental, and other medieval sources, were both popular and influential, partly determining the shape of later medieval bestiaries. Their influence may also be seen in the Latin Gesta Romanorum, first compiled in England (c. 1330; first printed c. 1472). An important literary figure of the Elizabethan period, John Florio (1553?–1625), was descended from converted Italian Jews. A friend of Ben Jonson and Sir Philip Sidney, he influenced Shakespeare, whose Hamlet and The Tempest echo Florio's pioneering translation of the Essays of Montaigne (1603). It was not until nearly a hundred years after the readmission of the Jews in 1665 that they began to play any significant part in English literary affairs. Moses Mendes, the grandson of a Marrano physician, was a well-known poetaster and minor playwright. His ballad-opera, The Double Disappointment (1746), was the first work written for the theater by an English Jew. He also wrote The Battiad (1751), a satire, in collaboration with Dr. Isaac Schomberg. Jael (Mendes) Pye (d. 1782), a convert like Mendes, made a brief but significant entry into English literature with poems and a novel; while another early poet, Emma (Lyon) Henry (1788–1870), a staunch Jewess, received the patronage of the Prince Regent in the early 19th century. Many of the Anglo-Jewish writers of the 18th and 19th centuries were either remote from Jewish life or actually abandoned Judaism. They include Isaac D'Israeli, father of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield; the half-Jew John Leycester Adolphus, the first person to deduce Sir Walter Scott's authorship of the Waverley Novels; members of the Palgrave dynasty, notably Sir Francis (Cohen) Palgrave and his son, Francis Turner Palgrave, editor of the famous Golden Treasury of English Verse (1861); and Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (1855–1934), the most successful dramatist of his time, who was also of Jewish origin. Late writers included Stephen Hudson (Sydney Schiff); Naomi Jacob; Ada Leverson; Benn Levy; Lewis Melville; Leonard Merrick; E.H.W. Meyerstein; Siegfried Sassoon; Humbert Wolfe; and Leonard Woolf.


From the early 19th century onward, many Anglo-Jewish writers devoted a large part of their talent to Jewish themes. Several of these committed authors were women. The sisters Celia (Moss) Levetus (1819–1873) and Marion (Moss) Hartog (1821–1907), who ran a private school for 40 years, together published a collection of poems, Early Efforts (18381, 18392); a three-volume Romance of Jewish History (1840); Tales of Jewish History (1843); and a short-lived Jewish Sabbath Journal (1855). Better known was Grace Aguilar, a vigorous champion of Judaism, who wrote the first significant Anglo-Jewish novel, The Vale of Cedars (1850). Two other women writers were Alice Lucas (1851–1935) and Nina (Davis) Salaman (1877–1925), both of whom wrote poetry; Nina Salaman also translated medieval Hebrew verse. Novels on Jewish themes proliferated from the latter half of the 19th century. Benjamin Farjeon, a writer of North African Sephardi origin, really created this new genre with works such as Solomon Isaacs (1877), Aaron the Jew (1894), and Pride of Race (1900), which described the London-Jewish scene and especially the growing populace of the East End. This was the main location for the more famous novels of Israel Zangwill, who remains the greatest single figure in England's Jewish literary history. Although Zangwill wrote many books on non-Jewish themes, he is best remembered for his "ghetto" stories – Children of the Ghetto (1892), Ghetto Tragedies (1893), The King of Schnorrers (1894), and Dreamers of the Ghetto (1899). At about the same time, Jewish middle-class life was being faithfully described by three women novelists, Amy Levy; Julia (Davis) *Frankau ("Frank Danby"); and Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick (Cecily Ullman, 1855–1934), whose works include Scenes of Jewish Life (1904), In Other Days (1915), and Refugee (1934). Their books had little impact outside the Jewish community, but their common central theme – mixed marriage – became increasingly popular. This was the case with the novelist G.B. Stern, but the most sentimental, and obsessive, use of the motif occurs in the works of Louis *Golding, whose Magnolia Street (1932) and "Doomington" novels enshrine this aspect of Jewish assimilation with an archetypal repetitiveness that suggests a permanent solution of the "Jewish problem" through wholesale extra-marriage. The outstanding Jewish poet of the 20th century was Isaac Rosenberg, whose feeling for the sufferings of the soldiers in the trenches of World War I was in part nourished by the Bible. Izak *Goller, originally a preacher, was a more intensely Jewish poet, whose passionate Zionist sympathies and outspoken manner brought him both fame and notoriety during the 1930s. Other Jewish writers included S.L. *Bensusan; the biographer and historian, Philip Guedalla; and M.J. Landa. A number of Jewish writers also became eminent as literary scholars and critics. They include Sir Sidney *Lee; F.S. Boas; Sir Israel *Gollancz; Laurie *Magnus; V. de Sola Pinto; Jacob Isaacs (d. 1973), first professor of English at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; David *Daiches; and George Steiner. The left-wing publisher, author, and pacifist, Victor *Gollancz, attempted to synthesize his conception of Judaism with a liberalized Christianity. Joseph Leftwich, J.M. Cohen (d. 1989), and Jacob Sonntag (d. 1984) were prominent editors, anthologists, and translators.


In the mid-20th century a new dimension was given to the problem of Jewish existence both by the European Holocaust and its aftermath and by the birth and consolidation of the State of Israel. These momentous events, shattering old illusions, in time created a new sense of tragedy and peril, in which the Jew became the focus of a universal situation. This feeling can be detected in several Anglo-Jewish writers, although none of them was as significant as such U.S. authors as Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth. In poetry the outstanding names were Dannie Abse, Karen Gershon, Michael Hamburger, Emanuel *Litvinoff, Rudolf Nassauer, Jon Silkin, and Nathaniel Tarn. A writer whose novels, essays, and political and philosophical works commanded wide attention from the 1930s onward was the Hungarian-born Arthur Koestler. Like Koestler, Stephen Spender (1909–1995), a leading poet and critic of partly Jewish origin, was a disillusioned leftist. His works include impressions of Israel, Learning Laughter (1952). Elias Canetti was a refugee playwright who continued to write in German, his works being translated into English. Harold Pinter, Peter Shaffer, and Arnold *Wesker were leading playwrights of the post-World War II era. In 2005 Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Janina David (1930– ) described her childhood experiences in pre-war Poland and the Warsaw ghetto in A Square of Sky (1964); its sequel, A Touch of Earth (1966), tells of her postwar move to Australia. The Quick and the Dead (1969), a novel by Thomas Wiseman (1930– ), reflects early memories of Vienna during the 1930s and the Anschluss era. A few writers attempted to demythologize the Jewish image by presenting Jews as basically similar to their fellows. The novelist Alexander Baron, the novelist and playwright Wolf Mankowitz, and Arnold Wesker all belong to this category, although Mankowitz later reassessed his commitment to Judaism. Popular novelists included the Socialist member of parliament Maurice Edelman, whose book The Fratricides (1963) has a Jewish doctor as its hero; and Henry Cecil (Judge Henry Cecil Leon), who specialized in legal themes. From the late 1950s a "new wave" of Anglo-Jewish writers appeared following the publication of The Bankrupts (1958), a novel by Brian Glanville harshly criticizing Jewish family life and social forms. Works of similar inspiration were written by Dan Jacobson, Frederic Raphael, and Bernard Kops. Following the general inclination to reject or debunk the inheritance of an older generation – these writers were not, however, entirely destructive, their aim being to strip Jewish life in England of its complacency and hypocrisy. Other writers were more firmly committed to Jewish values and ideals. They include the humorist Chaim Bermant; the novelists Gerda Charles, Lionel Davidson, William Goldman (1910– ), Chaim Raphael, and Bernice Rubens; and the Welsh-born poet Jeremy Robson (1939– ), who edited Letters to Israel (1969) and an Anthologyof Young British Poets (1968).

Another member of this group was the critic John Jacob Gross (1935– ), assistant editor of Encounter. The Six-Day War of June 1967 galvanized many Jewish writers in England into a sudden awareness of a common destiny shared with the Israelis in their hour of peril. This found expression in a forthright letter to the London Sunday Times (June 4) signed by more than 30 Anglo-Jewish authors.


E.N. Calisch, The Jew in English Literature (1909), includes bibliography; D. Philipson, The Jew in English Fiction (1911); M.J. Landa, The Jew in Drama (1926; repr. 1969); H. Michelson, The Jew in Early English Literature (1926), includes bibliography; L. Magnus, in: E.R. Bevan and C. Singer (eds.), The Legacy of Israel (1927), 483–505; W.B. Selbie, ibid., 407–33; E.D. Coleman, The Bible in English Drama (1931), a bibliography; idem, The Jew in English Drama (1943; repr. 1970), a bibliography; H.R.S. van der Veen, Jewish Characters in Eighteenth Century English Fiction and Drama (1935), includes bibliography; M.F. Modder, The Jew in the Literature of England (1939), includes bibliography; J. Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews (1961), includes bibliography; J.L. Blau, The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (1944); A.M. Hyamson, in: Anglo-Jewish Notabilities (1949), 4–73; J. Leftwich, in: Jewish Quarterly (Spring 1953), 14–24; A. Baron, ibid. (Spring 1955); H. Fisch, The Dual Image (1959); idem, Jerusalem and Albion (1964), includes bibliographical references; D. Daiches, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jews …, 2 (19603), 1452–71; E. Rosenberg, From Shylock to Svengali (1960), includes bibliography; G.K. Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (1965); M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), includes bibliography; D.J. DeLaura, Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England (1969), includes bibliography; Shunami, Bibl, 248ff.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.