Maria EdgeworthToday I finished writing my paper for the conference at which I’ll be presenting on July 10th in London. The conference is on Antisemitism and English Culture and is hosted by the University of London. My paper is about Maria Edgeworth’s 1817 novel Harrington, a work that I’m increasingly in love with. So Maria Edgeworth is my hottie of the month.

Edgeworth was born in 1767 and died in 1849. She was definitely a daddy’s girl, living with her father until his death in 1817. She penned several important novels of the Romantic period, including Castle Rackrent (1800), Belinda (1801), and, of course, Harrington. She was also the author of several books for children and young adults. At some point in the near future, I want to start working my way through her major works, since I need to put Harrington in a larger authorial context — I shamefacedly confess that this novel is the only work by Edgeworth that I’ve read. I taught it last year in my graduate class. I would love the opportunity to teach it again sometime, perhaps in a Women & Literature or Major Authors course.

In her Broadview edition of the novel, Susan Manly sums up its plot like this:

Harrington is the personal narrative of a recovering anti-Semite, a young man whose phobia of Jews is instilled in early childhood and who must unlearn his irrational prejudice when he falls in love with the daughter of a Spanish Jew.

Harrington has quickly reemerged from obscurity to assume a central place in studies of Romanticism and antisemitism. Scholars have largely studied the novel’s plot line of education and its depiction of its Jewish characters (though these are all in supporting roles). One thing I like about the novel is that it pulls together just about everything eighteenth-century writers had used in their depictions of Jews and shows how/why they were all so antisemitic.

My paper looks at the novel in slightly different terms. I am interested in it mostly as a representative text from the Romantic period, one that contradicts some scholars’ arguments that Romantic literature depoliticized representations of Jews. I am also more interested in the novel’s depiction of gender and sexuality than most other scholars have been.

I suddenly find myself very interested in Romanticism and its authors’ depictions of Jews. I’m still not sure if this is working toward a chapter in one book project or a whole other book, but it’s fascinating to return to this period after years of relative disinterest. I feel like such a cliche — the eighteenth-century scholar who intellectually migrates to Romantic lit. Before long I’m going to be teaching major authors classes on Jane Austen instead of Aphra Behn!

Or maybe I’ll teach one on Edgeworth ….

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