Philological Quarterly

Abstracts: Volume 92, Number 1 (2013)

“The Times of Conversion” by Steven F. Kruger

This article considers the ways in which temporality operates within medieval accounts of conversion. Although we tend to think of conversion in teleological terms, time does not necessarily move simply or unidirectionally in medieval conversion narratives. Using the work of Jean-François Lyotard and Giorgio Agamben, the article develops a reading of three interlocking temporalities within the Early South English Legendary Life of Mary Magdalene: the always already, the yet and yet and yet, and the already/not yet. It argues that these temporalities are particularly associated with the “messianic time” Agamben sees as characterizing Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and that the exploration of the “times of conversion” in the Middle English Life might apply not only to the lives of converts but also to medieval Christian experience more generally.

“The Jewish Body in Black and White in Medieval and Early Modern England” by M. Lindsay Kaplan

Questions about the color of Jews emerge in medieval discourses describing their complexion as pallid and/or black.  These colors also denote a melancholy illness frequently ascribed to Jews as punishment for their alleged deicide.  English psalters depicting the life of Jesus reveal a similar confusion.  While some images blacken the skin of all Jesus’s Jewish antagonists, others portray his tormentors as dark and light.  This may reflect thirteenth-century England’s ambivalence towards Jews, evidenced in seeking both their conversion and expulsion.  Elizabeth Cary’s early modern play, Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, expresses a comparable indeterminacy on Jewish complexion.  It represents the Christological context through the lens of gender, using color to distinguish and prefigure Jesus’s Jewish adherents and enemies in the persons of Mariam and Salome.  However, the play also undermines the moral stability of its color binary in suggesting that Mariam’s purported whiteness signifies sin, not virtue. 

“Picturing Jewish Returns in Victorian Culture” by Sarah Gracombe

Nineteenth-century Anglo-Jews, both actual and fictional, who turned away from Jewishness have long attracted scholarly attention. But less attention has been paid to those who turned back to Jewishness in, so to speak, good faith. Indeed, Victorians’ uncertainty about what to call this process—spiritual conversion? national return? racial “regression”?— highlights uncertainties about Jewishness itself in this period of religious, cultural, and imperial transformation. This essay examines Victorian representations of such returns in three texts: George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Israel Zangwill’s “Transitional,” and especially Celia Moss’s little-known story “The Two Pictures: a Sketch of Domestic Life.” These works expose frictions between Jewishness as an identity that can be learned and chosen vs. one predicated on heredity or race. In particular, Moss and Zangwill challenge understandings of Jewishness by depicting characters with Jewish families and upbringings whose “returns” are complicated by their realization that they have never been, as Moss puts it, Jewish “in the true sense of the word.”  

“Transformations of a Jewish Princess: Salomé and the Remaking of the Jewish Female Body from Sarah Bernhardt to Betty Boop” by Jonathan Freedman

Coming soon.

“Virtual Jews and Figural Criticism: Recent Scholarship on the Idea of the Jew in Western Culture” by Hannah Johnson and Heather Blurton

This review essay considers the representation of Jews in three recent books spanning different time periods, countries, and disciplines: medieval England in Anthony Bale's Feeling Persecuted: Christians, Jews, and Images of Violence in the Middle Ages; early modern Germany in Yaacov Deutsch's Judaism in Christian Eyes: Ethnographic Descriptions of Jews and Judaism in Early Modern Europe, and post-war France in Sarah Hammerschlag's The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought. In each case, the essay focuses on the idea of the figural importance of Jews in Christian society, and its tenacious hold on the Western imagination.