Part of the Program for Jewish Civilization's Spring 2014 Lecture Series.
In this talk, Sarah Gracombe will explore how and why British fiction has been drawn to plots of Jewish conversion over the last two hundred years. Starting with early nineteenth-century religious fiction about Jews who "turn" Protestant, Gracombe will then consider how later Victorian novels repurpose this plot---its narrative structures, its rendering of physical and psychological change, and its ideological tensions--to meeet the needs of an increasingly secular modernity. In particular, she will examine late-Victorican writers who maintained that, just as Bibles could trigger religious conversions, novels could not only depict but actually trigger national conversions. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the conversion plot's evolution in Harold Jacobson's recent novel The Finkler Question. Reversing the direction of conversion from Englishness to Jewishness, the novel asks, "You can't just get up one morning and decide you're a Jew--or can you?" Reading The Finkler Question through the lens of the conversion plot helps us understand the way stories of Englishness and Jewishness have been recalibrated in our own time and yet so often are the literary inheritors of the nineteenth century.
After receiving her Ph.D. in English from Columbia, Sarah Gracombe joined the faculty at Stonehill College, where she is an associate professor. Her teaching and research explore nineteenth-century British fiction, particularly its engagement with nationality, religion, and race. Her work on the intersection of Victorian Jewishness and Englishness has appeared/is forthcoming in journals such as Nineteenth-Century Literature, Prooftexts, Philological Quarterly, and the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. She is currently working on a manuscritp entitled Novel Converts: Cultural Englishness and Victorian Jewishness.
A light lunch will be served. RSVP is requested.