Grace Aguilar, was born in 1816 in Hackney, the child of Portuguese immigrants who fled the Inquisition. She lived in London and in Teignmouth, Devon, where her father retired after contracting tuberculosis. To support herself and her mother after her father’s death, she ran a boys’ Hebrew school.
Aguilar was a highly productive writer – one of a striking, now neglected, cohort of talented Anglo-Jewish women authors active at the end of the eighteenth and in the early decades of the nineteenth century. She wrote poems, novels, tales, and essays for popular magazines, such as The Keepsake, the American magazine Occident, and the annual Friendship’s Offering. She also published narratives in contemporary style about women characters in ancient Israel — The Women of Israel (1845) — as well as essays on Judaism, such as “The Spirit of Judaism” (1842) and “The Jewish Faith” (1846). Her mother published her best known novels after her early death in 1847. Thus The Vale of Cedars – a tale of Jews in Spain in the fifteenth century – was written around 1832-35, but not published until 1850, when it went through numerous editions.
Jewish themes are fundamental to all her work, including her fiction, notably the nature and connections of Christianity and Judaism, and, within Judaism, the relation of rabbinical scholarship and Talmudic law (generally pursued and exercised by men) and spirituality and love (generally associated in her work with women). Firmly Jewish as she remained throughout her life, Aguilar took part in the growing acculturation of English Jews. She also participated in the increasing demands of women for greater recognition in both the national culture and Jewish religion and culture. — Lionel Gossman
Biographical Material and Criticism
Works with full texts on this site
Works by Aguilar available at Project Gutenberg
Dwor, Richa, Jewish Feeling: Difference and Affect in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Women’s Writing. London: Bloomsbury 2015.
Galchinsky, Michael. “Grace Aguilar” in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopaedia. Web. 27 December 2019.
Galchinsky, Michael. The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer: Romance and Reform in Victorian England. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996.
Valman, Nadia. The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Created 27 December 2019