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Special session: Jan Schwarz, Lund University

Meir Aaron Goldschmidt in London, 1861-1863

- Becoming a Jewish Writer in English

  • Name: Jan Schwarz
  • Academic credentials: Associate Professor, Lund University. Yiddish and Jewish literature (primary disciplines), Holocaust studies and Scandinavian Studies.

Title: Meir Aaron Goldschmidt in London, 1861-1863: Becoming a Jewish Writer in English

Abstract: In this paper, I will present Goldschmidt as a groundbreaking figure in the origin of modern Jewish literature. I will argue that the minority discourse that has been dominant in the reception of Goldschmidt in a Danish literary context has prevented a broader multicultural, global engagement with his work. By focusing on Goldschmidt’s London years, I will examine how his move from Copenhagen on the Northern European margin to the center of the British Empire transformed him from a “Danish Jew” to a “Jewish Citizen of the World”. The London years enabled Goldschmidt to write English versions of his Danish work and reach a broad Jewish readership that did not exist in Denmark. It deepened his engagement with classical Jewish texts (midrash, Talmud and folktales) that he utilized in the recreation of Jewish stories and myths for an English readership. During the London years Goldschmidt fashioned artistic and ideological tools in English that he would later use to create a body of Danish works after his return to Denmark in 1863, suffused by Jewish themes, styles and languages.

I will outline the author’s reasons for leaving and then returning to Denmark and his failed attempt to fashion a writing career as an English writer in London. This will be done through a discussion of his family relations in London based on his autobiography, correspondence and diary. Secondly, Goldschmidt’s “Jewish Novel”, which he wrote in English in London and which remained unfinished and unpublished, will be analyzed. The draft of this work is located in the Royal Library in Copenhagen: “…besides demonstrating Goldschmidt’s ability to compose in English, it (the draft material) contain much autobiographical information which casts light on the otherwise rather shadowy period of his stay in England from 1861 to 1863.” [1] Finally, I will discuss Goldschmidt’s English short stories based on Jewish traditional sources that he published in English journals in the early 1860s. [2]

Goldschmidt’s work as a Jewish writer in national Danish and global English contexts provides a fertile ground for the examination of Scandinavian minority literature and border crossings during the age of nationalism on the cusp of the modern breakthrough in Denmark in the 1870s. The paper will highlight the transformation of Goldschmidt into a bilingual, Jewish writer and how this informed his later acclaimed Danish novels and short stories. The paper’s objective is to demonstrate that Goldschmidt is a key figure in the origins of modern Jewish literature in the nineteenth century and reclaim him as a writer of Jewish world literature.

References:

  1. Kenneth H.Ober, Meir Goldschmidt (Twayne Publishers 1976), p.53.
  2. See ’The Figure of the Rabbi’ in David Gantt Gurley, Meir Aaron Goldschmidt and the Poetics of Jewish Fiction. Syracuse UP 2016:138-168. See also my ’Serving Up His Grandmother In Spicy Sauce: Conflicting Views on Jewish Literature in Nineteenth Century Denmark.’ Studia Rosenthaliana. Volume 36 (2002-2003):197-211.

Theme: Border-Crossing: Migration, Travel, and Tourism