Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature by Carol Margaret Davison (auth.)

By Carol Margaret Davison (auth.)

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24 Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature That the ambivalently positioned Wandering Jew, a dark double to Enlightenment Britain, should make his first literary appearance in the pages of Gothic fiction is entirely appropriate given that genre's function as a barometer of the sometimes contradictory currents of the Enlightenment era. Castle's claim that the Enlightenment, the historical moment of the uncanny's invention, remains 'a sort of specter in ... A. Hoffmann's 'The Sandman' - as his study's principal example.

Coppelius, the mysterious figure who terrifies Nathanael from youth to adulthood and generates that tale's uncanny moments, possesses many of the trademark attributes of the stereotypical Jew and Wandering Jew. This conspiratorial shape-shifter initially appears as an 'old advocate' (88), a professional occupation often associated with the people of the book. Further to this, he possesses 'a large beaky nose' (88), engages in costly 'secret alchemical experiments' (94), and is 'a sinister monster, particularly hostile to children' (94).

Thus is this young and vulnerable child reduced for the duration to the status of a Female Gothic heroine, his home converted into what he describes as a 'prison-house' (5). More ironically and strategically, however, he is placed in the position of persecuted victim, a position generally occupied by the Jews in England. Harrington's subsequent commentary about these events, some twenty years later, betrays his persistent naivete and optimism about British progress. Considering the period since his childhood in the 1750s, he concludes: In our enlightened days, and in the present improved state of education, it may appear incredible that any nursery-maid could be so wicked as to relate, or any child of six years old so foolish as to credit such tales; but I am speaking of what happened many years ago; nursery-maids and The Primal Scene 39 children, I believe, are very different now from what they were then; and in further proof of the progress of human knowledge and reason, we may recollect that many of these very stories of the Jews, which we now hold too preposterous for the infant and the nursery-maid to credit, were some centuries ago universally believed by the English nation, and had furnished more than one of our kings with pretexts for extortion and massacres.

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