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Aguilar, Grace

AGUILAR, GRACE

AGUILAR, GRACE (1816–1847), English author of Portuguese Marrano extraction, who wrote a number of novels on Jewish themes and some religious works addressed primarily to Jewish women. Her first book was a volume of poems, The Magic Wreath, which she published anonymously when she was only 19. Her truly creative period, however, began in 1842, and in the five years until her death at the age of 31 her literary output was remarkable, particularly because at the same time, although very ill, she was helping her mother run a private school at Hackney (outside London). Most of Grace Aguilar's books were not published until after her death. Her novel Home Influence (1847), "a tale for mothers and daughters," and its sequel, Mother's Recompense (1851), had considerable success, but it was The Days of Bruce (1852), a romance set in 14th-century Scotland, that made her famous. The best known of her Jewish novels was The Vale of Cedars (1850), a romantic, highly idealized picture of the Marranos in Spain. Twice translated into German and twice into Hebrew, it long retained popularity. She also wrote stories and sketches based on Jewish life and family traditions. In a more serious vein, she translated from French the apologetic work of the ex-Marrano, *Orobio de Castro, Israel Defended (1838). She herself wrote The Spirit of Judaism: In Defense of Her Faith and Its Professors (1842), and The Jewish Faith (1846). The latter took the form of letters addressed to a friend wavering in her religious conviction. Her Women of Israel (1845) was a series of biographical sketches of biblical characters, intended to arouse the pride of young Jews in their heritage. Grace Aguilar was one of the first English Jews to attempt to write a history of the Jews in England; it appeared in Chambers' Miscellany (1847). She died while on a visit to Germany. Her collected works, in eight volumes, appeared in 1861. In recent years there has been a considerable revival of interest in Aguilar, who wrote from the unusual, marginal position of a female Jewish intellectual in Victorian Britain. A collection of her selected writings was published in 2003, edited by Michael Galchinsky.

bibliography:

A.S. Isaacs, Young Champion, One Year in Grace Aguilar's Girlhood (1933); Abrahams, in: jhset, 16 (1945–51), 137–48; jc Supplement (July 27, 1930); F. Modder, Jew in the Literature of England (1939), 182–7; dn b, s.v. S.Aguilar, "Memoir," prefixed to Home Influence (1849). add. bibliography: M. Galchinsky, The Origins of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer: Romance and Reform in Victorian England (1996); idem. (ed.), Grace Aguilar: Selected Writings (2003); odnb.

[Cecil Roth]

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