Victorian Popular Fictions 5.2 8 Dwor

 

Two Diasporas, One Exodus: Jewish Freedom and Jamaican Slavery in Grace Aguilar’s Sephardic Histories

Richa Dwor

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Abstract

The Anglo-Jewish writer Grace Aguilar (1816–47) took the Spanish Inquisition as a major topic, returning to its settings, events, and themes across three novellas, a novel, and several poems. Despite her assertions of historical accuracy and her knowledge of her family history in Jamaica, none of these Inquisition works describe transatlantic Jewish migration. Instead, her characters perish or else migrate directly to an idealized Britain. This paper establishes a new framework for Aguilar’s writings on Sephardic history by bringing to light the financial benefits accrued by Aguilar’s family from the ownership of enslaved people in Jamaica. It also emphasizes the influence of the messianic writings of her great-grandfather Benjamin Dias Fernandes. I argue that the intensity of Aguilar’s identification with English literary forms and perspectives does not indicate a tendency toward assimilation. Rather, Britain was for her a site of redemption. Its status as a haven for persecuted Sephardim – as the end point of their exile and wanderings – is not merely a civic, but also an eschatological one.

Keywords

Anglo-Jewish literature; Sephardic history; Jews in Jamaica; slavery; Grace Aguilar

Date of Acceptance: 20 December 2023

Date of Publication: 20 December 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Dwor, Richa. 2023. “Two Diasporas, One Exodus: Jewish Freedom and Jamaican Slavery in Grace Aguilar’s Sephardic Histories.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.2: 104-118. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI: https://doi.org/10.46911/PMUK7383

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