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Fixing Ireland/Fixing the jew in Melmoth the Wanderer

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As succeeding Acts of Union and colonization brought disparate peoples under the umbrella of Great Britain during the long eighteenth century, the thinking runs, not only integration but also reformulation of a composite national identity fuelled part of the cultural agenda. Wein argues, however, that the religious angle interfered with this smooth reconstruction of the British nation. Two factors created additional difficulties. Reacting against radical Unitarians, sympathetic to the French Revolution, conservatives sought to counter their secularist rationalizing of religion by affiliating England and Protestantism with Hebraism, thereby furnishing an impeccable genealogy. A second complication arose when Catholics and Jews began vociferating for political accommodation. Both these factors put pressure on the already shaken tenure of Anglo-Irish Protestants, who were looking to stabilize conditions at home in the wake of the 1798 uprising and to ingratiate themselves with the powers in London. Wein investigates the way these pressures deform three, intimately related, Anglo-Irish works: the periodical The Observer , written by Richard Cumberland, the man responsible for the most famous and most controversial Jew of the period; Discourses and Dissertations on the Scriptural Doctrines of Atonement and Sacrifice by the Reverend William Magee, Archbishop of Dublin; and especially the 1820 novel Melmoth the Wanderer , written by Charles Robert Maturin, a former playwright and Anglo-Protestant minister in Catholic Ireland, who relied on Cumberland and Magee to guide his fictional collisions of Protestant, Jew and Catholic in England, Ireland and Spain (the setting of half of the novel). Wein untangles the logic behind an interlocking circle of aspersions—Ireland:Spain :: Catholicism:the Jew—that helps make seamless the fit between religious and nationalist discourse from an Anglo-Irish perspective. Novel and culture draw on the Jewish Day of Atonement and Passover to suture over the religious and political divide. Ultimately, the Jews get sacrificed for the Catholics in a grand atonement that overwrites, or passes over, the original act of trespass in the colonization of Ireland.
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Keywords: Anglo-Irish history; Charles Robert Maturin; Jews in literature; Melmoth the Wanderer; Richard Cumberland; William Magee; exoticism in literature; imperialism in literature; nineteenth-century English literature; representation of Jews

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-02-01

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