The tale now legendary, Bookhound had seen an article about the shop in a national paper, hid it from me and then rang Nicola Beauman and asked her to choose six books that I would enjoy and there they were, gift wrapped on my desk on Christmas Day 2002.
Like a lemon I didn't go near my desk until after lunch and nor did Bookhound give me the first clue, so I quite thought my only gift had been a thing for washing the windows and I'd feigned gratitude...as you try to, whilst inwardly thinking huh...great.
Rereading Reuben Sachs first published in 1888, and possibly reading it more carefully than last time, has been pure pleasure because in the interim Amy Levy has been on my radar, so I've picked up those references to a writer I had previously never heard of. When Lily Tobias author of Eunice Fleet was declared to be responding consciously to the Anglo-Jewish literary tradition of the nineteenth century novels of Amy Levy I was able to nod sagely, if with little recall of what that might be.
Judith Quixano's elite Sephardi family, 'the vieille noblesse of the Jewish community', have fallen on hard times and Judith has been welcomed into the arms of her mother's extended family, the Leunigers and their Bayswater home. As the Quixanos had grown poorer so the Leunigers have prospered and all offers from rich uncles to adopt impoverished neices were to be gratefully accepted. Judith has in fact been happily settled with the family since the age of fifteen but it becomes clear that her double descent ( via birth and poverty) from the upper echelons of Jewish society will all be insufficient to secure her a 'good' marriage.
Slowly it becomes clear to Judith, who reads the poetry of Swinburne, that her long-term friendship with Reuben Sachs has turned to a deep love
' The twin halves of a perfect heart, made fast
Soul to soul while the years fell past.'
But Reuben's career as a lawyer is in the ascent and when he is then considered as a Parliamentary candidate it is evident he will need to seek a wife concomitant with his social standing, Judith won't do at all.
Apparently written as a 'riposte to George Eliot's Daniel Deronda' this and other useful information about Reuben Sachs is revealed in Julia Neuberger's preface to the Persephone edition. More valuable insights into Amy Levy's life and her writing, and something else of which I had been slightly unaware; namely the hierarchy that existed within the Jewish community, in the words of Amy Levy
'Jews belonging to varying shades of caste and clique in that socially sensitive community.'
Not an unusual characteristic of any community but not one I had given much thought to in this context, nor had I realised how exercised those of Amy Levy's more established English background were about the vast influx of poor eastern European Jews following the Tsarist pogroms of 1881. In a country where the Jewish community's security was often fragile and shaky, anything likely to tip the balance was unwelcome in their midst.
Searching online for more detail about Amy Levy, because by now I want to know everything, I stumbled across the Orlando site and you only have to imagine how many bones I was spitting on discovering that it is subscription only and I can't read any further. Of course they have to make money from it, I know that, but just how tantalizing are all those links.
Never mind, there's more here and I'm interested to read this by Linda Hunt Beckman about the reception of Reuben Sachs.
Sadly Amy Levy took her own life at the age of twenty-seven at her Bloomsbury family home, perhaps in a fit of depression about the book's reception, but Julia Neuberger suggests perhaps also because of problems of increasing deafness. Perhaps no coincidence that her home was in Endsleigh Gardens in Bloomsbury either, much of the wealth of the Bedford family evident both here in our corner of Devon and that area of London too, witness Russell and Tavistock Square.
It's all added to a really rounded appreciation of Reuben Sachs for me, this a book to recommend and a book of current relevance with Jewish Book Week happening in London from February 27th.
And now that Karen and I are in our stride with our regular Persephone tea venture, we thought it might be good to let you know about the next book each time so that you can read along with us if you want to.
Our next gathering will be on Wednesday March 31st when we'll be reading and eating our way through The New House by Lettice Cooper, and I've now put Persephone reads to date, with links, in a list over here somewhere >>>>>>>>.
On the subject of housekeeping you may also see that I've threaded the comments from today. When you reply to someone's comment, it should now leave that reply below theirs.
Meanwhile it's time for a calming visit to Cornflower for tea and perhaps consider yourselves fortunate we're not calling in on the Leunigers where it might be stewed fish ... I happen to know that Karen has baked us a much more sumptuous treat and I just hope there's some left when I get there.