“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
The British writer Grace Aguilar died on this day in 1847, at the age of 31. Illness had confined her to bed from the age of three; she completed her first play when she was 12. Her family’s dire circumstances forced her to contribute financially and, as Justin Taylor explained in 2007, “Aguilar, though herself an invalid, began to think about writing as a profession, rather than a hobby.”
Her business-minded approach helped make her a success. Her 1842 collection of theological essays, The Spirit of Judaism, quickly made Aguilar “a household name among Jews on both sides of the Atlantic,” according to Taylor. Arguing that the Hebrew Bible required an English vernacular translation for the masses, the book was unexpectedly polemical and garnered widespread attention. As Aguilar’s health deteriorated, money woes struck again, and in 1843 she wrote a novel for the “Cheap Jewish Library” series—The Perez Family told the story of Sephardic Liverpudlians suffering the most extreme of hardships while trying to maintain civility and respectability. It was the first such account of Anglo-Jewish life by a Jewish writer.
Aguilar continued to publish up until her early death. Yet as the times changed around her, Aguilar seems to have gotten left behind. An 1869 retrospective collection was met with widespread acclaim, though her legacy—once courageously modern—was soon eclipsed. “By the end of the century,” Taylor reported, “her books had fallen out of print and her name had been forgotten. The rise of feminism made her domestic ideology seem quaint, even regressive.”
Read Fall From Grace, by Justin Taylor