Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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T H E R I S E O F T H E J E W I S H B O O K
I N A M E R I C A N P U B L I S H I N G *
B
y
C h a r l e s
A.
M a d i s o n
A
l t h o u g h
t h e
f i r s t
b o o k
printed in this country—
The Whole
Booke of Psalmes
(Cambridge, Mass., 1640)—was of bibli-
cal origin, books of Jewish content were relative latecomers in
American publishing. One obvious reason is that until late in
the 19th century there were comparatively few Jews in the United
States. Most Americans, having little or no contact with them,
had only the haziest idea of their tragic history in Christian
civilization or of their unhappy position in contemporary society.
The Puritans in New England and their Brahmin progeny tended
to think of Jews in the light of the Old Testament: as Hebrews
who had established monotheism in the world and had brought
forth the great ethical prophets as well as Jesus and his apostles.
Many books published during the 19th century were studies—
both scholarly and theological—of Judaism and Jewish ethics.
For all their high regard of these ancient Hebrew teachings,
most Americans, many of them high-minded and liberal in out-
look, were inclined to associate living Jews with international
banking and money-grubbing. Men like Henry and Brooks
Adams, Henry James, Henry Holt, George Santayana—to men-
tion the first prominent intellectuals that come to mind who
influenced publishing trends—did not hesitate to condemn Jews
as undesirable human beings. Consequently American publishers
manifested a negative attitude toward works of contemporary
Jewish content.
Certain novelists occasionally included Jewish characters in
their stories, but these had little relation to reality. Rebecca in
Walter Scott's
Ivanhoe,
Fagan in Charles Dickens’
Oliver Twist,
and George Eliot’s
Daniel Deronda,
three of the best-known
characters, hardly mirror recognizable Jews. More true to life,
if sentimentally romanticized, are the Jews in Grace Aguilar’s
popular novels. Born in London in 1816 of a Portuguese Jewish
* This article of necessity excludes consideration of books published by
Jewish organizations or by publishers devoted to Jewish interests.
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