Strangers at Home: Jews in the Italian Literary Imagination by Lynn M. Gunzberg

By Lynn M. Gunzberg

Utilizing well known literature as a window on Italian society and its values, Lynn Gunzberg explores the illustration of Jews in novels and poetry written by way of non-Jews from the start of the Risorgimento within the early 1800s to the enactment of the Fascist racial legislation in 1938. She indicates how the literature of that interval contradicts the preferred trust that anti-Semitism easily didn't exist in Italy until eventually overdue within the Fascist interval.

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Their remoteness made it impossible to visualize or evaluate them. What remained of them were their wraggle-taggle descendents in the ghetto. And yet Christianity had sprung from Old Testament Judaism, and it was this fact that provided theorists with their most potent argument about the Jews: insisting that the Christian religion was an improvement on its parent, they were convinced that the Jews had precipitated their own eclipse by their stubborn refusal to move with the times and accept Christianity.

See R. Calimani, Storia del Ghetto di Venezia (Milan: Rusconi, 1985). For an inspired, if somewhat impressionistic, account of the rise and fall of the Jewish position in Venice see M. McCarthy, "A Pound of Flesh" in Venice Observed (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 3657. 52] next page > page_23 < previous page page_23 next page > Page 23 and rootless, where their money was, there was home. Nonetheless their Christian brothers would welcome them if only they would admit to their error and convert.

The history of Italian Jews from 1797 to 1815 reflects these two basic problems: the far-reaching but fragile and ephemeral nature of this "first" emancipation and popular reactions against the French policies. One can identify several motives in the French approach toward the Italian Jews: (1) a concern to secure allies in a country where they found themselves unwelcome among the traditionally conservative masses; (2) an intent, demonstrated also in other conquered territories, to develop a local middle class and to achieve this by drawing on the centuries-long experience of Jews in banking and commercial affairs; (3) an ideological commitment to civil equality, regardless of nationality, religion, or social class; and (4) a desire to identify new sources of income which they obtained, in part, from religious minorities such as the Jews, in exchange for emancipation, both physical and political.

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