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No Place in Time

The Hebraic Myth in Late Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Sharon B. Oster

Jewish Studies, Literary Criticism and Theory, Language and Literature

Printed Paper Cased
Available November 2018
ISBN: 9780814345825
Pages: 364 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 7 black-and-white images
eBOOK
Available November 2018
ISBN: 9780814345832

No Place in Time: The Hebraic Myth in Late Nineteenth-Century American Literature examines how the Hebraic myth, in which Jewishness became a metaphor for an ancient, pre-Christian past, was reimagined in nineteenth-century American realism. The Hebraic myth, while integral to a Protestant understanding of time, was incapable of addressing modern Jewishness, especially in the context of the growing social and national concern around the "Jewish problem." Sharon B. Oster shows how realist authors consequently cast Jews as caught between a distant past and a promising American future. In either case, whether creating or disrupting temporal continuity, Jewishness existed outside of time.

No Place in Time complicates the debates over Eastern European immigration in the 1880s and questions of assimilation to a Protestant American culture. The first chapter begins in the world of periodicals, an interconnected literary culture, out of which Abraham Cahan emerged as a literary voice of Jewish immigrants caught between nostalgia and a messianic future outside of linear progression. Moving from the margins to the center of literary realism, the second chapter revolves around Henry James’s modernization of the "noble Hebrew" as a figure of mediation and reconciliation. The third chapter extends this analysis into the naturalism of Edith Wharton, who takes up questions of intimacy and intermarriage, and places "the Jew" at the nexus of competing futures shaped by uncertainty and risk. A number of Jewish female perspectives are included in the fourth chapter that recasts plots of cultural assimilation through intermarriage in terms of time: if a Jewish past exists in tension with an American future, these writers recuperate the "Hebraic myth" for themselves to imagine a viable Jewish future. No Place in Time ends with a brief look at poet Emma Lazarus, whose understanding of Jewishness was distinctly modern, not nostalgic, mythical, or dead.

No Place in Time highlights a significant shift in how Jewishness was represented in American literature, and, as such, raises questions of identity, immigration, and religion. This volume will be of interest to scholars of nineteenth- and turn-of-the-century American literature, American Jewish literature, and literature as it intersects with immigration, religion, or temporality, as well as anyone interested in Jewish studies.

Sharon B. Oster is professor of English at the University of Redlands. Her essays on American, Jewish, and
Holocaust literature have appeared in English Literary History and Prooftexts.

Although focused on distinctive turn-of-the-century issues and texts, No Place in Time reaches back through American and European history to illuminate both the continuities and frictions produced when Hebraic myths and ideas collided with the nation’s deeply ingrained Protestantism. In addition to her wide-ranging and fresh analysis of many of the era’s key authors, Oster has made a groundbreaking contribution to the wider field of literature and religion, as well as to our understanding of the process of secularization.

– Eric J. Sundquist, author of Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America

Sharon B. Oster’s No Place in Time persuasively argues for the centrality of Jewish histories in American thought, and deftly examines the different temporalities of Jewishness in American literature. For all its creative insight and critical intervention, Oster’s elegantly composed, stylishly written argument seems all but inevitable. Oster’s introduction alone will transform how we hinge the categories ‘American literature’ and ‘Jewish literature,’ and her original readings of canonical authors persuasively reexamine the ideological bases of American literary Realism.

– Dean Franco, professor of English, Wake Forest University

Moving far beyond familiar assertions of philo- and antisemitism in turn-of-the-century American writing, Sharon B. Oster's splendid book shows how, for writers from James and Wharton to Cahan and Yezierska, the figure of the Jew offered a way to think through and reframe modern conceptions of temporality. The result is a study that makes a powerful, beautifully argued case for the centrality of writing Jewishness to an entire, crucial era in American literary and cultural history.

– Jennifer Luise Fleissner, Indiana University

Beginning with the trope of the ‘noble Hebrew,’ No Place in Time shows philo-semitism and antisemitism to be twin conceits in late-nineteenth, early-twentieth-century American life and thought. In establishing a richly figured and carefully researched dialogue among Jewish and non-Jewish writers, Oster paints a portrait of a complex and fraught period in American history and literature, one that resulted in a redefinition and renegotiation of identity and place. In contextualizing Jewish immigration in terms of literary modernity, Oster persuasively demonstrates the ways in which past mythologies and histories have come to shape the future.

– Victoria Aarons, Mitchell Distinguished Professor of Literature, Trinity University

No Place in Time offers a bold, theoretical refiguring of American literary typology, recasting a national religious mythology from the perspective of Jewish American literary history. With fresh and penetrating scholarship, Oster hits all the central but critically evasive literary categories embedded in the nation’s Protestant imaginary. She reorients our understanding to such thematic touchstones as secularism, modernity, millennialism, religious determinism, trans-diasporic memory, and messianism in the works of writers culturally or cooptively inflected by Rabbinical tradition and Jewish immigrant culture. This story of the pluralities and contradictions in the literary formation of the ‘American’ self is as relevant today as it was more than a century ago.

– Gregory S. Jackson, Rutgers University

Full of splendid insight and erudition, No Place in Time offers a striking new way to understand American literary realism. By focusing on how the figure of the ‘noble Hebrew’ implanted notions of sacred time into a genre long considered resolutely secular, Sharon B. Oster shows how Jewishness was a central element of the way realist writers––Jewish and non-Jewish writers alike––mediated the fractured nature of modern American life and struggled to imagine a redemptive future. Oster has written a truly accomplished and important book.

– Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania