From Publishers Weekly
Levy was an Anglo-Jewish writer of the Victorian era, a colleague of Oscar Wilde, a committed feminist and a prolific novelist and poet until her suicide at 27. This extensive selection of her work includes her three novels, seven short stories, eight essays and more than half of her poetry. The novels, although uneven, are the work of a writer of genuine promise. The best of the three, Romance of a Shop , is sort of second-rank George Eliot, less ironic and more sentimental in its account of the lives of four sisters who are forced into the photography business after their father's death. The best-known of the novels, Reuben Sachs , is a startlingly unsympathetic portrait of the London Jewish community, evincing the tension between assimilation and the assertion of Jewish identity, and a love-hate fascination with Jewish materialism. Levy's verse is good, but very much of its period; the essays are intelligently argued, but whenever she touches on Jewish themes, her palpable distaste is oppressive. New's ( Laurence Sterne As Satirist ) annotations are valuable, and his introduction is useful, although one wishes there were more historical and biographical background and less lit crit.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Oscar Wilde's obituary notice of Amy Levy:
"Miss Levy's novels The Romance of a Shop and Reuben Sachs were both published last year . The first is a bright and clever story, full of sparkling touches; the second is a novel that probably no other writer could have produced. Its directness, its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make it, in some sort, a classic. . . . To write thus at six-and-twenty is given to very few."
Amy Levy was a talented Anglo-Jewish writer who committed suicide at the age of 28 in 1889. During her brief career she published essays, short stories, three novels, and three collections of poetry, but none of them is in print today and her works are to be found almost solely in the closed stacks and rare book collections of university libraries.
To correct this unavailability and set the stage for a generous selection of her work, Melvyn New introduces Amy Levy as an unmarried Victorian woman and an urban intellectual, disillusioned by the mores of her culture, yet unable to abandon her identification with the English Jews who embodied so much of what she scorned. He reconstructs her world in 1880s England--a time when the president of the British Medical Association warned his colleagues that educated women would become "more or less sexless. . . . [Such women] have highly developed brains but most of them die young"--raising questions that lead to the tortured heart and mind of this "found" writer.
Of the novels, Reuben Sachs, which generated strong negative feelings in London's Jewish community, is considered one of the first realistic examinations of assimilated Jewry in 19th-century England. The Romance of a Shop looks at working women in late Victorian society and offers a glimpse at the bohemian world of artists. The shorter fiction ranges from a story about an Anglo-Jewish Cambridge student (who commits suicide) to the portrait of a woman turned bitter and cynical by the courtship rituals of the age. The selection of nearly 50 poems includes her powerful dramatic monologue "Xantippe," in which Socrates' "shrewish" wife explains the world from her own perspective. The essays include a blistering attack on the pomposities of Henry James and his circle and sketches on "Jewish Children," "Jewish Humor," "Jewish Middle-Class Women," and "Women's Clubs in London."