The 19th-Century Lesbian Writer Who Met a Tragic End

Published in the Jewniverse
December 17, 2014 | By

amy-levyThe challenges and rewards facing the female entrepreneur, the depiction of same-sex love, and a critique of the materialist values of affluent Jewish society—these contemporary themes got an early, gripping treatment long before Philip Roth, Gloria Steinem, and Susan Sontag by  pioneering 19th-century author Amy Levy.  One of seven children born to assimilated, middle-class London parents in 1861, Levy was a prodigy who first published at age 14, and went on to become the first Jewish woman to attend Cambridge University.

In addition to essays which appeared in English Jewish periodicals and in Oscar Wilde’s feminist magazine, The Woman’s World, Levy is remembered for A London Plane-Tree, a posthumously published collection which touches on her desire for another woman, and novels including The Romance of a Shop, a story about sisters who establish a photography business, and Reuben Sachs, which casts a deprecating eye on the insular caste system and unrefined behavior of London’s elite Jewish families.

Written as a response to the artificial and sanctified treatment of Jews in George Eliot’s famous Zionist novel, Daniel Deronda, Reuben Sachs received unfavorable reviews.

Levy tragically took her own life at the age of 27.

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