Christian art, masculine crisis, and the threat of Jewish conversion in Bertha Pappenheim's short stories

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Abstract

This article discusses a number of short stories by the Austrian-Jewish writer and feminist campaigner Bertha Pappenheim, showing how the author uses literary narratives to explore anxieties about the perceived threat of Jewish-Christian conversion at the beginning of the twentieth century. In a period of intense debate about the future of Jewish communities and identities within a rapidly modernising and secularising Christian majority culture, Pappenheim campaigned for the protection of Jewish orphans from aggressive missionaries, and for a feminist political and social practice that emerged from within Jewish traditions, rather than rejecting them. Literary narratives allowed her to explore ambivalence and anxiety about this project. She chooses to do this through male protagonists, all of whom have artistic ambitions and experience moments of crisis and failure in encounters with Christian art; threats to Jewish identity are figured in terms of the aesthetic temptations of the embodied, sensual art of Christianity, which lead to decadence, isolation and death. To set against this, Pappenheim proposes tentatively a mode of socially useful narrative, encoded as specifically Jewish, which offers the potential to preserve the tradition against the shocks of modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-602
Number of pages22
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Volume73
Issue number4
Early online date13 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

Keywords

  • German literature
  • Jewish literature
  • Austrian literature

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