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Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity

Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity

Winner of the 2010 Outstanding Academic Title Award, sponsored by Choice.

For generations of German-speaking Jews, the works of Goethe and Schiller epitomized the world of European high culture, a realm that Jews actively participated in as both readers and consumers. Yet from the 1830s on, Jews writing in German also produced a vast corpus of popular fiction that was explicitly Jewish in content, audience, and function. Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity offers the first comprehensive investigation in English of this literature, which sought to navigate between tradition and modernity, between Jewish history and the German present, and between the fading walls of the ghetto and the promise of a new identity as members of a German bourgeoisie. This study examines the ways in which popular fiction assumed an unprecedented role in shaping Jewish identity during this period. It locates in nineteenth-century Germany a defining moment of the modern Jewish experience and the beginnings of a tradition of Jewish belles lettres that is in many ways still with us today.

About the author

Jonathan M. Hess is Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of Germans, Jews and the Claims of Modernity (2002) and Reconstituting the Body Politic (1999).