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Jane Heir to the Glimmering World: Cynthia Ozick's Victorian Vision.

Studies in American Jewish Literature, 2009, Annual, 28

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Critics often focus either on the Jewish content of Cynthia Ozick's fiction, such as her short story "The Shawl" (1980), with its brutal depiction of the Holocaust in heartbreaking miniature, or on the postmodern interweaving of Kabbalistic elements with contemporary absurdities, such as The Puttermesser Papers (1997), with its fiercely funny invention of a feminist golem. (1) Certainly these aspects of Ozick's work reward extended analysis. But what interests me about Ozick is the way in which several of her novels operate as palimpsests of Victorian stories. As a young writer, Ozick set out purposefully to imitate the fiction of Henry James, as Ozick herself points out, and as several literary critics explore. (2) But Ozick weaves many nineteenth-century British authors into her novels. A well known instance is The Puttermesser Papers. The title recalls The Pickwick Papers, but it overtly re-inscribes George Eliot's end-of-life union with John Cross onto Puttermesser's late quasi-marriage in a chapter about the ambiguity in distinguishing an original artist from a copyist, an ironic commentary on her own play with imitation and innovation. Hardly less overt is the way in which her latest novel, Heir to the Glimmering World (2004), draws on Victorian literature to explore a variety of inheritances, including literary legacies that invite and problematize the meaning and validity of interpretation. (3) So replete is the novel with literary allusion that Susanne Klingenstein imagines how for some time "future critics will enjoy picking Heir apart to identify its literary heritage" (107). In Heir to the Glimmering World, the eighteen-year-old orphaned heroine's gothic plot of childhood deprivation and subsequent employment assisting a professor whose crazy wife lives on the top floor strongly recalls lane Eyre. So does the interplay between spiritual and material concerns, as the impoverished refugee professor studies an obscure, defunct Jewish sect while the physical and emotional needs of his family go unnoticed. The irony and futility of Professor Mitwisser's trying to interpret the long-gone Karaites--who as fundamentalists deny the validity of textual interpretation--is clear. But the novel further implies not only that its own internal interpretations of embedded Victorian literary artifacts are suspect, but also that all our literary interpretations, including Ozick's novel itself, are equally suspect. Further manipulation of literary legacies comes via the character of the Bear Boy, the professor's benefactor. Based on Christopher Robin Milne, James A'Bair never escapes how he has been memorialized in a famous children's book, a first edition of which turns out to be both his own and the young protagonist Rosie's material inheritance.

Jane Heir to the Glimmering World: Cynthia Ozick's Victorian Vision.
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 01 January 2009
  • Publisher: Purdue University Press
  • Print Length: 23 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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