Lital Levy – World Literature, Translation, and Diaspora: The Intimately Global Journey of Grace Aguilar’s The Vale of Cedars

This talk follows the translation history of the Anglo-Jewish author Grace Aguilar’s 1850 novel The Vale of Cedars from Victorian England to Mainz, Warsaw, Vilna, Calcutta, and Tunis. A case study for Levy’s broader project on “Global Haskalah,” it brings together Sephardic studies, world literature and translation studies, transnational literary history, and Jewish literary studies. Through this project, Levy argues for two interventions: a rethinking of the nation-centered model of world literature, and a revision of the Eurocentric narrative of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment). The novel’s history begins with a work of minor literature by a Sephardic Englishwoman about a quintessential minority topic: crypto-Jews in the Spanish Inquisition. Originally intended as a refutation of English conversionists, by the end of the century the novel had appeared in multiple free translations into Hebrew, Yiddish, and Judeo-Arabic, refashioned to instill their readers with pride in historical Jewish nobility and martyrdom. In addition to mapping the book’s journey and elucidating the cultural markers of its myriad translations, the talk will foreground the Calcutta Judeo-Arabic edition and its social-historical context.

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