Ray D. Wolfe Postdoctoral Fellow Lecture: Rachel Gordan, "An American Dilemma: Anti-Semitism in Laura Z. Hobson’s Imagination"

How does a cultural historian use middlebrow literature in order to shape and reframe our understanding of American Jewish history? This talk about Laura Z. Hobson's bestselling 1947 novel, Gentleman's Agreement, reveals the various ways that religion and Jewishness operate in American culture, and how the study of Jewish history is enriched by expanding the source base to include more popular texts.

Despite her strong Jewish roots (both of Hobson's parents wrote for major Yiddish newspapers in New York), Laura Hobson (1900–1986) is generally excluded from the canon of postwar American Jewish literature. Her work has been criticized for being too popular and not sufficiently Jewish. Gentleman's Agreement—the quintessential postwar novel about anti-Semitism, then, is emblematic of the precarious situation in which many Jews in the literary world found themselves in the 1930's and 1940's. Their challenge: how to speak out against the horrors of Nazi Europe and growing anti-Semitism at home? As the story of Gentleman's Agreement reveals, writers, editors, and publishers who hoped to sell books felt these concerns even stronger, as the sought to shade their arguments and protests toward a wider audience.

Rachel Gordan is this year's Ray D. Wolfe Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto.

Date & Time
Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 4:00pm

Jackman Humanities Building, Room 100, 170 St. George Street