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Writing for Justice
Victor Séjour, the Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, and the Age of Transatlantic Emancipations
Elèna Mortara

Re-Mapping the Transnational: A Dartmouth Series in American Studies

2015 • 352 pp. 36 illus. 6 1/8 x 9 1/4"
Literary Criticism - Historical Events / Literary Criticism - African American / Biography - Writers

$40.00 Paperback, 978-1-61168-790-3
$34.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-791-0

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“A most illuminating read. . . . A fine contribution to the relatively new approach to American Studies—multiethnic and multilingual . . . in its claim for Séjour and similar others who are or should be part of the American canon.”—Jules Chametzky, Massachusetts Review

Transnational battles for freedom and a personal work of remembrance

In Writing for Justice, Elèna Mortara presents a richly layered study of the cultural and intellectual atmosphere of mid-nineteenth-century Europe and the United States, through close readings of the life and work of Victor Séjour, an expat American Creole from New Orleans living in Paris. In addition to writing The Mulatto, an early story on slavery in Saint-Domingue, Séjour penned La Tireuse de cartes (The Fortune-Teller, 1859), a popular play based on the famed Mortara case. In this historical incident, Pope Pius IX kidnapped Edgardo Mortara, the child of a Jewish family living in the Papal States. The details of the play’s production—and its reception on both sides of the Atlantic—are intertwined with the events of the Italian Risorgimento and of pre–Civil War America. Writing for Justice is full of surprising encounters with French and American writers and historical figures, including Hugo, Hawthorne, Twain, Napoleon III, Garibaldi, and Lincoln. As Elèna Mortara passionately argues, the enormous amount of public attention received by the case reveals an era of underappreciated transatlantic intellectual exchange, in which an African American writer used notions of emancipation in religious as well as racial terms, linking the plight of blacks in America to that of Jews in Europe, and to the larger battles for freedom and nationhood advancing across the continent.

This book will appeal both to general readers and to scholars, including historians, literary critics, and specialists in African American studies, Jewish, Catholic, or religious studies, multilingual American literature, francophone literature, theatrical life, nineteenth-century European politics, and cross-cultural encounters.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“Séjour had a bent for crossing the boundaries between cultures: espousing the cause of the discriminated Jews . . . he was able to give a universal dimension to his commitment, in line with the movement of emancipation, against slavery and prejudice, which was then becoming prominent on both sides of the Atlantic.” —Antonio Carioti, Corriere della sera

Writing for Justice is an exemplary instance of scholarship that illuminates the transnational dimension of our history.”—M. Lynn Weiss, The Common Reader

“The originality of the study is marked by the author’s use of a range of methodologies and the linking of a number of academic disciplines. . . . The personal aspect of the work adds an additional lens which illustrates how the past can be illuminated by a contemporary perspective.”—American Studies Network

“Elèna Mortara’s book is remarkable for its variety of stylistic registers and for the agility with which it prompts the reader to consider different sources: narrative texts, plays, original prints and engravings, especially cartoons and satirical caricatures, in accordance with the fin de siècle French propensities.”Alberto Cavaglion, Pagine Ebraiche (Jewish Pages)

“[Mortara] offers us an unusual and innovative perspective on the Mortara case that propels us into an age when you could fight for the freedom from slavery and at the same time for the emancipation of Jews.”Anna Foa, Pagine Ebraiche (Jewish Pages)

“Brilliant, painstakingly researched. . . . [Mortara’s] eclectic methodology features meticulous textual analysis, study of contemporary press reviews, [and] historical narrative. . . . [An] academic tour de force. . . . An exciting read, a model of committed scholarship, Writing for Justice is also a research tool of the highest caliber.”Edward K. Kaplan, The Review of Rabbinic Judaism

 “[Mortara’s] book will hopefully provoke questions . . . into the challenges and costs of widening our scope of analysis across the globe. Thanks to Professor Mortara’s efforts, the upside is evident. Writing for Justice demonstrates just what a feat of imagination and rhetorical strategy it was, on the part of Séjour and likeminded authors, to think across national barriers in the service of a planetary politics avant la lettre.”H-France Review

“[A] seamless and exceptionally original study . . . Writing for Justice brings to light the themes of social justice, personal and collective freedom, plural identities, and nineteenth-century transatlantic cultural exchanges. At the same time, the text creates a cross-cultural space for dialogues on topics that implicate France, Italy, and the United States.”
Nineteenth-Century French Studies

“While there are studies of the Edgardo Mortara case, a biography of Victor Séjour, and histories of the anti-slavery movements and of the battle for Jewish emancipation in Europe and the Americas, this outstanding book interweaves all these strands successfully into a freshly researched single work.”—Werner Sollors, professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

“Elèna Mortara’s Writing for Justice is a fascinating account of the career of the 19th-century writer Victor Séjour, a New Orleans–born free black man who had brilliant success writing for the Paris stage. At the center of Séjour’s career, this study shows, was a play that eloquently addressed a contemporary scandal, the legal kidnapping by the Catholic church of a six-year-old Jewish child who had been clandestinely baptized by his nurse. Though a Catholic addressing a largely Catholic audience, Séjour, adding his voice to widespread protests, spoke out powerfully for human emancipation. Mortara explores the intersection between the celebrated black writer’s personal history and the situation of other oppressed groups in his time. Then in a stunning coda, revealing that the kidnapped child, who became a priest, was her great-great uncle, she movingly recounts her family’s personal memories of the trauma.”—Stephen Greenblatt, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

“A masterful examination of what must be one of the most intriguing figures of mid-nineteenth-century American literature, Writing for Justice reflects a refreshing transnational turn in literary study.”—David I. Kertzer, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Pope and Mussolini and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

“A brilliant book . . . Elèna Mortara has managed to enhance a haunted family history by devising a fascinating detective story as well.”—Stephen Whitfield, Brandeis University


Winner of the 2016 American Studies Network Book Prize

ELÈNA MORTARA is a professor of American literature at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. A well-known scholar of Jewish American writing and nineteenth-century literature, she has written, edited, and translated numerous books and articles.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:00 -0500