Writing for Justice

Victor Séjour, the Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, and the Age of Transatlantic Emancipations

Elèna Mortara

Writing for Justice

Elèna Mortara

Distributed for Dartmouth College Press

352 pages | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
Paper $40.00 ISBN: 9781611687903 Published November 2015
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.
Contents
Introduction: Crossing Borders • PART I. A CREOLE AMERICAN WRITER IN PARIS • From New Orleans to France: Séjour’s Early Life and “Le Mulâtre” • Diégarias, a Mixed-Identity Tragedy • Poet, Playwright, and Double Endings in 1859 • PART II. IN THE AGE OF EMANCIPATIONS: THE MORTARA CASE AND A WRITER’S CONSCIENCE • La Tireuse de cartes: The Mortara Case and Artistic Passing • A Catholic Playwright and His Plea to the Pope • Plot and Conflicts on Stage in La Tireuse de cartes • Mulatta Figures in French and American Literature, 1834–1853: Gender, Race, and Identity • The Gender Issue in the Play • Torn Between Belongings • Revenge vs. Forgiveness in Shakespeare and Séjour • Censorship, History, and the Drama’s Denouement • Contemporary Performances and Reviews in France and Italy • An Age of Transatlantic Emancipations • Rise and Fall of an Expatriate Playwright • A Writer’s Indignant Conscience • PART III. WHEN IT SNOWS HISTORY • Family Recollections: A Personal Note • Appendixes • A Note on the Texts • “The Mortara Case,” The New York Times, Dec. 4, 1858 • Penina Moïse, “Tribute of Condolence,” The Jewish Messenger, Dec. 24, 1858 • Adah Isaacs Menken, “To the Sons of Israel,” The Israelite, Jan. 28, 1859 • Victor Séjour, Preface to La Tireuse de cartes (1860) • Acknowledgements • Notes • Bibliography • Index
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