"Whatever bigots say": Isaac Harby's the gordian knot and the anti-catholic gothic

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The essay focuses on the 1810 Gothic melodrama The Gordian Knot, or, Causes and Effects, by Charleston writer Isaac Harby (1788-1828). The play is loosely based on William-Henry Ireland's British Gothic novel The Abbess (1799), a tale of lust, violence, and persecution set in a Catholic convent and in the dungeons of the Inquisition. In the essay I argue that Harby's choices in adapting the novel are intriguing for what they suggest about the dilemmas of a Jewish writer in early nineteenth-century America. Harby, I show, invokes The Abbess but refuses to follow its lead when it comes to the Gothic demonization of religious difference. The essay examines the changes Harby institutes in his adaptation of the story vis-à-vis the similar forms of "othering" to which Jews and Catholics were subject in the early 1800s. I conclude by considering the resonance of Harby's background as Gothic novelist in his later role and rhetoric as a Jewish reformer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-129
Number of pages23
JournalStudies in American Jewish Literature
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


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