Hebrew Gothic

Hebrew Gothic

History and the Poetics of Persecution
Karen Grumberg
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/01/2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-253-04225-5
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Sinister tales written since the early 20th century by the foremost Hebrew authors, including S. Y. Agnon, Leah Goldberg, and Amos Oz, reveal a darkness at the foundation of Hebrew culture. The ghosts of a murdered Talmud scholar and his kidnapped bride rise from their graves for a nocturnal dance of death; a girl hidden by a count in a secret chamber of an Eastern European castle emerges to find that, unbeknownst to her, World War II ended years earlier; a man recounts the act of incest that would shape a trajectory of personal and national history. Reading these works together with central British and American gothic texts, Karen Grumberg illustrates that modern Hebrew literature has regularly appropriated key gothic ideas to help conceptualize the Jewish relationship to the past and, more broadly, to time. She explores why these authors were drawn to the gothic, originally a European mode associated with antisemitism, and how they use it to challenge assumptions about power and powerlessness, vulnerability and violence, and to shape modern Hebrew culture. Grumberg provides an original perspective on Hebrew literary engagement with history and sheds new light on the tensions that continue to characterize contemporary Israeli cultural and political rhetoric.

Author Bio

Karen Grumberg is Associate Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and the Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author of Place and Ideology in Contemporary Hebrew Literature.



Karen Grumberg's Hebrew Gothic breaks new ground by providing a sustained examination of Hebrew literature in the light of the Gothic literary tradition. This deftly argued, elegantly written and carefully nuanced book shows how twentieth-century Hebrew writers have appropriated and revised Christian, Anglophone Gothic tropes to challenge standard paradigms of victim and oppressor and find alternative ways of articulating historical rupture. It makes an important contribution to the growing body of scholarship on national Gothics, both in its establishing of a distinctive Hebrew Gothic tradition, and in its discovery of a new critical vocabulary for addressing the unique ambivalence of modern Israeli identity. As the fascinating coda exploring twenty-first century Israeli popular culture vividly demonstrates, the questions Grumberg raises remain of continuing and pressing relevance.


 (Catherine Spooner, author of Post-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic)


Reading Hebrew literature as a gothic literature allows for new, exciting local and transnational relations that challenge the ways in which the history of Hebrew literature is narrated. Karen Grumberg makes a major and vital contribution with writing that is crisp, cogent, and elegant.


 (Adriana X. Jacobs, author of Strange Cocktail: Translation and the Making of Modern Hebrew Poetry)


Karen Grumberg pursues a timely yet surprising task: to describe and explain the development of the gothic in modern Hebrew literature since the beginning of the twentieth century.


 (Neta Stahl, author of Other and Brother: Jesus in the 20th-Century Jewish Literary Landscape)


Karen Grumberg makes a persuasive argument, supported by comparative references to the Gothic in English, that Hebrew expressions of the Gothic, often regarded as a marginal phenomenon, play a vital role in how Hebrew writers have confronted history, culture, and politics.


 (Robert Alter, author of Hebrew and Modernity)

"Israel has never become normal as such, and the Jewish majority of the population still find it difficult to forget the past, because the present is still marked by worries about the future. This provokes a certain measure of paranoia, that Karen Grumbers sees as one of the main elements of the gothic world - the feeling of being constantly watched by unknown forces, lurking in the surroundings."


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Table of Contents


Note on Translation and Transliteration

Introduction. Gothic Matters

Part I. A Spectralized Past

1. Always Already Gothic: S. Y. Agnon's European Tales of Terror

2. Maternal Macabre: Feminine Subjectivity at the Edge of the Shtetl in Dvora Baron and Ya'akov Shteinberg

3. After the Nightmare of the Holocaust: Gothic Temporalities in Leah Goldberg and Edgar Allan Poe

Part II. Haunted Nation

4. Dark Jerusalem: Amos Oz's Anxious Literary Cartography between 1948 and 1967

5. Historiographic Perversions: Echoes of Otranto in A. B. Yehoshua's Mr. Mani

6. A Séance for the Self: Memory, Nonmemory, and the Reorientation of History in Almog Behar and Toni Morrison

Coda. "Here Are Our Monsters": Hebrew Horror from the Political to Pop