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Reuben Sachs

by Amy Levy
Persephone book no:

22 23 24

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155127

'Its directness, its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make Reuben Sachs, in some sort, a classic.'
- Oscar Wilde

The Persephone edition of Reuben Sachs is the first to appear in Britain since its original publication in 1888. It is about a couple who love each other, but his political ambitions demand money and she is poor, and would be a fairly standard late-Victorian novel about the cruelty of the marriage market if it were not imbued with feminist polemic: author Amy Levy was sharply critical of the empty lives led by women with nothing to do all day except gossip, play cards and go shopping.

The setting is the Anglo-Jewish community in Bayswater in west London, portrayed with a sardonic gaze that shocked contemporary readers. Yet the author's theme was broader, for she was in part reacting against Daniel Deronda: she believed that George Eliot had romanticised her Jewish characters and that no novelist had yet described the modern Jew with 'his surprising virtues and no less surprising vices.'

Julia Neuberger writes in her Preface, 'This is a novel about women, and Jewish women, about families, and Jewish families, about snobbishness, and Jewish snobbishness'; while in the Independent on Sunday Lisa Allardice said: 'Sadder but no less sparkling than Miss Pettigrew, Reuben Sachs is another forgotten classic by an accomplished female novelist. Amy Levy might be described as a Jewish Jane Austen.' 

Also available as a (free) e-book.


Since the theme is marriage as a financial and social construct, and since the tone is heavily ironic, we chose an 1888 cotton velveteen called 'Orange Blossom' (the flower traditionally carried by a bride) in sombre colours.

Read What Readers Say

Under the Gables (blogger)

Of the sixteen Persephone books I have read, my favourite is ‘Reuben Sachs’ by Amy Levy, and I appreciate Oscar Wilde’s appraisal of it: “Its directness, its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make Reuben Sachs in some sort, a classic.” It was criticised as being anti-Semitic for its portrayal of wealthy Jewish family life and its drive for both financial security and political power. It is hard for me to see how this is anti- Semitic, since such drives are prevalent in most households of accumulated wealth. In a lean 147 pages, Amy Levy leaves us with a sense of regret and poignancy that cannot be forgotten. Every gesture and expression and word of her characters stand in service to her disciplined telling of the story.

Categories: Love Story Race Victoriana

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