Grace Aguilar

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Grace Aguilar
Grace Aguilar engraved portrait.jpg
Grace Aguilar
Born (1816-06-02)2 June 1816
Hackney, England
Died 16 September 1847(1847-09-16) (aged 31)
Nationality English
Occupation writer
Religion Jewish

Grace Aguilar (2 June 1816 – 16 September 1847) was an English novelist and writer on Jewish history and religion. As a child she showed great interest in history, especially Jewish history. The death of her father lead to her writing to support herself.

In 1842 she published Spirit of Judaism, in defence of her faith and its professors; and, in 1845, published The Jewish Faith and The Women of Israel in the United States. She is, however, best known by two of her novels, Home Influence (1847) and A Mother's Recompense. (1850).

In 1847 Aguilar's health began to deteriorate and she died that year in Frankfurt.


She was the oldest child of parents descended from Portuguese Marranos who sought asylum in England in the eighteenth century.[citation needed] To strengthen her constitution, which from infancy had been feeble, she was taken to the sea-shore and to various rural localities in England. Her love of nature was cultivated by these experiences; and at the age of twelve she devoted herself of her own accord to the study of natural science, augmenting a collection of shells begun by her at Hastings, when only four years old, and supplementing it by mineralogical and botanical collections.

Grace Aguilar was educated mainly by her parents. Her mother, a cultivated woman of strong religious feeling, trained her to read the Scriptures systematically; and when she was fourteen her father read aloud to her regularly, chiefly history, while she was occupied with drawing and needlework. She was an assiduous musician till her health became impaired. Her reading, especially in history, was extensive; her knowledge of foreign literature was wide.

Literary works[edit]

She evinced a literary tendency at the age of seven, when she began a diary, which she continued almost uninterruptedly until her death. Before she was twelve she had written a drama, "Gustavus Vasa." Her first verses were evoked two years later by the scenery about Tavistock in Devonshire. The first products of her pen to be published (anonymously in 1835) were her collected poems, which she issued under the title "The Magic Wreath." Her productions are chiefly stories and religious works dealing with Jewish subjects. The former embrace domestic tales, tales founded on Marano history, and a romance of Scottish history, "The Days of Bruce" (1852). The most popular of the Jewish tales is "The Vale of Cedars, or the Martyr: A Story of Spain in the Fifteenth Century," written before 1835, published in 1850, and twice translated into German and twice into Hebrew. Her other stories founded on Jewish episodes are included in a collection of nineteen tales, "Home Scenes and Heart Studies" (published posthumously 1852);[1] "The Perez Family" (1843) and "The Edict," together with "The Escape," had appeared as two separate volumes; the others were reprinted from magazines. Her domestic tales are "Home Influence" (1847) and its sequel, "The Mother's Recompense" (1850), both of them written early in 1836, "Woman's Friendship" (1851), and "Helon: A Fragment from Jewish History" (1852).[2]

The first of Aguilar's religious works was a translation of the French version of "Israel Defended," by the Marrano Orobio de Castro, printed for private circulation. It was closely followed by "The Spirit of Judaism," the publication of which was for a time prevented by the loss of the original manuscript. Sermons by Rabbi Isaac Leeser, of Philadelphia, had fallen into her hands and, like all other accessible Jewish works, had been eagerly read. She requested him to revise the manuscript of the "Spirit of Judaism," which was forwarded to him, but was lost. The author rewrote it; and in 1842 it was published in Philadelphia, with notes by Leeser. A second edition was issued in 1849 by the first American Jewish Publication Society; and a third (Cincinnati, 1864) has an appendix containing thirty-two poems (bearing date 1838-1847), all but two reprinted from "The Occident." The editor's notes serve mainly to mark dissent from Aguilar's depreciation of Jewish tradition — due probably to her Marrano ancestry and to her country life, cut off from association with Jews. In 1845 "The Women of Israel" appeared—a series of portraits delineated according to the Scriptures and Josephus. This was soon followed by "The Jewish Faith: Its Spiritual Consolation, Moral Guidance, and Immortal Hope," in thirty-one letters, the last dated September, 1846. Of this work—addressed to a Jewess under the spell of Christian influence, to demonstrate to her the spirituality of Judaism—the larger part is devoted to immortality in the Old Testament. Aguilar's other religious writings —some of them written as early as 1836—were collected in a volume of "Essays and Miscellanies" (1851–52). The first part consists of "Sabbath Thoughts" on Scriptural passages and prophecies; the second, of "Communings" for the family circle.

In her religious writings Aguilar's attitude was defensive. Despite her almost exclusive intercourse with Christians and her utter lack of prejudice, her purpose, apparently, was to equip English Jewesses with arguments against conversionists. She inveighed against formalism, and laid stress upon knowledge of Jewish history and the Hebrew language. In view of the neglect of the latter by women (to whom she modestly confined her expostulations), she constantly pleaded for the reading of the Scriptures in the English version. Her interest in the reform movement was deep; yet, despite her attitude toward tradition, she observed ritual ordinances punctiliously. Her last work was a sketch of the "History of the Jews in England," written for "Chambers's Miscellany." In point of style it is the most finished of her productions, free from the exuberances and redundancies that disfigure the tales—published, for the most part, posthumously by her mother. The defects of her style are mainly chargeable to youth. With her extraordinary industry—she rose early and employed the day systematically—and her growing ability of concentration she gave promise of noteworthy productions.

In 1835 Aguilar had an attack of illness, from which she never fully recovered. She planned to return to Europe in 1847. Before her departure some Jewish women of London presented her with a gift and an address recounting her achievements in behalf of Judaism and Jewish women. She later visited her elder brother at Frankfurt and at first seemed to benefit by the change of scene and climate, but after a few weeks she went to the baths of Schwalbach for treatment. More symptoms led her return to Frankfurt, where she died on 16 September 1847. Her remains were buried in the Jewish cemetery.


  1. ^ Aguilar, Grace (1902). The Vale of Cedars & Other Tales. London: J.M. Dent & Co. p. vi. 
  2. ^ Aguilar, Grace (1902). The Vale of Cedars & Other Tales. London: J.M. Dent & Co. p. vi. 

Further reading[edit]

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