Read at www.nybooks.com
David Anthony's book explores the presence of antisemitism in various genres of antebellum American culture, including literature, political cartoons, and stage performances. The portrayal of Jews as villains was a common stereotype during this time.
Anthony has unearthed hostile portraits of Jews in various realms of US culture during the two decades before the Civil War: in pulp fiction, in novels about southern plantation life, in political cartoons, in stage performances, and in literary works like Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun.
However, Anthony also reveals that many non-Jews expressed ambivalence towards Jews, depicting them as simultaneously menacing yet enticingly exotic. He focuses mainly on Jewish characters in sensational novels, highlighting the darker and more lurid side of antebellum popular culture.
But there was a lurid underside to antebellum popular culture that bristled with bloodcurdling, yellow-covered pamphlet novels, erotic tableau vivant shows in which naked women posed in scenes like Venus Rising from the Sea or Susanna in the Bath, and penny newspapers full of accounts of homicides, illicit sex, horrible accidents, and the like.