Amy Judith Levy (10 November 1861 – 10 September 1889) was a British essayist, poet, and novelist best remembered for her literary gifts; her experience as the first Jewish woman at Cambridge University and as a pioneering woman student at Newnham College, Cambridge; her feminist positions; her friendships with others living what came later to be called a "New Woman" life, some of whom were lesbians; and her relationships with both women and men in literary and politically activist circles in London during the 1880s.
|Born||10 November 1861|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Died||10 September 1889 (aged 27)|
London, England, United Kingdom
|Resting place||Kingsbury Road Cemetery, Dalston, London Borough of Hackney, Greater London, United Kingdom|
|Education||Brighton and Hove High School, Newnham College, Cambridge|
Levy was born in Clapham, an affluent district of London, on 10 November 1861, to Lewis and Isobel Levy. She was the second of seven children born into a Jewish family with a "casual attitude toward religious observance" who sometimes attended a Reform synagogue in Upper Berkeley Street. As an adult, Levy continued to identify herself as Jewish and wrote for The Jewish Chronicle.
Levy showed an interest in literature from an early age. At 13, she wrote a criticism of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's feminist work Aurora Leigh; at 14, Levy's first poem, "Ida Grey: A Story of Woman's Sacrifice", was published in the journal Pelican. Her family was supportive of women's education and encouraged Amy's literary interests; in 1876, she was sent to Brighton and Hove High School and later studied at Newnham College, Cambridge. Levy was the first Jewish student at Newnham when she arrived in 1879 but left before her final year without taking her exams.
Her circle of friends included Clementina Black, Dollie Radford, Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl Marx), and Olive Schreiner. While travelling in Florence in 1886, Levy met Vernon Lee, a fiction writer and literary theorist six years her senior, and fell in love with her. Both women went on to explore the themes of sapphic love in their works. Lee inspired Levy's poem "To Vernon Lee".
The Romance of a Shop (1888), Levy's first novel, is regarded as an early "New Woman" novel and depicts four sisters who experience the difficulties and opportunities afforded to women running a business in 1880s London, Levy wrote her second novel, Reuben Sachs (1888), to fill the literary need for "serious treatment ... of the complex problem of Jewish life and Jewish character", which she identified and discussed in her 1886 article "The Jew in Fiction."
Levy wrote stories, essays, and poems for popular or literary periodicals; the stories "Cohen of Trinity" and "Wise in Their Generation", both published in Oscar Wilde's magazine The Woman's World, are among her most notable. In 1886, Levy began writing a series of essays on Jewish culture and literature for The Jewish Chronicle, including The Ghetto at Florence, The Jew in Fiction, Jewish Humour, and Jewish Children.
Levy's works of poetry, including the daring A Ballad of Religion and Marriage, reveal her feminist concerns. Xantippe and Other Verses (1881) includes "Xantippe", a poem in the voice of Socrates's wife; the volume A Minor Poet and Other Verse (1884) includes more dramatic monologues as well as lyric poems. Her final book of poems, A London Plane-Tree (1889), contains lyrics that are among the first to show the influence of French symbolism.
Amy Judith Levy remains a topic of discussion amongst scholars in terms of whether or not she is to be considered a Victorian queer writer. She had sent several poems to her friend Violet Piaget, also known as Vernon Lee, confessing her love. These poems include her famous works "To Vernon Lee" and "New Love, New Life." Both of these pieces express messages of unrequited love to a member of a similar group. Scholars continue to debate if these gestures were that of friendship or intense passion.
Levy suffered from episodes of major depression from an early age. In her later years, her depression worsened in connection to her distress surrounding her romantic relationships and her awareness of her growing deafness. Two months away from her 28th birthday, she committed suicide "at the residence of her parents ... [at] Endsleigh Gardens" by inhaling carbon monoxide. Oscar Wilde wrote an obituary for her in Women's World in which he praised her gifts.
- Xantippe and Other Verse (1881)
- A Minor Poet and Other Verse (1884)
- The Romance of a Shop (1888) novel (republished in 2005 by Black Apollo Press)
- Reuben Sachs: A Sketch (1888) (republished in 2001 by Persephone Books)
- A London Plane-Tree and Other Verse (1889)
- Miss Meredith (1889; a novel)
- The Complete Novels and Selected Writings of Amy Levy: 1861–1889
- Wagenknecht, Edward (1983). Daughters of the Covenant: Portraits of Six Jewish Women. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-0-87023-396-8.
- Beckman, Linda Hunt (2005). Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters. Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-8214-1329-5.
- Beckman (2005). Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters. p. 55.
- Ledger, Sally (1997). The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-4093-1.
- Bernstein, Susan David (2006). The Romance of a Shop. Broadview Press. ISBN 1-55111-566-2.
- Beckman (2005). Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters. p. 159.
- "Levy, Clemintina Black, and Liza of Lambeth", Emma Francis, in Naomi Hetherington and Nadia Valman (eds), Amy Levy: Critical Essays.
- Levy, Amy; Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture. NcD; Leona Bowman Carpenter Collection of English and American Literature. NcD (8 February 1889). "A London plane-tree : and other verse". London : T. Fisher Unwin. Retrieved 8 February 2018 – via Internet Archive.
- Modern British Poetry: A Critical Anthology (edited by Louis Untermeyer), 1920, 1925, 1930 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. (no ISBN), pp. 270–71.
- Linda Hunt Beckman, Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8214-1329-5.
- Iveta Jusová, The New Woman and the Empire. Columbus : Ohio State University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8142-1005-8.
- Judith Flanders. Inside the Victorian Home: a Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. ISBN 978-0-393-05209-1
- Susan Bernstein, ed., Reuben Sachs [with introduction and other readings by Levy and others]. Broadview Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-551-11565-8
- Susan Bernstein, ed., The Romance of a Shop [with introduction and other readings by Levy and others]. Broadview Press, 2006. ISBN 1-55111-566-2
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Levy, Amy.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Levy, Amy.|
- "Amy Levy: A Tragic Late Victorian Anglo-Jewish Poet and Novelist" at The Victorian Web.
- Amy Levy Chronology at The Victorian Web.
- Amy Levy at the Jewish Women's Archive.
- Some Amy Levy poems on Cordula's Web.
- Poems by Amy Levy.
- MP3 recording of Levy's novel Reuben Sachs: A Sketch from Librivox.org.
- Critical analysis of Levys's work at Enotes.
- Works by or about Amy Levy at Internet Archive
- Works by Amy Levy at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)