An exploration of the figure of the Wandering Jew in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first and last mature poetic works.
Tinker, in her debut, traces the Wandering Jew character from his origins to his role in Shelley’s Romantic poetry. The character comes up throughout medieval Christian folklore as a man who taunted Jesus and was then made to wander the world until Christ’s return. The book’s first section focuses in part on the character’s specific incarnation as a man named Ahasuerus, who first emerged in a 1602 German work called Kurtze Beschreibung. Tinker carefully traces the lines of Ahasuerus’ influence, from a religious parable to the work of later writers, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Christian Schubart. From these influences, Tinker proceeds directly to Shelley’s use of Ahasuerus, first in the 1813 poem “Queen Mab” and later in his 1822 verse drama Hellas. This structure allows her to follow Ahasuerus’ evolution very closely—from his portrayal as a Lutheran convert to his depiction as a heretic and healer. In her conclusion, she writes that “Ahasuerus is not a real man. He is a fiction, and not one, but many, recreated by many authors....Ahasuerus is merely a name, a form in whose shelter writers have reared virtual men who find salvation through knowledge and experience.” Tinker’s analysis will appeal strongly to readers interested in the intersections among religion, folklore and literature, and between European Christianity and Judaism from the medieval to the Romantic age. The author makes no revelatory assertions but writes clearly and competently and delivers a valuable introduction to her subject. She also provides an extensive bibliography for readers who wish to undertake further research.
A concise, readable introduction to a literary archetype.