Amy Levy (1861 - 10 September 1889 / London)
Biography of Amy Levy
Amy Levy was born in London, England in 1861. She was the 2nd of 7 children into a somewhat wealthy Anglo-Jewish family. The children of the family read and participated in secular literary activities and the family frequently took part in home theatricals -- they firmly integrated into Victorian life.
She was educated at Brighton High School, Brighton, and studied at Newnham College, Cambridge; she was the first Jewish student at Newnham, when she arrived in 1879, but left after four terms.
Her circle of friends included Clementina Black, Dollie Radford, Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl Marx), and Olive Schreiner. Levy wrote stories, essays, and poems for periodicals, some popular and others literary. Her writing career began early; her poem "Ida Grey" appearing in the journal the Pelican when she was only fourteen. The stories "Cohen of Trinity" and "Wise in Their Generation," both published in Oscar Wilde's magazine "Women's World," are among her best. Her second novel Reuben Sachs (1888) was concerned with Jewish identity and mores in the England of her time (and was consequently controversial); Her first novel Romance of a Shop (1888) depicts four sisters who experience the pleasures and hardships of running a business in London during the 1880s. Other writings as well, including the daring Ballad of Religion and Marriage, reveal feminist concerns. Xantippe and Other Verses (1881) includes a poem in the voice of Socrates's wife; the volume A Minor Poet and Other Verse (1884) has dramatic monologues too, as well as lyric poems. 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. Her final book of poems, A London Plane-Tree (1889), contains lyrics that are among the first to show the influence of French symbolism.
Traveling in Europe, she met Vernon Lee in Florence in 1886, and it has been said that she fell in love with her. Vernon Lee (Violet Paget), the fiction writer and literary theorist, was six years older, and inspired the poem To Vernon Lee.
Despite many friends and an active literary life, Levy had suffered from episodes of major depression from an early age which, together with her growing deafness, led her to commit suicide on September 10, 1889, at the age of twenty-seven, by inhaling carbon monoxide. Oscar Wilde wrote an obituary for her in Women's World in which he praised her gifts.
Amy Levy's Works:
Xantippe and Other Verse (1881)
A Minor Poet and Other Verse (1884)
The Romance of a Shop (1888)
Reuben Sachs: A Sketch (1888)
A London Plane-Tree and Other Verse (1889)
Miss Meredith (1889)
The Complete Novels and Selected Writings of Amy Levy: 1861-1889
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The lion remembers the forest,
The lion in chains;
To the bird that is captive a vision
Of woodland remains.
One strains with his strength at the fetter,
In impotent rage;
One flutters in flights of a moment,
And beats at the cage.