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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Amy Levy Poems
A March Day In London
The east wind blows in the street to-day; The sky is blue, yet the town looks grey. 'Tis the wind of ice, the wind of fire, Of cold despair and of hot desire,
New Love, New Life
I. She, who so long has lain Stone-stiff with folded wings,
London In July
What ails my senses thus to cheat? What is it ails the place, That all the people in the street Should wear one woman's face?
A London Plane-Tree
Green is the plane-tree in the square, The other trees are brown; They droop and pine for country air; The plane-tree loves the town.
In the night I dreamed of you; All the place was filled With your presence; in my heart The strife was stilled.
Ballade Of A Special Edition
He comes; I hear him up the street-- Bird of ill omen, flapping wide The pinion of a printed sheet, His hoarse note scares the eventide.
A Minor Poet
"What should such fellows as I do, Crawling between earth and heaven?"
All things I can endure, save one. The bare, blank room where is no sun; The parcelled hours; the pallet hard; The dreary faces here within;
Since that I may not have Love on this side the grave, Let me imagine Love. Since not mine is the bliss
(A Fragment)>/i> What, have I waked again? I never thought
(After Heine.) The sad rain falls from Heaven,
A Greek Girl
I may not weep, not weep, and he is dead. A weary, weary weight of tears unshed Through the long day in my sad heart I bear; The horrid sun with all unpitying glare
In The Black Forest
I lay beneath the pine trees, And looked aloft, where, through The dusky, clustered tree-tops, Gleamed rent, gay rifts of blue.
They trod the streets and squares where now I tread,
To A Dead Poet
I knew not if to laugh or weep;
They sat and talked of you--
"'Twas here he sat; 'twas this he said!
'Twas that he used to do.
"Here is the book wherein he read,
The room wherein he dwelt;
And he" (they said) "was such a man,
Such things he thought and felt."