Literature and Poverty: From the Hebrew Bible to the Second World War, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Literature and Poverty

From the Hebrew Bible to the Second World War, 1st Edition

By David Aberbach


262 pages

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Literature and Poverty offers an engaging overview of changes in literary perceptions of poverty and the poor.  Part I of the book, from the Hebrew Bible to the French Revolution, provides essential background information. It introduces the Scriptural ideal of the ‘holy poor’ and the process by which biblical love of the poor came to be contested and undermined in European legislation and public opinion as capitalism grew and the state took over from the Church; Part II, from the French Revolution to World War II, shows how post-1789 problems of industrialization, population growth, war, and urbanization came to dominate much European literature, as poverty and the poor became central concerns of major writers such as Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Hugo.   

David Aberbach uses literature – from the Bible, through Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Zola, Pushkin, and Orwell – to show how poverty changed from being an endemic and unavoidable fact of life, to a challenge for equality that might be attainable through a moral and rational society. As a literary and social history of poverty, this book argues for the vital importance of literature and the arts in understanding current problems in International Development.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Biblical Ideals to Secular Realities Part 1: The ‘Holy Poor’ and its Desecrations: From the Hebrew Bible to the French Revolution 1. The Bible and the Poor: law and literature 2. The Medieval Transformation: the Unholy Poor in Literature and Poor Law 3. Sixteenth-century English nationalism: Poor Law, Scripture, and Shakespeare 4. From Shakespeare to Wordsworth: the rediscovery of biblical love for the poor Part 2: Poverty in the West and the Failure of Ideologies, 17891939 5. Industry, Revolution, and the Poor 6. Germinal: Peasants and Literature in England, Russia, and France 7. Jews in Eastern Europe 18611917: degradation and recovery 8. Hunger-Artists: from Pushkin to Orwell 9. Poverty, Literature, and the Environment 10. The End of Extreme Poverty in the West: Interwar Italy and America Appendix: The ‘Holy Poor’ in the Literature of Developing Countries, 1945

About the Author

David Aberbach is Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Studies at McGill University, Canada, and has held visiting positions at Harvard (Kennedy Center for International Development) and the London School of Economics (International Development).

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