The Jewish novelist Sidney Luska, author of the 1885 book As It Was Written: A Jewish Musician’s Story isn’t your run-of-the-mill writer. For starters, he didn’t really exist. And he wasn’t Jewish, either.
Luska was the creation of Henry Harland, an eccentric writer who, in his own words, put “a Jewish name on the title page” because “the sale of the book would be vastly increased.” Turns out he was right–this little book sold over 50,000 copies and secured a spot on JPS’s list of 125 top Jewish novels.
The novel–a gothic romance about a poor music teacher and his blighted fiancée–switches genres faster than an episode of Lost. Its plot includes just about anything a 19th-century audience could ask for–love triangles, suspense, self-introspection, even a murder mystery.
Back in 1885, the Atlantic Monthly reviewed the book by saying, “Almost any flight of fancy becomes credible when the flyer is a musician, and a Jew to boot, for one is instantly able to take advantage of the supernatural element.” We’re not sure what that says about the 19th-century Atlantic and its opinion of Jews–but As It Was Written is a fascinating glimpse into one non-Jew’s perception of our people.
October 4, 2010