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Grace Aguilar (1816–1847)

Author of The Vale of Cedars: A Story of Spain in the Fifteenth Century

Includes the names: Grace. Acuilar

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Short biography
Grace Aguilar was born in London to Anglo-Portugese Jews descended from Marranos who had fled to England to escape the Inquisition. As a child, Grace contracted an illness from which she never fully recovered, leaving her vulnerable to many other disorders throughout her life. However, being sick did not prevent her from keeping a diary starting at a very young age, or from dancing, local travel, or playing musical instruments. When Grace was 12, the family moved to the Devon coast for her father's health. Her father used his enforced rest to educate his daughter in Jewish history; she later drew on his tales to create the historical romances she started writing at age 15. Her first novel was only published posthumously in 1850. Grace decided to try to make a living as a writer, and beginning in 1834, she produced a prolific stream of short sketches, stories, poetry, and novels. The family moved to Brighton, where Grace found a publisher for her first book of poems, The Magic Wreath of Hidden Flowers. Grace also wrote religious liturgy, meditations, and sermons that later appeared in Sabbath Thoughts and Sacred Communings (1853). In 1838, at her father’s request, she translated Orobio de Castro’s Israel Defended from the French and had it printed for private circulation. The family moved back to London by 1840, and Grace began to move in British and American literary circles, getting to know many Romantic and early Victorian writers, including the young Benjamin Disraeli. Her books were well received by many Jews and Christians on both sides of the Atlantic, and some pieces from The Spirt of Judaism (1842) were used as teaching texts in synagogues and Protestant churches until the 1950s. Her work influenced American Jewish women such as Rebecca Gratz. Grace Aguilar published a total of 12 books and becam the first bestselling Jewish writer in Britain. She helped to build the Anglo-Jewish subculture and demanded women’s emancipation in the Jewish world. She died tragically at the age of 31 during a trip to Germany.
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