Cora Wilburn’s "Cosella Wayne", published serially in 1860 and never before published as a book, is both the first novel written and published in English by an American Jewish woman writer and the first coming-of-age novel to depict Jews in the United States. Set in the 1840s, it opens up a whole world of which we know little: a world of crooked gem dealers who traveled to exotic places, like Australia, India, and Venezuela, visiting Jews in each one; a world where a Jewish child might be “rescued” from her non-Jewish father so that it could be raised by Jewish parents; a world where a Jewish “father” molested his daughter; and a world where that daughter took solace in the new, heavily female movement known as Spiritualism, becoming for a time among its best-known writers. The story of Cora Wilburn—who lived for many years in the Boston area—as well as the story behind that story, form the subject of this lecture.
About Jonathan D. Sarna: Dr. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and directs its Schusterman Center for Israel Studies. He is also chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He is author or editor of more than thirty books on American Jewish history and life, including "American Judaism: A History (2004)"; "When General Grant Expelled the Jews (2012)"; and "Lincoln and the Jews: A History" (with Benjamin Shapell; 2015).