Rachel Morpurgo, née Luzzatto, of Trieste (1790-1871) was the first woman to leave a corpus of poems in Hebrew. Her poems and letters-some published during her lifetime, others found after her death by her daughter-were collected and published posthumously in 1890 by Isaac H. ayyim Castiglioni, also of Trieste, in a book he entitled ‘Ugav Rah. el (Rachel’s Harp). Despite Morpurgo’s relative fame among her contemporaries, she failed to earn the appreciation of historians of modern Hebrew literature. Only during the last two decades have a number of women scholars started to discover the complexity of the first woman poet to write in Hebrew and her poetry. This article attempts to answer two central questions that have not previously been addressed: Which circumstances explain the emergence of Morpurgo in Trieste, some thirty years before the first Hebrew women poets in eastern Europe? and What was unique about Morpurgo’s writing, compared to other writers of her time? To answer the first, a connection will be drawn between the poet’s development, her sociocultural circumstances (Italian-Jewish culture, the special nature of the Triestian Haskalah) and her family of origin, the Luzzattos. To answer the second, her poetic technique will be defined in terms of the techniques of palimpsest and Re-Vision. These make her poetry unique and reflect the painful comprehension of her marginal position, determined by her gender, in the world of Jewish learning. Understanding her feeling of marginality and the way in which she overcame it by employing sophisticated poetic techniques enables us both to decipher her enigmatic poems and understand her position in the history of Hebrew literature.
ASJC Scopus subject areas