About Maria Polack
Maria Polack, author of Fiction Without Romance: or The Locket-Watch (1830) was a life-long resident of London’s East End. The Anglo-Jewish historian, Cecil Roth, claims that Polack is the first Anglo-Jewish novelist. Polack was also a teacher who worked with students from The Jews’ Free School. Although little is known of Polack’s life, evidence of her work and religious affiliations can be found in East End institutional holdings for the Great Synagogue, The Jews’ Free School, and Brady Street Cemetery. Fiction Without Romance’s subscription list indicates that Polack was well connected to readers in London and throughout the Atlantic world.
Polack’s novel appeared at a moment when her East End Jewish community sought ways of educating Jewish youth to become English without losing their identity as Jews. This period also witnessed a rise of Christian conversion efforts, and Fiction Without Romance makes powerful arguments against Jewish assimilation and in favor of religious pluralism. Polack ties educational concerns in her novel to 1790s debates about female education and courtship rituals. Polack’s title, Fiction Without Romance, combined with numerous discussions in the text, also link the novel to contemporary debates about realism and romance. Discussions among characters directly recall women artists including Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Hamilton, Felicia Hemans, Bathsua Pell Makin, Clara Reeve, Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Evidence suggests that despite Maria Polack’s anti-conversion stance in Fiction Without Romance, she converted to Christianity. However, Polack was buried in a Jewish cemetery. Her daughter Elizabeth Polack later recalled how her mother taught her Jewish music.