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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 August 2006

Alex Goody
Oxford Brookes University


The work of Amy Levy, as a Jewish, feminist, lesbian writer at the fin de siècle, coincides with what Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst describe as a “crucial moment in the formation and transformation of [the] object[s] of study” of “cultural and social historians, urban theorists, literary critics, post-colonial critics, feminist writers, and gay and lesbian theorists” (xiv). The concern of this article, rather than co-opting Levy into a particular critical framework, is to explore her presentation of subjectivity in the urban landscape, particularly in the poems of the posthumously published A London Plane-Tree and Other Verse (1889). In these poems and elsewhere the city instigates a disturbing unsettling of binaries and identifications which suggests the possibility of writing (of) divergent or subversive identities, what Cynthia Scheinberg terms Levy's “minority” voices (Women's Poetry 191). The irregular, unregulated urban space undermines the closure of heterosexual, national narratives and provides a cartography for Levy's exploration of “the intersection between various minority positions and cultural discourses which construct and judge ‘others’” (ibid.). In the first two sections of A London Plane-Tree Levy moves towards a complex elaboration of impermanently located self-knowledge that develops beyond the sexual and racial identifications of her earlier work in which she draws on more traditional and intelligible knowledges. Thus, the biblical and classical themes of “Xantippe” or “Magdalen” and the stable persona of the dramatic monologue are increasingly replaced by a lyric voice that occupies an unstable, modern, urban world. With her interest in the poet James Thomson (B. V.) and her 1883 essay on him, Levy can be seen to be identifying with an emergent late-nineteenth-century urban poetic that greatly influences the first section of A London Plane-Tree. But it is not simply that Levy “discloses how the metropolitan world of high culture was increasingly infiltrated by…feminists, sexual dissidents, Jewish people, and freethinkers” (Bristow 80). The city of A London Plane-Tree and the intersections, interchanges, and subversions it enables make it impossible to maintain the divisions of self and other, object and subject. It is through the space of the city that Levy is enabled to write the specificity of her own unauthorized, ambiguous, “minor” voice.

Modern Environments; Contemporary Politics
© 2006 Cambridge University Press

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