BOOKS Writing for Justice, in the Name of Edgardo

mortaraBy Rossella Tercatin

A recent book sheds new light on the story of Edgardo Mortara, the Jewish 6-year-old who was kidnapped from his family by Papal guards in 1858 and brought up Catholic in the Vatican. Authored by Elèna Mortara, professor of English literature at the Università di Roma Tor Vergata, as well as Edgardo’s family descendant, “Writing for Justice” was published in the past weeks by Dartmouth College Press. The book focuses on the historical figure of Victor Séjour, an expat American Creole from New Orleans living in Paris. Séjour got passionate about Edgardo’s case, which inspired him too write a play whose opening night in the French capital was attended by emperor Napoleon III himself.

“Elèna Mortara finds Séjour, the American Creole of French culture and successful writer, the one who was capable of expressing the longing for freedom, for Jews, black people, and perhaps even women,” historian Anna Foa writes in her review published in the January issue of Pagine Ebraiche.

As already announced by Pagine Ebraiche, the vicissitudes of Edgardo Mortara got the interest of the renowned director Steven Spielberg, who is working on a project for a movie with screenwriter Tony Kushner.

The script of the movie is based on script on the non-fiction book “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Kertzer, who described “Writing for Justice” as “a masterful examination of what must be one of the most intriguing figures of mid-nineteenth-century American literature, Writing for Justice reflects a refreshing transnational turn in literary study.”