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Writing, Interpretation, and the Book of Esther: A Detour via Browning and Derrida

JO CARRUTHERS
The Yearbook of English Studies
Vol. 39, No. 1/2, Literature and Religion (2009), pp. 58-71
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25679860
Page Count: 14
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Writing, Interpretation, and the Book of Esther: A Detour via Browning and Derrida
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Abstract

Although the Book of Esther is well known in Jewish tradition for its inauguration of the popular festival of Purim, it is a marginal book in Christian tradition because of the interpretative difficulties it presents to its readers. The story itself pre-empts such problems of reading and interpretation: an irreversible edict ordering the annihilation of the Jews is apparently overturned, and the reading of forgotten chronicles reverses the protagonists' destinies. This essay considers those moments when the biblical book is invoked for what it says about writing, with special focus on the literary borrowings of Robert Browning in The Ring and the Book (1868) and Jacques Derrida in 'Envois' (1987). These authors' reflections on the complications of reading and suspicions about the destiny of writing not only pre-empt Esther's own colourful and varied reception history, but offer a challenge to triumphalist interpretation.

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