The Theater of Desire

Love’s Work
Gillian Rose
New York Review Books, $14, 176 pp.

Gillian Rose was born into a secular Jewish family in England in 1947, and died there in 1995 from complications of ovarian cancer—baptized, it is said, on her deathbed, by Simon Barrington-Ward, then the Anglican bishop of Coventry and her longtime friend. She was a child of divorce who changed her name at sixteen from Stone, the name of her forbidding father, to Rose, the name of her loving stepfather; that name change, with all its symbolic resonance, she writes, “served as my bat mitzvah, my confirmation as daughter of the law.” That confirmation drew her not to the practice of Judaism, but to an academic career: she was educated at Oxford, where she read philosophy, politics, and economics, and during her life she published five hermetically difficult books on hermenutics, Hegel, and political theory. Three more, transparently lucid by comparison, have appeared since her death, including Love’s Work, which has just been reissued by New York Review Books.

As a twentieth-century Jewish woman fascinated by Christ, and as a writer and thinker of unnerving intensity, Rose has much in common with Edith Stein and Simone Weil, though she is of the generation after theirs. Stein, martyred by the Nazis, is now a saint of the Catholic Church and may soon be recognized as one of its doctors. Weil, who was unable, finally, to accept baptism, partly because of a deep strain of anti-Semitism in her own thought (she believed Christianity was too Jewish), martyred...

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About the Author

Paul J. Griffiths holds the Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke University.