OF THE BABY NAME JUDITH
Judith is the subject of the Old English poem, “Judith “, the story of the Biblical beauty who beheaded Holofernes . Its authorship and date of origin remain unknown (believed to have been written sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries), and only three out of twelve cantos remain in existence. The nature of Judith’s story, however, is front and center, as she is depicted as a moral giantess who conquered the “beast” for the sake of her country. The poem was most likely composed as an exhortation of a model of bravery for Anglo Saxons in a time of war. Judith is depicted as beautiful, courageous and good, the murderous aspect of her deed bathed in the sheen of saintly adulation. Indeed, though a woman, she is as revered as St. George of the dragon slaying profession. Judith’s foe, the Assyrian general Holofernes, is presented as a monstrous drunkard whom Judith easily trounces (well, beheads) after he falls into a drunken stupor trying to seduce her. She then leads the Israelites to victory in battle, bearing his head high in triumph (in a slight deviation from the biblical rendition). The deed and its aftermath have been the subjects of numerous paintings over the years, and have come to be an iconic representation of the particular power of A Woman with a Cause – in other words, don’t mess with this gal!
Judith Mortimer is a character in one of Irish author Brian Cleeve’s historical novels, Judith, published in 1978. Judith is an independent-minded young woman living in Essex with her poverty-stricken father at the turn of the 18th century. In order to keep their household afloat, Judith allows a local band of thieves to use the farm’s outbuildings for storage of their bounty. The son of the group’s leader is in love with Judith and declares himself to her, resolving to abandon his life of crime. At the same time, Judith’s father is involved in a property dispute with a distant relative over his land; the relative offers to resolve the matter by an inappropriate marriage for Judith, which she refuses. Now, as if all this were not enough, Judith’s father dies and her association with the thieves is made known to the authorities. Judith flees to London and falls in with some unsavory characters (“brothel” is the operative word here). Pursued by both her spurned suitor and her beloved, she is first rescued (by the good guy) and then kidnapped and put in an insane asylum (by the bad guy). After enduring extraordinary deprivation there, she is finally released, only to fall victim to a gang of beggars who set her to work begging in the streets of London. After many more months of hardship, Judith is finally rescued by a good Christian lady, reunited with and married to her love, and awarded full ownership of the farm. Why Dickens himself could not have done better by her!
Judith Sutpen is the ill-fated daughter of Thomas Sutpen in William Falkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom!, published in 1936. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, this is a tumultuous story of battle, slavery, miscegenation and incest. Judith is as strong-willed as her father, and she is determined to marry Charles Bon, a university mate of her brother Henry. One little catch – Bon is her half-brother, a result of the illegitimate union between her father and a woman of mixed race. Judith’s father tries to stop the marriage, while Judith goes doggedly about her plans, touchingly making her wedding dress out of scraps in war-deprived times. Her brother, Henry, is at first for the marriage, in spite of the familial relationship, but opposes it once he learns of Charles’ racial background (perhaps just a wee misplacement of priorities?). Henry then murders Charles and goes into a self-imposed exile. Poor Judith – somehow amidst all this tragedy she manages to bury the body of her beloved, run the plantation, and make a home for Charles Bon’s own illegitimate (!) son. Finally, she dies of yellow fever while nursing young Charles through his own illness. Now this is Faulknerian Southern Gothic at its best!