Friday, June 9, 2017

Anzia Yezierska variant bindings.

           Anzia Yezierska immigrated to the United States and the Lower East side as a child with her family in the 1890s. At seventeen she struck out from her very traditional family. Her father was a scholar of Talmud and her mother was left to provide for the family. While education was a value that her parents had for their male children such was not the case for Anzia. After leaving her parental home behind she worked at various menial jobs while working her way up towards competence in the English language. She took herself from near illiteracy to the point of seeking a university education.
          Yezierska had a difficult personal life with two early failed marriages. Marriage did not suit her. She had a powerful desire to become a part of the wider American life and to make herself known through her writing. She had her first success with publishing in 1915 when her story, "The Free Vacation House," was published in The Forum. In 1917 she approached John Dewey at Columbia University hoping to find a sounding board for her writing.This began a relationship of mutual interest and fascination which had a romantic tinge to it through beyond that it is hard to qualify. The relationship appeared somewhat transformed in her novels.
         In 1920 Yezierska's short stories were published in the collection, Hungry Hearts. The collection brought great acclaim and she recieved an offer for the rights along with employment in Hollywood. She took the money and the offer but found California and wealth an alienating environment. She returned to New York City. The first novel that she published was Salome of the Tenements. It is the story a tenement Jewess who marries a wealthy Episcopalian. Some say that it was based on the life of her friend Rose Paster Stokes, but her recent experiences in Hollywood certainly gave her better insight of the alienation from her community that the experiences of another would have provided. Her next novel, Bread Givers, is her best known and is more rooted within the immigrant experience. She wrote three more novels between 1926 and 1932. However, she found them harder and harder to place. During the depression she worked for the WPA. She published occasional short stories but kept more in the drawer. Her last significant publication was the autobiographical work, Red Ribbon on a White Horse, published in 1950.
        Like Henry Roth, who had also fallen into silence, Yezierska was rediscovered in 1960s and again knew fame and appreciation of her work in the last years of her life.
        Unlike Mary Antin who projects a more optimistic light on the immigrant experience, Yezierska leaves out none of the filth or poverty of immigrant life on the Lower East Side. She views those trying to "help" the immigrants with less affection and greater suspicion. Assimilation comes with a price tag in her writing and the price is often too great to bear. Her writing remains a fresh take on the efforts of immigrants and women to find a place in America. (In fact in some of her later writing the immigrants that she writes about are no longer her fellow Jews, but the Puerto Ricans who have come along to fill the same streets where she had grown up more than half a century earlier.)
        Nothing here for sale really. I had a copy of the first and second printing of Salome of the Tenements at the same time. I ended up holding both in my hands at the same time and found that the cover designs were similar but different. I wanted to memorialize that realization before the books headed out of the shop. Both are illustrated below. I am fond of the period design. It makes me think of a ships porthole view of the immigrant's life as if one were just sailing by.

First Edition
Second Printing.

No comments: