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American Naturalism and the Jews

Garland, Norris, Dreiser, Wharton, and Cather

Donald Pizer

Publication Year: 2008

Otherwise known for their progressive social values, Hamlin Garland, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, and Willa Cather all also expressed strong anti-Semitic prejudices throughout their fiction, essays, letters, and other writings, producing a contradiction in American literary history that has stymied scholars and, until now, gone largely unexamined. In this breakthrough study, Donald Pizer confronts this disconcerting strain of anti-Semitism pervading American letters and culture, showing how these writers' racist impulses represented more than just personal biases, but resonated with larger social and ideological movements within American culture, including such various movements as the western farmers' populist revolt and the East Coast patricians' revulsion against immigration.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I would like to thank Stephen Brennan, Richard Lehan, Joseph R. McElrath, Keith Newlin, Thomas P. Riggio, and Fannie Yoker for their comments and aid in connection with various parts of this book in the course of its preparation. Also, a special kind of thanks to the late John Higham for his groundbreaking studies ...

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pp. ix-xv

I have been writing for over fifty years about the generation of American writers who came to maturity in the 1890s and who are usually designated as naturalists. I have always been aware of the anti-Semitism present in the thinking of almost all of these writers, but since I believed that this was not a major element in their work, I put it aside. ...

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1. Hamlin Garland

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pp. 1-14

The discussion of Garland’s attitude toward the Jews that follows, I hasten to state at the beginning, is not an effort to paint him as an anti-Semite in any conventional sense of the term. Garland was not deeply preoccupied by the Jewish presence in American society for much of his career, and his comments about Jews lacked the rabid vehemence of the full-scale anti-Semite. ...

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2. Frank Norris

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pp. 15-30

Frank Norris’s racism, which includes one of the most vicious anti-Semitic portrayals in any major work of American literature, has long been an embarrassment to admirers of the vigor and intensity of his best fiction and has also contributed to the decline of his reputation during the past several generations. ...

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3. Theodore Dreiser

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pp. 31-49

Dreiser concerned himself fully with the Jewish presence in America only from the mid-1920s to his death in 1945; indeed, it was only in the last decade of that period that he became widely known as an anti-Semite. In addition, although Jews appear occasionally in his writing, they always do so in minor roles, with the single exception of his play The Hand of the Potter (1919). ...

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4. Edith Wharton and Willa Cather

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pp. 50-64

A study of Edith Wharton’s and Willa Cather’s attitudes toward Jews requires a somewhat different approach than that which was employed for the figures already discussed. Each woman succeeded in keeping much of her private life and opinions out of public knowledge during both her lifetime and afterward. ...

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pp. 65-66

Anti-Semitism was a pervasive element in the thinking of many of the new writers who emerged during the 1890s. Although the prejudice never reached the virulence found in a Dostoevsky or Celine, it was nevertheless a distinct presence. For Hamlin Garland, anti-Semitism was largely a closet belief, expressed principally in his diaries and later autobiographies. ...


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pp. 67-76

Works Cited

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pp. 77-84


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pp. 85-88

back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252092176
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252033438

Page Count: 112
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 811409072
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Naturalism and the Jews

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Jews in literature.
  • Antisemitism in literature.
  • Naturalism in literature.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Political and social views.
  • Authors, American -- 19th century -- Political and social views.
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