Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University Press of Florida
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List of Figures
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One windy night in 1893 or 1894 in a shtetl in eastern Galicia, while a fire destroyed his father’s inn, Samuel Roth was born. According to him, a rival innkeeper had perpetrated this piece of treachery. Possibly it was a cousin, not Sam, who was born that night; possibly his father never owned an inn. “According to him” will be an often-used...
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In 2005, Samuel Roth’s grandchildren donated an extensive collection of their grandfather’s papers and books to the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Columbia University. In addition to Roth’s own publications and published and unpublished writings, there is correspondence to and in some cases from Pound, Sylvia Beach...
1. 1893–1916: From a Galician Shtetl to Columbia University
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The air in late September is mild in the western Ukraine, and the sunset is unhurried. “The earth darkens slowly,” recalls the writer who would assume the name Samuel Roth in America; his Hebrew name was Mishillim (the name may refer to one of the builders of the Second Temple, or may connote “peace-bringer”).1 The manuscript in which...
2. 1917–1925: Prelude to an International Protest: A Rising, Pugnacious Man of Letters
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The decade between Samuel Roth’s twenty-fifth and thirty-fifth years of age, the middle of his journey, included accolades and humiliation, recovery and betrayal, profits and bankruptcy. It was a disorienting seesaw on which iron will fueled perseverance...
3. 1925–1927: "Damn his Impertinence. Bloody Crook": Roth Publishes Joyce
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The infamous Ulysses excerpts of 1926 and 1927 established for Samuel Roth a uniquely degraded status within the literary profession. His business tactics were rash and full of chutzpah. They set off a cascade of events immersing Joyce’s publishers, lawyers, newspaper editors, and journalists writing in the...
4. 1928–1934: Roth Must Live: A Successful Business and its Bankruptcy
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Sitting in his Welfare Island cell in 1929 and looking up from the gutter of a shattered reputation, Roth wrote, “I am not at all sure how much I am to blame. . . . But I am ashamed of what I have done.”1 He meant, first, that the public calumny of the moral outcast was insupportable. A second source of shame was that of professional...
5. 1934: Jews Must Live: "We Meet our Destiny on the Road we take to Avoid it"
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By 1932, Roth tells us, the effects of the Depression had forced upon him the necessity of liquidating William Faro Inc. He was confident of an orderly procedure, for he had ample credit, books, and copyrights. He approached his principal creditors, chief among whom were the owner of a bindery and the wholesaler who had supplied him...
6. 1934–1939: A Stretch in the Federal Penitentiary
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It was New Year’s Eve, 1935. Sam and Pauline Roth, per custom, arrived at the Café Royal on Second Avenue at Twelfth Street, the preferred meeting place for writers and actors on the Jewish Rialto. Adelaide Kugel, in writing about Jews Must Live, recalls that her parents were accompanied by Sam Cohen...
7. 1940–1949: Roth Breaks Parole, Uncovers a Nazi Plot, gives "Dame Post Office" Fits, and Tells his Own Story in Mail-Order Advertising Copy
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Get your Wit and Wisdom of the Week here,” shouted the dozen girls in red aprons and white caps. Pauline had hired them, and they were led by Chig, reluctantly. Mother and daughter would have guessed that Sam’s release from federal prison would not end the requests he made of them. Upon his release from Lewisburg, Roth had Pauline...
8. 1949–1952: Times Square, Peggy Roth, Southern Gothic, Céline, and Nietzsche
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In the 1950s, one of the features of Times Square was the “record-and-book- shops that offer titillation first and culture second” that film critic Judith Crist described.1 “Tourist bookstores” was the epithet newspapers often used. The first of these, Louis Finkelstein’s Times Square Book Bazaar, was founded in 1940, at about the same time Sam Roth had begun...
9. 1952–1957: The Windsors, Winchell, Kefauver: Back to Lewisburg
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Tuesday, April 13, 1954, was supposed to be a pleasant day for Sam and Pauline Roth. They were to join their daughter, her husband, John, and their daughter-in-law in Connecticut for their granddaughter Candy’s birthday party. Arriving home at 11 West Eighty-first Street, they found two detectives waiting for them. Policemen were searching...
10. 1958–1974: "It had been a Long Time since Someone Like you had Appeared in the World": Roth Fulfills his Mission
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In a key moment in My Friend Yeshea, Yeshea explains to Roth (“Mishillim”), “Imprisonment will preserve your latent possibilities and replace your vanished credit with an invincible authority. . . . And you’ll bring back to your world . . . its only hope for a peaceful life among the races and nations.”1 In one of the promotional drafts...
Appendix: Roth Imprints and Business Names
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Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2013