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95 “This was her punishment”: Jew, Whore, Mother in the Fiction of Adele Wiseman and Lilian Nattel by ruth panofsky 5 Miriam Waddington’s 1942 poem “The Bond” characterizes a “Jewish whore” as “twice outcast” (9), “twice isolate” (10). As “Jewess” (10) and as whore, the woman who forms the locus of Waddington’s poem is positioned at the margins of Canadian society. Ostracized for being a Jew—she experiences anti-Semitism on Toronto’s Jarvis Street, where she works during the 1940s—she is condemned to further isolation for her crime of prostitution and suffers alienation. In fact, as historian of medicine Lara Marks confirms , the Jewish prostitute faced “a triple oppression—as a woman, as a Jew and as a member of the Jewish working-class” (“Jewish Women” 7)—and she “symbolized the tenuous position and vulnerability of Jewish women as a whole” (10). A rare enough figure in Canadian literature, the Jewish prostitute reappears in the fiction of Adele Wiseman and Lilian Nattel, with an important difference: she is also a mother. Through a study of two novels, Wiseman’s Crackpot (1974) and Nattel’s The Singing Fire (2004), this essay considers the punishing cost to Jewish prostitutes who dare to become mothers. In charting the course of maternal suffering in novels by Adele Wiseman and Lilian Nattel, this essay shows the Jewish whore/mother as a figure thrice outcast, thrice isolate. In Wiseman’s comic novel, the protagonist, Hoda, is an obese Jewish prostitute who services the boys and men of her North Winnipeg community . When she becomes pregnant, Hoda labours alone, delivers her son 96 ruth panofsky in the isolation of her bedroom, and severs the umbilical cord that joins mother and baby. She soon realizes, however, that caring for a newborn will prevent her from earning a living to support herself and her blind father. Against her will, Hoda leaves her infant son in the care of the local orphanage , only to re-encounter him years later when, as an adolescent, he presents himself as a client. When Nehama Korzen arrives from Plotsk, Poland, in 1875, Nattel’s protagonist immediately is trapped within the corrupt and fetidstreetsofLondon’sEastEndandforcedintoalifeofprostitution.Following a brutal beating by her pimp, she suffers a miscarriage and is close to death. For her illicit behaviour, Nehama is punished with infertility and is unable to bear a child in marriage. Although she yearns for a child of her own, she must be satisfied as an adoptive mother to a daughter who, as a teenager, is also lured to prostitution. In configuring their protagonists as mothers, Wiseman and Nattel may appear to be subverting the conventional view of the prostitute as amoral and antisocial, as well as the traditional notion of the Jewish mother as properupholder“ofthefamily’smoralityandrespectability”(Marks,“Jewish Women” 9) and as guardian of the community. Neither novel, however, sanctions the Jewish prostitute/mother. Denied maternal protection, neither Hoda nor Nehama enters prostitution knowingly, for example. Further , each woman is made into an aberrant mother of a child who is tainted at birth. Finally, that neither Hoda nor Nehama remains a prostitute suggests that prostitution and mothering are irreconcilable; in fact, the Jewish prostitute must be made to suffer in extraordinary ways for her trespass into motherhood. Despite the persistent and widespread belief that prostitution within the Jewish community “was always insignificant” (Marks, “Jewish Women” 6), historical and literary evidence suggest otherwise. Scholarly studies, government documents, and archival records confirm the presence of JewishprostitutesinurbancentressuchasWarsaw ,London,BuenosAires,New York, and Montreal.1 Maimie Pinzer (1885–?), who worked as a prostitute in Philadelphia in the early years of the twentieth century, left a remarkable record of her life in voluminous letters written between 1910 and 1922 to her benefactor, Fanny Quincy Howe (1870–1933), a wealthy Bostonian. At the request of Philadelphia social worker Herbert Welsh, who sought to prevent Pinzer’s return to prostitution after she had lost her left eye, “possibly to syphilitic infection” (Rosen xiv), Howe initiated a correspondence that would foster a deep friendship between herself and Pinzer, women of vastly dissimilar backgrounds. In a correspondence housed at the Schle- 97 jew, whore, mother singer Library of the Radcliffe Institute, and published as a selected edition in 1997, Pinzer articulates the vulnerable and pitiable position of the contemporary prostitute in a society that regarded her as foul and dispensable. More pertinent to the focus of this essay, however, are the maternal experiences and feelings Pinzer describes throughout her correspondence...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781554582921
Related ISBN
9781554581801
MARC Record
OCLC
649833629
Pages
402
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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