In Heaven’s Name
OVEMBER 8, 1939, Malcolm Cowley declared in the New Republic that the era of the 1930s had died two months and a week earlier. It had been, he asserted, “a decade that actually lasted for nine years and ten months, that began on October 24, 1929—Black Tuesday—and ended on the early morning of September 1, 1939, when the German armies marched into Poland; or perhaps had already ended on August 23, with the news of the Russo-German pact,” an event which Ludwig had, along with the Nazis’ bid for world domination, long ago foreseen. There was, according to Cowley, “a sense of defeat and disillusionment” among many writers who had viewed the Crash of 1929 optimistically, a sign that the dominance of business had ended. But now, he wrote, “they saw the world falling into the hands of their other enemies, the generals and the power politicians.”1
Unlike so many of his friends and fellow writers, Ludwig felt no similar disillusionment, having never groped for such illusions. Instead, he had remained forever “rebellious, yet fiercely proud in his rebellion,” as Abram Sachar (historian, and Ludwig’s future boss at Brandeis University) acknowledged that year in his analysis of European Jewry, Sufferance Is the Badge.2 There was in Ludwig a tendency, almost instinctual, to turn from the prevailing flow and proclaim his jeremiad against whatever had become the accepted wisdom of the day. Often, he was more accurate than even he would have wished. “Do you not wonder at the cruelties men practice? At their gloom?” he wrote Edna that September in the opening line of his poem “Holy Land.” Filling it with scenes of “Men tortured amid ordure and sweat / The base-born triumphant,” he offered a vision of his own people, “The people of the Eternal, huddled living into a grave.”3
Six days after the invasion, Ludwig was already deeply engaged in rescue efforts, pleading with the authorities at Ellis Island on behalf of two old friends, Ivan and Claire Goll, Jewish poets and novelists in flight from Hitler’s tightened grasp on Alsace.4 The war had come to America, but few Americans were ready to bear his witness. “Do you note how with only technical differences all my Trumpet of Jubilee predictions are coming out?” he asked Spiro two days later. “The Red-Brown alliance … the rumor of an allied advance through Roumania…. No wonder I am unpopular—a cross between Cassandra and Jeremiah.” On the eleventh he made another attempt to win asylum for the Golls, approaching the French consul about their failure to obtain French citizenship despite a more than twenty-year residence in France. “A typical Jewish tragedy. His assimilated German heart could not bear to be French. Had his heart been Jewish he would blithely have become a French citizen.” As German citizens, they were being barred. Their status as Jews, instead of militating against such a restriction, seemed only to make the American authorities more intransigent. “What will become of them I don’t know,” he told Edna. He had wired ZOA leaders in Washington, but had good cause to worry. “Some day Ellis Island should be written up,” he wrote, prescient again about the world’s, and his country’s, infamy.
His own need to maintain the Jewishness in his life never appeared more urgent. For the first time, he spoke unequivocally to Edna of how “it would be another tragedy for me if the woman whom I loved and trusted supremely were unwilling to share my faith and the fate of my people or unwilling to have our house a profoundly Jewish house in which alone my son, our son, could be brought up.” Having said all of this and more (regarding Jim’s difficulties adjusting to school and Thelma’s sudden tearful realization of all that she had sacrificed), Ludwig began to feel “rather rested.… I started to write to you feeling rather hard and dour tonight and bitter over the cruelty and stupidity of mankind. Now, having talked myself out to you, I feel softened and quieted and almost happy again.”5
It was, he told Spiro, as if he had found his “heart’s home at last.” She was to convert to Judaism and they were to be married, and with good fortune she would become the mother Jim had never had and so desperately needed, “as God knows he does.” Edna was Ludwig’s “one supreme bit of good luck.” Besides Spiro, she alone had truly befriended him. “You know the process by which I’ve become so friendless,” he reminded Spiro. Having just returned from an attempt to rouse the righteous indignation of fifteen thousand Chicago Zionists with talk of the current evils in Europe, he wondered if this feeling of isolation wasn’t “something in me too, for I seem to be singularly so.” The failure of even good people to recognize what he so clearly saw had left him bereft.6
He was, he told Edna, “so sure of God and good, so grateful for the earth and sky and for that man and woman created He them…. If I should die tomorrow, I will have known the integral thing, the happiness that is pure being and pure well-being, that need not be thought about at all. It is.” For the very first time, he felt “so well, so whole, so uninhibited, so free, so broodingly tranquil even at the height of passionate enchantment with you.”7 He had at last found someone who could touch the spiritual within him that had grown so steadily and so deep that the vicissitudes of the outer world could at once drive him to despair yet leave a part of him unchanged, or if so, only deepened.
How, then, were they to perceive what was destined to be cataclysmic for all, and most especially for the Jews? Profoundly grieved, he counseled Edna to keep her spirits raised and open to the possibility of some unforeseeable human growth. It was imperative for people of goodwill to enter the fray as if they believed it were possible. “Perhaps mankind has another chance at freedom…. I think, at least, that we should all bear ourselves during these coming years as though freedom would win at Armageddon and so—you remember Shelly: hope till hope creates / From its own wreck the thing it contemplates.” If not, if only despair and defeat were felt and expressed, then victory would be served to the forces of evil by those who wished to deny it such fruits. “To believe with Spengler [who preached the crumbling of Western civilization] is to play into his hands. To believe in downfall is to help will it. Let’s keep the banners flying,” he proclaimed with the rebelliousness he had always mustered at such moments,8 declaring that they begin their march against “the lechers after death” by “rais[ing] the anthem of our faith / In Love, the human and divine.”9
For years now, he had felt his life “scattered,” his art “a series of fragments,” even “feeble”—a life and an art lived without form, until Edna had “taken these fragments and welded them into a whole again,” he wrote her on September 14, ten days before the movers were to carry his possessions into a new world. He hoped still to sell the antique Judaica (“the $7–8,000 which they are easily worth would represent a real enlargement of freedom”), and had to concern himself with the “business and … politics of the Z.O.A.” as both outlet for his ideas and a chief source of income.10 So, too, was he being forced into handling far too much of Jim’s care. “I’ve always done that,” he told Edna on the seventeenth. “Thelma used to pop in and then suddenly disappear.” She could not endure Jim’s becoming the center of attention and effort. “Her narcissism is so morbid.” But Edna’s love made it all so unusually bearable, the move, lawyers, colleagues, creditors, and Jim. Despite distractions, personal and professional, life was losing its formlessness. “I’ve been living in physical disorder (alien to me, I swear) because the moral disorder robbed me of all impulse toward any kind of order. Through your influence, I’m already going back a little to the scholarly neatness that was once mine.” Even with packing, selecting paints for the apartment, attending ZOA and United Palestine Appeal executive meetings, buying new clothes for Jim and enrolling him in his new school, working with his lawyers, and the like, “a thrill, a vibration like that of a string upon an instrument,” now filled his home. “My whole being is one path to you.”11
But he could not wait, and as the day wore on and his thoughts turned toward their wedding, he became increasingly agitated. He had not as yet told Wise about Edna, but was certain that he would perform her conversion and the marriage ceremony. Reform Jewish ritual, given the circumstances, would be best, he told her, though he would miss not having “the talith wrapped around us” as a symbol of their union’s sanctification by God. In a world so rapidly descending into war and worse, he felt an ever deepening need for this holiness in his life. “But in view of everything and the social O.K. we’d better have,” he would be content to “think that the sheckinah [sic], the blessing of the ineffable presence” of God, would be “within us and about us even now.”12
“I have my whole soul fixed … on you, Edna. Your words sing in my heart.… Good God, I have to see you and touch you soon,” he wrote her while working on his Yom Kippur address for the local congregation.13 Returning to his apartment at 250 Riverside Drive after speaking before thirty-five hundred Junior Hadassah girls at the Astor Hotel, he again wrote Edna, calling her a “blessing” to his “soul, wholly fulfilled by you and by the Sheckinah [sic] between us.” He had felt its force that day as he rose to address his audience “with a touch of prophetic fire and vision.” Only once before, walking through a Normandy forest, had he experienced the “mystical revelation of the oneness of God and the soul.” He had attempted to record the moment in the concluding pages of The Permanent Horizon, but knew it was more reflection than portrait. Now, for only the second time, he had experienced this same sense of wholeness. If possible, he would try again to communicate this revelatory sense. However inadequately, “the emptiness and futility of words” would have to serve his needs; however forcefully society militated against such revelation and response, he would speak to her of the “revelation of the mystic divineness to which human love can rise between two perfectly normal people without any ascetic or self-tormenting nonsense and not despite the body but through an utter oneness between them which is no more physical than it is spiritual and not more spiritual than physical but one, altogether and integrally one and inviolably by the silly divisions of that mystical oneness made by all the foolish and all the afraid people in the world. You will be here with me a week from today, my heart, my soul, flesh of my flesh and soul of my soul. A week from tonight I’ll go to bed with my arms about you,” he promised them both, as he thought of his visit to their future home.14
Keenly attuned to matters spiritual and physical, Edna shared his visions and saw in them a path for herself as well. “Oh Ludwig, I have been a pagan for a long time … and I am no longer. You found God first, and then me, and I found you and then God.” What she had known “objectively of the oneness that should be between a man and a woman, of the silly divisions, as you say, of the soul and the body,” had been transformed under his tutelage into “the knowing I have now.” How wonder-filled it was “that God should answer my prayer in such an immediate way.”
It is a little hard to explain it, but I felt one hand touching your body, and the other touching God. In my letter I was asking you to pray for me, to pray to make me worthy of loving you, and to make me strong to keep you strong, and even as I was writing I knew that that was a prayer that I would have to pray myself, and all of a sudden I was praying, and I felt, physically, a sort of flame and radiance go out and up from me, and I knew suddenly all you mean by worship and all you mean by oneness, and all you mean by the altar of love being the altar to God. And I lay here and I felt so young and so clean, and so aware, and so sure of our future, and so healed as you feel healed.15
Ludwig now anxiously awaited Edna’s visit. “One instead of two,”16 they would share the peace that had eluded him for so many years. Riverside Drive at 97th Street seemed a perfect spot for such recuperative ventures. Never quite at home in America, Ludwig had chosen to settle alongside the Hudson in an area of New York City now beginning to fill with refugees from Hitler’s Europe. Still under development, Riverside Drive, with its spacious apartments overlooking what for many became a replacement for the Rhine, afforded its residents a sense of well-being and comfort that Ludwig in his later years found inviting. “With its fine parks, and impressive buildings and monuments, Riverside Drive is unsurpassed by any street in New York,” wrote the WPA Guide to New York City that year.17
Ludwig himself was certain of this when he invited Edna to his new home. In preparation, he attempted to reassure her about Jim’s initial reaction to her, whatever it might be. “Precocious only intellectually, his affections are still very casual in their nature. Perhaps his more so than other children because he was not permitted to develop his mother-bonding (Oedipus fixation) in peace. He tries lightly after substitutes,” which Ludwig was convinced would work to favor her in his eyes. “It is most probable that he’ll finally get the kind of fixation on you that every growing man-child needs.” If Jim responded differently, however, there was no need for worry. “Remember that he does not come out of a normal situation.… Don’t be shocked if on first meeting Jim is first defensively casual and then spectacularly naughty to make himself interesting and to see how you and I react. Children, I have learned, are of an uncanny astuteness and great hitters below the belt.” In time, Ludwig promised Edna, he would be “many other and very lovely things.”18
Their new world along the Drive could not conceivably offer anything less. The whole experience of the last weeks had felt like a rebirth. “Once more I had died and once more—for the last time as a mortal creature—risen from that death,” he wrote a half year later of “the gradual re-liberation of my soul.”19 How, then, with Jim beside them in this best of all New York settings, could he not also find a rebirth of his spirit? And in the weeks immediately following Hitler’s declaration of war upon all that Ludwig valued, how could he not cling to this hope?
Edna’s own response to his description of their spiritual bond had provided the very evidence he needed that here, at last, was the true source of his life, his true muse. On October 9 he wrote to her of the mystical bond that tied them together in eternity, reflecting an intensity and strength of conviction which no other woman, before or after, had or would ever elicit. In his maturity, Ludwig had come to seek more than a lover to be his muse. He hoped, in these final years, to touch the eternal through that woman to whom he could at once make love and feel the presence which lay beyond both the physical and the intellectual elements of their union.20 Three days later he spoke to Edna of their love, intertwining the carnal with the spiritual. “My arms are always, will always be about you. What are they for? What is my life for from now on (which includes my work and my child) except to be lived for and through and with you and even as you feel and as I feel you to be new and fresh and virginal and other for me, so I consent to all my sufferings because they have brought me to the revelation of you and of our love.”21 “Fame and triumph” were “as nothing” in the light of what their bond had revealed to him,22 their love one of the “immortal passions,”23 at once fire and salvation. “Angel, Muse and Wife, whose vision fills / These eyes from which all other form departs,”24 he wished to rename her “Ge’ulah, redemption … for you are redeeming from misery of all kinds,”25 and Shekinah, “doing good deeds—mitzvah—through me.”26
These days prior to Edna’s arrival at his new home that October were filled with burning anticipation, cooled only by the more settling, earthly routines of sustenance and survival. Despite Ludwig’s earlier declaration of a simpler, less costly future, his household staff of housekeeper and chauffeur brought with him from New Rochelle, as well as Thelma’s separate apartment maintained at his expense, had kept him from fulfilling this promise to himself. A royalty check arriving on September 30 served to remind him of his continuing financial problems, intensified by the worsening world situation. “The Danish translations continue to sell even now, the Swedish even more. But the war has cut us off from France and French business entirely at present—damn it!—and that means a loss just now.”27 With limited royalties from the American market, he was compelled to lecture, sometimes within the New York area, more often beyond it. Even moments before Edna’s arrival, he was forced to steal away to Newark, where, before a large B’nai B’rith gathering, he lectured on a variety of themes raised in The Answer, hurriedly autographed copies of his book, and fled back to the world he was creating along Riverside Drive.28
As with much else of their story together, Edna’s recounting of why she had come to New York at this time differed from Ludwig’s. In his mind, it was to be a trial. “I didn’t want her to commit herself finally and permanently without seeing Jim, having a clear idea of my economic status, etc.,” he wrote Spiro on October 23, in the middle of her one-week stay. “She truly loved Jim at once,” and within three days he had become “a changed child,” by Ludwig’s assessment. “All is profoundly right,” he proclaimed to his friend.29
But if so, and there is every reason to believe this to have been Edna’s own thought by the visit’s end, her initial intent was quite otherwise. Rather than to undertake such a trial period of domesticity, Edna’s true purpose in coming to New York was, in fact, to break her engagement. Scott had recently experienced a setback in his own fight with tuberculosis, the news of which had suddenly forced Edna to reevaluate her decision. Feverishly, Scott had sent two letters on October 18. “You know that it is I whom you love—and no-one else. You know this because it is the shape of your heart … the music in your brain and the color of your blood.… In no intimacy will it be submerged.” He was resigned to this temporary loss, sure of its recovery in the future. “I have loaned you to Mr. Lewisohn. But when the time comes I will take you back. For I am in you as a form—as you are in me as a light—and I will not endure forever the humiliation of bisection.” “We are not apart,” he wrote later that day, and in time, “I will come to you. You will come with me.”30
Perhaps this was that time, Edna wondered as the impact of her promise to Ludwig, with its seemingly permanent loss of Scott, began to bear down upon her. In the days immediately following his letters of the eighteenth, she reversed her decision. Edna’s father, encouraged by his daughter’s engagement to Ludwig, had already arranged her divorce from her second husband. Never approving of Scott’s Bohemian lifestyle, he thought Ludwig offered his daughter the stability which, in his fatherly view, she lacked. Edna’s reversal would leave her father as distraught and enraged as it was to leave her totally confused. But for the moment, she felt the desperation of forbidden love. “My mother happened to find me crying,” she recalled years later, still moved by memories of that special time, “and as she always disagreed with Father on everything, this was her chance to tell me to go to New York to see Scott.” Enthused by this unexpected opportunity to assert herself over her husband’s domination in all matters, Mrs. Manley quickly made the necessary travel arrangements. Paying for both the airfare and the New York hotel, she then added a substantial cash allowance. Typically reserved, she had seized the moment and nearly made it her own.31
But neither mother nor daughter knew that Edna’s father, on his way to a New York business meeting, had booked a seat on that same flight. “For once, pre-movies,” Edna recounted, “the passengers must have been entertained, as we argued for the entire hour’s trip. I had never talked back to my father before this though he had broken my heart very often,” but “in the end I was given permission to visit Scott,” though her father, upon reaching the airport, had “telephoned Ludwig to tell him that I had arrived in New York ‘to visit a dear old sick friend,’ and to keep an eye on me.”32
The visit with Scott only strengthened Edna’s resolve to defy her father and to break with Ludwig. Each represented something opposite from the other—Ludwig, age, wisdom, and seeming stability; Scott, youth, adventure, and passion—leaving Edna to make what, in fact, was a choice she couldn’t make. Energized, she walked from Scott’s apartment on 16th Street to Ludwig’s four miles uptown, having reassured her young lover that she “could never marry anyone else.… It had all been wonderful,” this renewal of old feelings. Ludwig received Edna’s news in a state of panic. Crying that invitations to their wedding had already been mailed and that an announcement had appeared in the New York Times, he pleaded until he collapsed, either from a mild heart attack or simply from fainting. Both accounts appear in Edna’s recollections, the latter description given a decade after the former, for reasons unknown. “He turned into an old man,” she stated in the second version of that day’s events. “I couldn’t bear that. I thought so much of Ludwig. I couldn’t bear to see him collapse like that. So, I thought well, I’m young and strong, and full of … some kind of inner power that few people have, and I thought I can take care of Ludwig for a few years.” What existed between herself and Scott she knew to be too strong and permanent to die. Time would prove her right, as it would Scott. “And so I agreed to go through with it,”33 believing at the moment of this second reversal that there would be time enough for a life with Scott after Ludwig’s passing.
Crushed a second time by his lover’s abandonment, Scott sent what a week later he would characterize as a “mean, self-pitying, despicable letter.” Unable to face him, Edna had let a note break the news, hoping that Scott would understand. But he simply could not in the first days after this brutal rejection, however well intentioned Edna’s consoling words had been. “Nothing would please me better than to be able to say good words to you … but I cannot.” Nor could he be magnanimous toward Ludwig, for whom he felt only “hate.” There were so many advantages that Ludwig could provide, Scott acknowledged—“the distinguished company, the mobility, the freedom from petty fears, the very best of everything”—which he might never have been able to offer her. Perhaps, then, she had done “the wisest thing.… In me there is every possibility of complete failure.” And should he ever become “famous, it’s more likely that you will find me in a Brewery flophouse than in a salon. I do not like to relax. Time is too short.” But still, “with you, there would have been a certain element of fun.” Without her now, he would always be alone—and bitter. “I do not doubt that you love Lewisohn profoundly. But I know that you do not love him as we meant the word, Love. As we mean the word…. I weep for you in the night. But nobody knows it. I do not implore God.”34
A week later, Scott sent Edna a deeply felt apology, saddened by the thought that he had caused her pain. He would step aside, wishing her “infinite happiness,” all rancor now gone. “For truthfully I would rather be chopped into hamburger than to see your eyes fill with tears.” Instead, he asked that she remember that he loved her “entirely, now and forever,” for it was she who had given him “the greatest gift ever given by woman to man: that with your love and your self you raised me above life and beyond death: that because of you I can never doubt any beauty, any truth, any dream.”35
Neither Ludwig nor Edna ever alluded to these frenzied days in Haven. “Late in October,” Ludwig recorded instead, “with her father’s consent and cooperation Edna came to spend a week with Jim and me.”36 Similarly, Edna would recall how her arrival was uneventful, but for her first meeting with Jim. “You opened the door and were putting my bags away when I looked down the apartment hall and saw a tiny blond boy, very straight and unbelievably little.” Only after two days of playing with Edna did he stop speaking of his wish to die “so that someone would cry over him and put their hands on his head.”37 Jim was clearly suffering the emotional stress inflicted upon him by the ongoing breakup of his parents, exacerbated by his recent loss of familiar surroundings, by Edna’s sudden appearance in the place of his mother, and by Ludwig’s still too frequent lecture tours, all of which only added to his growing fear of abandonment. “I wish you didn’t have to go, Papa. Oh, I wish you didn’t have to go. Tell the people you can’t speak to them,” he repeated over and over again as Ludwig readied for another absence that fall.38
To a friend, Edna spoke only positively of their “happy family,” inviting her to “come and be with us” in New York after the wedding. Having shared so faithfully “all the bad things” that had filled her life in recent years, Edna wished her “dearest” friend to “enjoy the gravy.”
Our home in New York is simple, but filled with books, thousands and thousands of books, precious manuscripts, immortal things, and you won’t mind that the rooms are small. It’s supremely cozy, and we eat on an old French refectory table, and the walls are hung with Hebrew ritual lamps, and we sit on old French chairs that are falling apart.… I suppose I felt so completely at home, more at home than I have ever felt in my life because everything in the apartment is some expression of Ludwig’s tastes and life.
Even her difficulties with Jim, toward whose lifetime of problems she remained empathetic until her death, were similarly glossed. “Very blond, with large eyes, and a button of a nose,” the “half pint” child, in all of his tryingness, would remain forever in the glow of this moment, even when his world grew darkest.
The boy is a tiny replica of Ludwig. Eloquent, poetic, with endless vitality and strength, logical, even orderly. Not that he doesn’t have his faults, but now that he is going to live a normal life without his singer mother yelling at him and hating him for disturbing her career, he will, we hope, get over his impatience, and selfishness, a selfishness which has nothing to do with his generosity, he is beautifully generous, but which has to do with deeper things.39
Edna returned home to Rochester in time to attend her brother’s wedding, and to prepare for the arrival within a few days of Ludwig and Jim. “We are all so excited about your coming with our precious baby,” Edna wrote Ida, the Lewisohns’ housekeeper.40
While Ludwig was busily preparing for the three-week lecture tour that would bring him to Rochester, word came that Henry Hurwitz’s mother had died. “I am so deeply grieved for Henry,” Ludwig wrote his old colleague’s wife, recalling the turmoil his own mother’s death had visited upon him. “Mothers always die too soon, no matter what their age, and their death marks a tragic turn in life.”41 In Ludwig’s case it had proved pivotal, forcing him to reconnect with his own Jewish past and future, rooting his life in what alone had given it purpose and meaning.
These thoughts persisted in the days that followed, even after his arrival in Rochester and his departure, leaving Jim and Ida in Edna’s care. Alone, on tour, with only memories and hopes to sustain him once again, he lay on his bed in a Detroit hotel and “with my inner eye [began] to see the pattern and parable of my life” as it “wrote itself on the sheets of hotel paper—parable of ultimate meaning so far as any human soul can see its meaning, fruit of an insight that may not come again, truth by which to abide and in the light of which to live.” At first tentatively, “At the edge of chaos / In the heart of night,” this unworthy agent of the “Everlasting Hand” had grown stronger and more certain, venturing forth again and again for the soul of his people languishing in a dispiriting land. “He smote and spoke / A creative word,” Ludwig said of himself, when “at last the iron / Became a sword.”42
But the truth of his audiences’ moribund souls snapped him back into the reality of his quest. From the Asher home in the early-morning quiet two weeks later, he wrote Edna how only memories of her “luminous” face through the window of his departing plane—“a little sad and wistful, so noble, gallant, beautiful, so suffused with exquisite goodness”—had restored his spirits in those “moments of depression on this trip.” Everywhere the lecturing had gone well, but to whom had he spoken? And at what personal cost?
Last night a poky, poky hall in the extreme north of Chicago—home of the meanly respectable—lifeless, lightless, so damned well-intentioned and so damned dead … a voluble rabbi who writes joke-books, a couple of dentists, ever so worthy and the total effect deadening to what is supposed to be the immortal soul and probably is and has in my case been dwelling in Paradise and can’t just now, just yet, accept with equanimity the unradiant reaches of the common earth. But in addition (as I told you, you) I’m so fearfully ungrownup and these impressions which would scarcely be noted by my colleagues rip off bits of my skin.
Amid the warm welcome of “perfectly sweet people, attractive, devoted to me,” he declared his feelings and thoughts “indescribable…. I seem to myself such a rough-neck.” Perhaps it was Edna’s “lyric loveliness” that had made all else “a little commonplace and dull and also (after the closeness and coziness of us) a little homeless and a little desolate.”43
Despite Edna’s recollections of three and four decades later, Ludwig’s sense of their relationship and of his feelings toward her was neither unreciprocated nor misplaced. All misgivings had fled by the time of Ludwig’s return to Rochester to retrieve Jim and his departure for home. Writing to her friend with more characteristic openness and perception about the man she was soon to wed, she spoke of how
simply enthralling [it is] to be with him because there’s no place he hasn’t been, no one he hasn’t met, nothing he hasn’t studied, nothing he doesn’t know. And this radiated by his poetic and eloquent touch and sense of humor. It’s a constant show, and good lord if he didn’t dance in his long underwear for Jim and me the other night, until we almost died of hysterics. He’s a magnificent human being, young and loveable and gay deep down, and his great heart bubbles through everything he does and says. Everyone he has ever met has either mythologized him, or “used” him. He knows that I worship him as a human being, that I want nothing of him other than to be close to him the rest of my life. He’s burning to give, of himself, and I am burning to receive all that he has to give.44
Ten days earlier, Wise had written to Hays, his friend and Ludwig’s attorney, that he needed to warn his client that Thelma “is the kind of woman who will pursue him to death.”45 By now, Ludwig himself had begun to perceive this on his own. Ensconced in her penthouse, she had grown impatient for the world to beat its path to her door. Few impresarios concerned themselves with her increased availability for the concert halls of New York. Even fewer suitors realized she was in town. By October 24, only weeks after establishing her own residence, she had begun to make new demands upon Ludwig regarding support payments and custody, issues that had been settled before their separation. Ludwig, responding to her sudden claim of love for him, made it clear that he would “never risk my life or peace with you again.” If she indeed loved him, he asked, why had she called Mary to relate the details of their breakup? Could he chance her “influence on his fate” by allowing her to have custody of Jim, having repeatedly called him “a brat, an obstacle [to her career], and a ‘nasty ungrateful’ creature”? Didn’t she realize, he pointedly reminded her, that he was under no legal obligation to support her financially and was doing so in order to honor “a past however far”? Must he be forced to wield this “economic weapon” to secure peace for himself and, “needless to say,” for Jim? “The words make me bleed,” he admitted, “but you give me no alternative.” As a final warning, he advised that she take him seriously. No matter how competent her attorney, even one as well respected as Louis Nizer, he would not allow “the putting on of any neurotic ‘act’… [to] alter this determination.”46
Ludwig had never relished these domestic disputes, even when, with Mary, they had taken on larger social and moral dimensions. Now, at age fifty-seven, he welcomed conflict far less. He had the needed documentation and witnesses to prove her acceptance of the terms unburdening her of the dual responsibilities of earning her living and of raising her child. He further warned that there was evidence enough “to prove her unfitness” in the matter of Jim’s custody if the need arose. “But it’s weary,” he admitted tiredly, and yet, “I suppose that this is the moral price exacted for my little bit of heaven.”47
Whether as pretext or as honest reaction to Ludwig’s taking Jim to see Edna, Thelma confronted him with her demand to know “the meaning of this.” Fearful that she might abduct Jim, Ludwig restricted her access to him by assigning only certain days for visitation, during which she would be accompanied by Ida. “I walked away from Jim, my eyes blinded by tears,” Thelma wrote some months later. “I stumbled from the apartment and went home to lie sleepless … more humiliated] than I could bear and … resolved to do something about it.”48
Wise had written Spiro the previous November 22 that Ludwig had managed to entangle himself in two impossible marriages, ending with “two women scorned—one an old goyah and the other this young and meshugene shicksah.”49 Wise could not have appreciated just how close to the truth he had come in characterizing Thelma as crazy (“meshugene”). Nor had Ludwig as yet truly understood the depths of her worsening mental illness. Three months later he admitted having had “no insight into the processes which caused Miss Spear toward the end of November, 1939, to change her mind, to summon reporters in order to publicize her child’s illegitimacy.”50 Even as late as November 25, he would write Spiro that “Thelma, poor girl, had been alternating between very bad and vulgar behavior and intervals of decency.”51 But later that morning, Ludwig would learn the shocking news about Thelma’s sexual relationship with Jim. She herself, in unguarded conversations, would soon confirm her son’s allegation,52 though Ludwig did not wait for such corroboration before placing further restrictions upon her visits with Jim. As he told Edna,
I’m writing awkwardly this morning. I feel rotten, though the thing clinches everything. Sorry to have to tell you. But I must. Thelma blew in here last night and made a fearful scene. She called up this morning to apologize. But the thing disgusted Jim so (he has just dictated a letter for you to Ida) that he confided to me (as you correctly suspected) that she excites him sexually every time she’s with him. So that is the reason she wants always to have him in the evening and lie down with him. And that is how she expects to hold him. Now I am rewarded for having gained his entire confidence. I’ll have a child-psychiatrist on the job and settle her hash once and for all. Theodore also told me other details. Sorry. But it will enable me to make certain arrangements before I leave town again and we shall be able to limit contacts and annoyances.53
Home but a few days, Ludwig was thinking already of the lectures ahead, those scheduled and those yet to be arranged. While absent, he had to know that Jim would be safe. But Ludwig did not as yet know that among the Zionist leadership his marital plans were becoming a topic of discussion and serious concern. With the need for outside assistance in building the Jewish haven in Palestine ever more acute in the months following the Nazi invasion of Poland, they could ill afford spokespersons whose actions might discredit their cause. On November 20, 1939, Wise wrote to Rabbi Philip Bernstein of Rochester, asking that he do all that he could to discourage Ludwig and Edna from proceeding with their plans. Edna, for reasons of conviction more than pragmatics, had already begun the process of conversion to Judaism under Bernstein’s tutelage. (“I did not become converted to Judaism to please L.L. or anyone else…. I felt that … it was up to a Gentile to show affiliation for the tortured Jews,” having gained some sense of persecution, she believed, as one of the tortured “minority” at the sanatorium.)54 The potential scandal, complicated by his marriage to a woman whom many, despite the sincerity of her conversion, would not recognize as Jewish (because of the Reform aegis under which it was performed), seemed certain to deprive Ludwig of his primary source of income—and of his usefulness to the Zionist effort. In the process, Wise feared, Edna herself might be destroyed, leaving Ludwig to reconfirm his own worth through yet another relationship.
In heaven’s name do something with Lewisohn if you can … [or] he will be finished Zionistically. We will have to drug him. He will get no hearing on any American platform and you know how Jews will feel about his marrying … a non-Jew. If you can see the young woman and warn her against wrecking his life through marriage, you would render a service to Lewisohn, to his child, and to that young woman. And anyway in ten years from now, when Lewisohn is a still older goat, there will be some other young maiden in Syracuse who will excite his apparently unrestrained sex passion and there will be a fourth affair—if he survives that long.55
Ludwig had not yet fully perceived how this latest expression of love could so damage his standing among the Zionist leadership. Unaware of discussions already under way, he told Edna on November 25 that he would ask Blumenfeld and Weizmann if he could repeat his trip to Palestine (“if the Mediterranean is not mined”) in order to promote the Jewish resettlement effort. “You and I and Jim can spend next winter in Jerusalem,” he explained to her. “Wouldn’t that be fun? And romantic? And sweet?”56 Yet his abandonment by the American Zionist leadership in the months ahead would not come as a complete surprise. Not without reason had he approached the World Zionist Organization’s leaders rather than those at home. “I’m getting more and more insight into the workings of the Z.O.A. and the character of the so-called leaders and I have a progressively bad taste in my mouth,” he wrote Spiro that same day.57
Nor did he have much greater faith in those who had come to hear him. Had they ever really seen past their image of him as a heroic figure, or listened to his message? What might happen to their support for the cause he represented if this image were suddenly tarnished by the flesh and blood reality of the man behind it? “No one in America has faith in the artist or sees or hears him,” Ludwig complained bitterly to Edna at the end of November. “I’m stamped and, as it were, mythologized as a great writer (especially among our people) and whether I give my blood or swear nonsense in an untoward hour, it makes no difference. Nothing makes any difference. No real vital difference. They are impenetrable.”58 A week later the ZOA met and spoke highly of his pamphlet “When Peace Comes,” which Ludwig had recently added to their promotional literature.59 Though clouds were gathering, the storm had yet to strike.
The situation grew worse as each day passed. Thelma was now determined to have her due. A four-page letter to Bernstein on November 15 had outlined her perception of the previous year’s developments—her forbearance at Ludwig’s dalliances, her expectations concerning his return to her following an end to this most recent flirtation, her ruin after sixteen years as his “helpmate,” and the fact that “after one month’s trial I find I cannot live without my child…. I appeal to you as a man of God [to] help us if you can to get justice.”60 She had sent a similar letter to Holmes, followed by two visits. “Poor thing,” Wise commented to Bernstein. “I have the utmost contempt for her as a person,” though he found himself perplexed as to what “to do about this.” It was clear to both Wise and Holmes that a scandal, perhaps including the charge of bigamy, was in the offing. There might even be a term in jail. “Ludwig’s strumpet” had once again ensnared outsiders in her web. “I am just sick of the L. business,” he declared openly to Bernstein. Both he and Holmes had sent for Ludwig in an attempt to reason with him. Fearing failure, Wise implored Bernstein to do the same with Edna.61
But Bernstein failed to dissuade her from marrying “the Great Lover,” as he pejoratively referred to Ludwig in his detailed account of their December 8 meeting.62 Wise and Holmes had similarly met with Ludwig on the sixth, and had garnered the same response. Ludwig, of course, resented their interference and presumptuousness, “spiritual leaders … held in reverence by thousands,” as Ludwig derisively characterized them in Haven, “these two good and great men [who] had had too much traffic with the world; even they had let the world inject a drop of its heavy poison into them; even they had lost, had permitted to fade from them, the fact that ultimate rightness is right by virtue of unconditioned, of an absolute, inner command.” They asked that he not marry Edna and “risk the besmirching of a great cause in the person of one of its eminent leaders,” leaving him “almost literally struck dumb by the inner unveracity of this opinion.” Overwhelmed by their temerity, he wondered if his “years of sacrificial service had been spent in vain.” Should he not by “virtue of my position count upon suspension of judgment, the benefit of every doubt, a discounting of every slander until I was heard?”63
Such concerns lost their importance when, on the following day, Thelma, as Ludwig had feared, abducted Jim during a supervised visit. Spirited by her to New Jersey and hidden by Thelma’s friends, Jim would ultimately be placed in a Lakewood boarding school. Only the work of private detectives would unearth his place of residence after an unconscionable period of silence by Thelma. “My opportunity finally came,” Thelma recounted some months later in Living Romances. “I had a chance to get him back when I took him for a walk one day. We slipped away from the housekeeper and I took him home with me. I knew that we weren’t safe there, so I smuggled my own son over to New Jersey.”64 Edna would claim years later that Ida had, in fact, been in collusion with Thelma, purposely stepping away for a moment to use the telephone so that the abduction could occur. As proof, Edna alleged two attempts on her own life by Ida after her marriage. While there is no corroboration, there is some plausibility to Edna’s assertions. Somehow, a letter sent by Edna to Ida concerning her upcoming visit with Jim to Rochester fell into Thelma’s hands and was used, in photographic reproduction, to illustrate her True Confessions article in June 1940. Edna later maintained that Thelma had grown close to Ida after she had introduced her to New York’s waterfront bars, even permitting Ida’s sailor friends to stay in New Rochelle during Ludwig’s absence. Not long after moving into her penthouse, Thelma, according to private detectives hired by Ludwig, would follow her former employee’s example.65
Edna had returned to New York more than a week before the abduction, and had been staying with Ludwig when Ida brought home the news of Jim’s disappearance. Five days passed until an anonymous caller confirmed Thelma’s claim that he was safe, but out of reach of all New York authorities. Every attempt at reason or threat failed to bring Thelma to her senses. The courts were now Ludwig’s only recourse to this “sinister purposeless act.” With nothing more to be done, he and Edna flew to Rochester on December 11, planning to publicly announce their February marriage plans the following day.66 That evening, Edna’s tubercular hip gave out, forcing her to bed. Weakened and feverish, she questioned whether she could rightfully hold Ludwig to his promise of marriage and force him to live with her illness. But Ludwig was determined to carry on with the marriage, insisting that he and Jim and Ida would simply relocate to Rochester while she convalesced.67 The next morning, newspaper reporters arrived at Edna’s home, and by the following day, stories appeared in Rochester and New York recounting his former marital difficulties.68
That evening, December 13, Ludwig addressed a Hanukah gathering of some seven hundred festive celebrants. Distracted by his concern for Edna’s health, he thought his talk had gone poorly, but the local newspaper reported it as a great success. “There is felt in this eleventh hour, by Jews everywhere, the need for an inner defense, an inner fortitude, in order that the assault and tragedy of history may be withstood.”69 Certainly his personal life had proved this need. The following day, with Edna feeling considerably better, he cut short his visit to Rochester and returned home to continue the search for Jim.70
Though the New York Times’s announcement of Ludwig’s engagement to Edna convinced Scott that her decision was indeed final, he could not accept the news. “I saw instantly when you came to me that night,” he wrote Edna of their last visit together, “that you are mated to me in body, blood, brain and soul. And we are not to be apart. God will not take that kind of insult. There is no reality without each other, there is no body-functioning, there is no peace and no honesty and no ecstasy.” How had she allowed herself to be “sucked up into a foreign and unreal life?… You are torn from my flesh, I am in you and I cry to return,” he pleaded, and “you are in me and you cry and sometimes scream to be reunited.” To marry, he assured Edna, was to ensure only pain and disaster for all. “If you go through with this marriage … you will be increasingly unhappy, more so because you will have to disguise your misery; there will never be any reality; you cannot live without the recognition of my eyes. Lewisohn will become aware eventually that there is a terrible fraud at the center of his marriage…. Then he will feel like a criminal and you will have made in his life a tragedy much worse than his previous wives. And I will die. You must not marry Lewisohn,” he demanded, hoping that she would come to her senses, though “this is not the coherent letter I planned, because somebody told me today of the newspaper items saying you would adopt Judaism and marry Lewisohn in February.”71
“No two people could be as one as we were for 5 years and not suffer and bleed, and almost bleed to death from this severance,” Edna admitted in response. But could he not also appreciate her feelings? “If I marry Ludwig, I kill you—If I don’t marry Ludwig, I kill him. And the pulling on me of both of you is killing me.” Was it not “better to live for what we had, than to die for it?” What they had been to each other, the truth of their union, remained, even at this moment of separation. “But this that I have with Ludwig is true too, true for me now, as what we had was true for us then…. He is star to me, and a protection against the world that I have never had, and a justification of my wild life. He makes a home for me in a homeless world.” Though there would be “things you and I had that Ludwig and I won’t have—the endless, formless hours in which we were free and so happy,” she reassured Scott that “what is true for Ludwig and me, is true for us, now.” Go to California as planned, she insisted, “and come back when you are strong and healthy.”
Yet, on the reverse side of the draft of her letter to Scott, there is evidence of her continuing uncertainty. “56–30; L-SGW; Grey and dark and heavy—light hearted,” are but a few of the comparisons she scribbled in tiny print across the fully covered page. “I don’t relax as well with L because I don’t know him as well as I do Scott,” to which she responded, “Emotions aroused by L—womanhood, pride in my man, security in my man and in the world, and happiness.”72
In New York, reports began to reach Ludwig that confirmed his worst fears about Thelma’s emotional instability. Even the gossip mill had filled with tales of her worsening misconduct. Elise Asher had been horrified by what she had heard, and contacted Ludwig. “No sooner had she reached New York,” Ludwig recalled in Haven, “than she heard echoes of Thelma’s crazy and foul babbling all over town and she cried out to me, ‘you must get Jim back at once!’” Distraught and feeling helpless, he wrote Edna of how “utterly widowed” he felt. “My life is gone from me.” Only thoughts of Edna’s “wisdom and steadiness and tenderness” and of their marriage enabled him to get through these days without responding violently against Thelma.73 For he knew that the world in which he lived favored the established order over justice, no matter how “vile” the results of its imposition. There seemed little hope of a just end once the struggle reached the public arena of New York’s courts. “I suffer under the deep loathsome immortality of the world, its utter degradation. Man is a vile animal. He wants vileness. There isn’t a shred of hope for redemption in a society where such things can be—where the laws are calculated to create obstacles for cleanness—where cleanness is the one thing hated and feared.”74 Ludwig had hoped now for peace in his life, having “long gotten to the beyond of all the ‘radicalisms’ of yesteryear.” But the engineers of society’s institutions were already stoking their fires. Even the respected New York Times had noted that he was to “Marry Again.”
So, too, were men like Bernstein and Wise beginning to distance themselves from the whole affair, each claiming to have played a far smaller role of early encouragement then the evidence would indicate. Wise went so far as to proclaim Thelma legally married to Ludwig, with “some rights as the mother of his child,” while condemning Ludwig perfunctorily for “this sort of love-binding publicly before any understanding or settlement has been reached with her.”75 Others, however, remained steadfast and calm. Eleazer Lipsky, Ludwig’s new attorney, counseled patience, advising his client to allow Thelma to “draw her own noose.” Edna, of course, was optimistic and saw in Ludwig’s news of Thelma’s “foul babbling” reason for hope when the case reached the courts. “She has gone around New York babbling of her perverse relations with her son which fact will help declare her non compos mentis. Poor girl,” Edna wrote Spiro on December 21. “There is little doubt that she is really nuts.”76
Ludwig again returned to New York from Rochester on December 30 for a lecture and a radio appearance, only to learn that Thelma herself had now disappeared. He wrote Edna of his decision to report Thelma’s abusiveness to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, unable himself to take his son “out of the slime in which he is cast.” Whether Ludwig ever approached the society is unknown. More than likely, he acceded to his attorney’s advice not to interfere with the natural progression of the law. Over the next week, he continued to fulfill his professional obligations, “warmed and fed … with Edna’s faithful daily letters.”77 To Spiro he wrote the day before New Year’s Eve, “At least God gave me Edna. She sustains me.”78 Alone in New York as a new decade peered out from under the ruins of its past, Ludwig drew her closer still, finding in the poetic expression of his love for her the atonement and salvation he now so desperately sought. Fearful of remaining alone, or of entertaining a relationship fated to end as all others had, he told himself how they stood “upon holy ground /… no longer broken /… one breath, one flame, one vision,” finding “Oneness, as the universe is one.” “Come!” he bid her, “We go to meet the sun.”79
By week’s end, Ludwig had received encouraging news from Lipsky. Thelma was ready to compromise. “She [had] had her moment of exhibitionism,” Ludwig wrote Bernstein, but was “of course dreadfully fed up with Jim and wants … to get out from under.” Hays had that very day sent “definitive instructions … that for our own sakes as well as for Jim’s” it had become necessary that they marry as soon as possible, though such legal “considerations,” he stressed, were “secondary.” “The feelings that unite us are beyond the reach of the chicaneries of fate and withdraw themselves from even the friendliest judgment.” Still, he urged Bernstein to speed along Edna’s conversion so that he might “consecrate her to me by the laws of Moses and Israel,” rather than “be forced to be married by a magistrate!” Would he prefer the latter, he asked Bernstein, knowing “how intensely] my Jewish feelings are intertwined with my very life” and how strong “Edna’s adherence to our faith and identification with our people”?80
Two days earlier, Ludwig had assured Edna that he would force Bernstein’s hand in this matter. “I think Bernstein’s attitude very strange,” he explained to her, revealing a side of his nature she had not seen before. “I’m not after all asking him concerning the ethical situation. I’m telling him. I’m asking nobody. Weak. He’s afraid to take a stand. Someone might conceivably criticize him.” Ludwig was long past such fears, knowing that this latest struggle was certain to take an uglier turn. The newspaper people had already spoken with Thelma before approaching him for the “correct story.” Only after publishing Thelma’s account did the Daily News’s legal department attempt “to rectify errors” in their article. Hays promised to “stand by [him] … to the end,” while Thelma’s attorney assured them both that he was “horrified” at what she had reported to the newspapers, having “wired her to keep still.”81 But even now, as Ludwig spoke to Holmes’s congregation assembled at Town Hall the first Sunday after the New Year, Thelma was gathering together another body of journalists, before whom she would release another “barrage of slanderous publicity.”82
Ludwig had also learned from Hays that a stipulation in his divorce agreement with Mary prohibited his marriage to anyone but her in the State of New York. He promised Edna that he and Hays would explore alternatives, among them Ohio and New Jersey, where he knew well-respected rabbis, the Zionist leader Barnett Brickner and the German exile Joachim Prinz.83 Ludwig returned home from a New England lecture tour on January 11 to find confirmation from Bernstein that he was proceeding with Edna’s preparation for conversion. The next morning, Lipsky, rather than Hays, visited and the decision was reached to write to Prinz.
The ZOA office, Ludwig told Edna, was “slave-driving me fearfully but (damn it!) we need the money,” for whether or not he could find a rabbi among “all the spineless pseudo-time-servers,” they were soon to be married. In a week’s time he would join her in Rochester for the day’s final preparations. But for two speaking engagements in Philadelphia and Toledo, they would be together forevermore. “God willing, my precious beloved, we’ll be happy and safe with each other. We’ll be two against the world when it is necessary and yet festive and crowned with dreams and this little place of ours will be radiant with love and faith and beauty and I will kiss your silver feet in passion and devotion and reverence. Oh, how I have missed you and yearned over you—child, wife, sweetheart, playmate, mother-womb.” She alone, he told her in a poem written in the darkness of midnight, could send a “glow all through me.” As he lay there, “trembl[ing] (literally) with ecstasy at the thought of seeing you,” he called out, imploring her to “be near … For where you are good cannot wholly die / Nor iron night destroy some hope of day.”84
“Eleazer is pretty sure that we have Thelma trapped and need merely hold out a little,” Ludwig wrote Edna the next day. Assuring her that New Jersey would suit their marital needs, he would reserve a room at The Breakers in Atlantic City once Lipsky had worked out the details as to “test, time, [and] license.” In a suddenly playful mood, he promised to “kiss that cold-creamed enchanting round spot on your belly and lay my cheek against it,” the anticipation of their marriage having energized him as little else had in years.
I ordered a bed this afternoon for us, a three-quarter bed for the small bedroom and a rose-tinted mattress (Beauty-rest or some such fol-de-rol name, but the best to be had, the johnny said) and it will be ready in ample time. Then I’ll move the love-seat (what fake romantic names—beauty rest, loveseat, my God) to the corner where the little table with your lovely picture stands and put the studio-couch between the windows, so that you can lie there and read and look out on the river and though I may have to go off a lecturing occasionally during certain months of the year, yet you will be, simple as it is, mistress in your own home and never, never lonely in that empty way that you describe.85
Ludwig knew that the feverish pace of his professional life would continue unabated after their wedding. All evidence pointed to this fact. Those who had underwritten his settlement with Mary had still to be repaid and were clamoring more loudly now that a new separation appeared to jeopardize their hope of repayment. Ludwig had promised to assign his Judaic antiques to them, but the bulk of the collection was held by Thelma.86 Beyond this debt, the addition of Edna to his household and the anticipated expenses of a settlement with Thelma were certain to consume most of his energies well into the future.
On Sunday, January 14, Ludwig lunched with David Senator of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and Salmon Schocken, formerly a department store magnate in Germany and now a well-respected publisher and bibliophile in Palestine.87 Had they met to discuss a possible writing project, or merely to renew old friendships? As a writer, Ludwig believed it his special responsibility to secure publishers for those European Jews in exile whose access to print in their homelands had now been denied them. Only the day before, he had written to Huebsch on behalf of an exiled writer, adding his approbation to that of Stephan Zweig. The work before them, an “important Ms.,” was in need of his immediate attention. Tonia Ginzburg, “like all refugees … is not in a position to have her weeks and months wasted,” he chided Huebsch in expectation of the usually delayed response to an unknown author. “Do at least the good deed of reading or causing her Ms. to be read promptly.”88
Ludwig’s schedule that week included four consecutive days of lecturing in New York City, beginning Sunday evening.89 They would be his last appearances in the city for several weeks. By Thursday he would be with Edna in Rochester, orchestrating the final stages of her conversion and their wedding early the next month. Preparing for the week ahead after returning from his luncheon date, he made a few notes in his journal. “Man is inadequate to his fate,” he mused. “Little people doing little things,” he added, as if to salve whatever disappointment he may have felt, despite the redemptiveness of his new love. There is “no power that is also goodness,” whose purview was of the spirit alone, with all its flaws and weakness. He would have to content himself with these facts, and the admission that “I, too, must be inadequate.” It had taken a lifetime to reach this understanding. Perhaps here, at last, in this understanding, was the “theme of a symbolic novel,” one with which to shape his “Ausklang,” his final curtain, a novelistic finale whose theme of possible “self-perfection through love, creation, and contemplation” would offer him the chance to draw together the pieces of a life richly, if disparately, lived.90 Nearly sixteen years after entering these hopes in his journal, and only months before his death, Ludwig’s “symbolic novel” would appear, written, as he ironically titled it, In a Summer Season of golden memories that had lingered past the painfulness of moments yet to come.