IM’S CONTINUING ABDUCTION MADE a court battle inevitable. To strengthen Ludwig’s case for total custody, there could be no delay to their wedding. With no definitive marriage site yet found, Baltimore would prove exactly what was needed. A speaking engagement there, scheduled for the first week of February, would at once accomplish his several objectives. “On a bleak dark day, walking up and down here in these rooms, it flashed upon me,” he would later record in Haven.1 Arthur Hays, of course, agreed with the plan, and Ludwig’s friend and host for the Baltimore lecture, Rabbi Edward Israel, was contacted. Certain that all was now in order, Ludwig set out for his “beloved’s home” with a lighter spirit.
“There at Pine Acres, we seemed to be enveloped … in the white depth of winter by a strange and steady flame,” Ludwig recalled four months after rejoining Edna in Rochester. “All forces seemed suddenly … benign.” Rabbi Israel had written that he would be honored to perform the ceremony, and all that remained was the completion of Edna’s formal conversion to Judaism. She had already begun to participate in Friday evening Sabbath ritual, and though Ludwig found her demonstration of commitment sufficient, he realized that his position within the Jewish world, and its meaning in this hour of tragedy and struggling rebirth, would be compromised without Edna’s taking this final step, so that they could celebrate their marriage within the boundaries of Jewish communal life.
There was needed no formal act to mark the solidarity, bone-deep, sky-clear, that had arisen from our meeting and our love. But the world being what it is and the tragic sufferings of my people being what they are I did not want the humblest Jew who had ever spoken my name or adduced my example or heard my word to say: “He, of all people—he…” And such a Jew would have been within his rights. For we do not live abstract lives and cannot. We know the futility of formless benevolence. Action must have form; form is symbol; the perishable becomes symbolic and so permanent by its embodiment in form.2
Accompanied by Ludwig, with Elise Asher and her husband as witnesses, Edna entered Rabbi Bernstein’s study, “declared her acceptance of the principles, doctrines and institutes of Judaism,” and emerged a member of “the Jewish faith.”3 “We were, it seemed to me, in the presence of the ages,” Ludwig would recall. Unlike the nations now destroying Jews throughout Europe, the Jews had always honored the proselyte. Feeling a special “pride [in] the humanity of Israel,” he saw Edna aglow with “the spirit of Ruth … half-flower, half-flame.”4 Yet for Edna, this experience of being welcomed would soon be forever compromised as Jewish leaders, fearful that Ludwig’s personal life might discredit the Zionist goals for which he had given so much of himself, turned away from him one by one.5
But in the final days before their marriage, neither seemed concerned over what consequences might follow. Ludwig saw only the good in their relationship, crediting Edna with helping him to maintain what restraint he had displayed in responding to Thelma’s abduction of Jim. “Without Edna I would, I know, have committed some desperate act,” he boasted to Spiro on her behalf.6 Scheduled to speak in Baltimore on the evening of Thursday, February 1, and to be married the following morning, Ludwig returned to New York for a few “last-minute lectures” and to check that all was in order for Edna’s arrival after the wedding. “There was very little money to spare,” so he would earn what he could in order to provide what little it might for her in her new home. Alone for what he believed to be his last night without Edna, he wrote of being “Sheltered and sure, no more to faint or falter, / At home and whole, however wild the skies.”7
For Edna, it was a new beginning as well. Scott had followed her advice and was on his way to Los Angeles, though en route had asked for news of the wedding while urging her to be careful not to let his fiancée know of their communication. Her interception of Edna’s last letter had brought “her agony … more awful than I ever want to know of again.”8 But Edna was already in Baltimore by January 31 when he sent his note from Chicago, where he had gone to catch a plane for the coast. Anticipating the possibility of a winter storm, she had scheduled her flight from Buffalo a day earlier than necessary—only to learn upon her arrival in Baltimore that the lawyers had miscounted so that her divorce could not be finalized until Sunday,9 nor the wedding held until the following Tuesday. The interlude proved to be quite pleasant as Edna, now relaxed, attended Ludwig’s lecture on what would have been the eve of their wedding. One of two thousand, she found herself “so tightly packed that it was impossible to move enough to fish a handkerchief out of a pocket.” Edna had never witnessed so great a response to Ludwig’s presence, nor experienced the power of his voice when animated by such a gathering. Thirty years later she would relate with pride how he had spoken “with the same blazing fire with which he wrote … blessed [as he was] with the physical constitution of a mountain pony.”10 In the evenings, Ludwig would grow ever more energized, as each time the soon-to-be-newlyweds entered the hotel’s dining room the orchestra would play a small portion of Lohengrin’s wedding march in their honor. “It was all fun,” Edna admitted two weeks later, though at the time she would have preferred to have been past the ceremony and on the way home.11
This was certainly true in retrospect, given the events that were to begin the morning of their wedding, February 6, 1940. Ten days earlier, while Ludwig had been addressing the Sunday morning service of the Community Church in New York’s Town Hall, Thelma, with Jim in tow, had slipped back into New York and held a news conference in her penthouse apartment. She stated her intent not to stand in the way of Ludwig’s marriage to Edna, her lawyer having advised her that a claim of common-law marriage would be difficult to substantiate given the years spent in Paris. Instead, she demanded the return of her nine thousand dollars, a fair share of Ludwig’s alleged wealth, and full custody of Jim, with child support. “All I want now is that Ludwig should clean up the mess. Then he can go to the next woman with a clean slate.”12 That evening, as Ludwig packed his bag for the next day’s trip to Baltimore, he knew nothing of Thelma’s statements to the press.
With others, he learned of Thelma’s position from the morning newspapers on his way to the airport. At least all seemed settled in terms of allowing the ceremony to go forward unimpeded. But Thelma had other thoughts. As the Baltimore Sun reported the events of February 6, it had been “a busy day,” one that “included the dramatic interruption of his [Ludwig’s] wedding to Miss Edna Manley by the mother of his acknowledged son, a visit by her to the State’s Attorney to see if she had justification for charging the author with bigamy, consultations between attorneys for both sides, tears, histrionics, more tears, comedy.”13
The day had begun beautifully enough, the couple “decked out in our bridal finery … a little wetpalmed and excited.” The rabbi’s chauffeur had driven them to the synagogue, and once all were assembled, the ceremony had begun.14 Suddenly, Thelma, Jim, and her attorney burst in upon them, accompanied by the press. Screaming, “This cannot go on! I have been his wife, his nurse and his soul!” Thelma fell to her knees while Rabbi Israel ushered the betrothed into his office to await a resolution. “I’d rather play the heroine than the villain,” she insisted, demanding only “an honest name for our child.” She would give Ludwig his freedom, but only after he first married her to legitimize their son, after which he could divorce her and marry Edna.
Witnessing her growing hysterics, Thelma’s lawyer convinced her to return to the hotel. There, surrounded by reporters, she spoke of their happiness together until Edna seduced Ludwig away from her with promises of sharing wealth. She had sacrificed her own career to make a home for Ludwig, only to be abandoned and “starved,” forced to sell her jewels to feed their child. She wanted only to raise her son “as he should be brought up,” and to resurrect her artistic life. “I brought out the creative ability in my husband,” and now it was her turn to develop her talents, damaged but not destroyed by the sixteen years she had given to him.
After a period at the hotel, half on her knees and half pacing the floor, “flinging her arms wide, pulling from a bag clippings showing her with Dr. Lewisohn and interspersing bitter comments upon his conduct with descriptions of her triumphs as an operatic and concert soprano,” Thelma and her attorney led the entourage to the courthouse, where they exacted a promise from the state’s attorney to examine the case and to press charges should reason be found to do so. Concerned with this possibility, Rabbi Israel delayed the ceremony until a well-respected attorney could confirm what Hays and others had concluded several weeks earlier. After a four-hour interruption, the ceremony proceeded to its conclusion.15 Emerging from the rabbi’s study, Ludwig told the still waiting reporters that after “many happy years together … she is mad.” “I am sure that everything will turn out all right,” Edna added with characteristic optimism. “Nothing can ruin our happiness.”16
Throughout the day, Jim’s distress had visibly worsened. “I want my Papa and my Auntie Edna,” he was heard crying at the synagogue. When Thelma left in a taxi for her hotel an hour later, Jim was seen kicking and refusing to sit beside his mother.17 And as the hotel press conference wore on, Jim’s patience reached its breaking point. Thelma refused to allow him to escape into the hotel lobby; he kicked her once again. “Poor child,” Thelma commented, as if this were evidence of Ludwig’s harmful actions against them both. By the time they had reached the courthouse, the distraught Jim, earlier claiming to “like Miss Edna better” than his own mother, was ready to see everyone dead. “I hope that daddy and Edna go to Europe on their honeymoon. Then they will be torpedoed,” he told reporters. Yet he was terrified of returning to New York with Thelma, and refused to do so unless someone else came with him.18 Before leaving, Thelma made one more attempt to confront Ludwig, using Jim as her weapon. Telephoning the synagogue, the confused and distraught six-year-old Jim told the rabbi, “I never want to see my father again.”19 When told of Jim’s change of heart by midafternoon, Ludwig responded, “He loves me and I love him. His young mind has just been poisoned by her. I’m not angry with her, just sorry.”20
Five days later, Edna and Ludwig began Haven, which would appear later that year. In it, Ludwig spoke of their wedding as the second “highest moment … life has given me,” the other being Jim’s birth.21 “I feel that this is my first marriage,” he had told reporters the morning after the wedding. “The first time I was kidnapped, and the second time I was charmed by youth and music. This is a moral triumph because for the first time I was able to make a choice of my own.”22
Edna, true to character, detailed the day’s events for the diary, and concluded, “Got married.” She was the more earthly of the two, given less to flights of imagination. Forty years later, retelling the story, she piquantly related how Rabbi Israel, “lonely man,” had suffered a heart attack the following day and was dead within the year. “It was a terrible thing, because he was in a quite different mood…. He was thinking lovely things about the wedding ceremony, they’d given us a beautiful party the night before, and we’d become great friends.… He wasn’t accustomed to the various crises that Ludwig and I had seemed to fit in.” In her judgment, “Thelma killed him.”23
News of the day’s events in Baltimore had reached New York so quickly that reporters were waiting for the newlyweds as they arrived by train in Pennsylvania Station that same evening. Walking slowly toward his interrogators, Ludwig told them, “We are happy and satisfied. We will have a good marriage,” which Edna seconded, before he added, “I am going to get back my boy.”24 He explained to the press that Thelma had agreed upon his having custody, only to abduct their son. “I don’t know just what steps will be taken, but I am determined to get Jim back.”25
Arriving on a later train, Thelma took Jim back to her apartment, confident that Ludwig would not seek to spirit him away from her after the day’s publicity.26 But when she received reporters the following day, Jim was out, kept in the basement under the doorman’s watchful eye, at a cost of two dollars. One reporter characterized the interview with Thelma as a “lulu.” Surrounded by books as she sat on the floor, she opened a bottle of scotch and began her tale of abuse at Ludwig’s hand. “He’s starving me,” she claimed, while threatening to shame him by working as a burlesque striptease dancer. Though she had sung only the week before at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall, she had been forced by destitution to sell all of her jewelry. Had she not given him so many of her best years, she might now be singing at the Metropolitan Opera. “I was young and avid for life when I met Mr. Lewisohn in 1923. Now I am an old hag at 36,” she protested, “plump” and “tearful.” The Daily News account was more graphic than that of the New York Times. “She sang. She recited poetry. She read poetry. She played the piano. She gesticulated wildly…. She praised [Lewisohn] and cursed him. She said he was too old to live much longer, but added that he was still a wonderful lover.” After an hour and a quarter, the scotch “depleted,” the reporters prepared to leave. Thelma quickly called downstairs and had Jim brought in. To the astonishment of all, he “kicked her, beat her, bit her, berated her and screamed for his father.”
When one of the reporters later returned with a photographer, “Jimmy screamed, aiming an accurate kick at his mother’s shin. ‘I don’t like you. I never liked you. I want to go to my father.’” Refusing to be photographed, he ran from Thelma, but was overtaken by her in the bedroom. While he again kicked and scratched her, she collapsed sobbing on the bed, only to be screamed at further by Jim, now wielding a toy gun, shooting her repeatedly. (Jim would be convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of his own wife thirty-five years later.) When she managed, finally, to get Jim to pose on the sofa with her, he suddenly bit her arm and began hurling flashbulbs at her. “Quite a bit of his father in him,” Thelma announced in self-defense while Jim screamed, “Get those—s out of here.”27 Thelma herself best assessed the two days’ events, and those yet to unfold, when she acknowledged, “It will all make a good Hollywood film some day,” though she believed herself to be playing the most tragic role. “I will be the heroine, I guess.”28
When reporters later told Ludwig of the morning’s events, he repeated how Jim deserved far better care, saying that his lawyers would take “immediate” steps so that he could regain custody of his son. But others were moving more quickly. Friends in Burlington were seeking to place Jim into the protective custody of a Vermont social agency,29 while Thelma’s lawyer had already begun to file for a show cause hearing against Ludwig. The following day a summons arrived, demanding Ludwig’s appearance in court on February 14 to explain why he should not be ordered to pay child support.30 Nor were the Baltimore authorities yet out of the picture as they once again sought information to help better determine whether Ludwig could be charged with bigamy.31
Though such charges were never filed, this threat, alongside Thelma’s relentless pursuit, was yet one more cause of Ludwig’s unwillingness to yield even the smallest concession in the months ahead. Nor was the situation improved by Mary’s sudden telephone call to Thelma, offering consolation and a reminder that “Ludwig loves you when he is devoted, but Heaven help you when he is not.”32 Mary then called Ludwig and Edna, telling them how happy the scandal had made her, “vibrantly gloating,” as Edna recalled, at how the relationship with Thelma had failed, all the while taunting them until Ludwig slammed down the receiver while she was in midsentence.33 Perhaps Ludwig should not have been as shocked as he was. It seemed that everyone was having his say. Even on their wedding day, they could not escape. “Look at this Lewisohn marriage hold-up,” the couple seated next to them on the train back to New York had commented.34
A week later, Ludwig was in court being ordered to pay child support of thirty dollars a week. He had, in fact, continued to send the money even after suspending Thelma’s own support payments, but the newspaper report made it sound as if he had abandoned his son. It was to be an interim settlement until the issue of custody could be resolved, but the paper made Ludwig appear vindictive. “I’ll get that boy away from her if it’s the last thing I do” was all he was reported to have said in response. He felt ashamed for the implications “cruelly” drawn of what he hadn’t done, and for what he had failed to do—intercede earlier on Jim’s behalf.
But now he was at least fighting back, filing suit for Jim’s total custody, asserting that Thelma was “physically, mentally, and morally unfit to rear the boy.”35 Though there was sadness for his son and their truncated relationship, he was happier now, and could write at day’s end with “rock-bottom truth,” that
Edna and I have been wholly untouched, by which I mean unwounded, by the tumult and the brand of the scandal. We have been annoyed and at moments rebellious…. But we, each of us, and our relation to each other to the ultimate and remotest delicacies, have been without a shadow. I think the reason is in Edna’s luminous clarity of mind and heart. The hierarchy of permanent values beyond the world’s second- or third-rate values is there—within her. It is a perpetual dawn in her spirit that no darkness ever touches.”36
Not since his college days at home had he felt such “tranquility.” It was more than joy, he believed, determined now not to allow the world’s maddening and maddened pace of events, born of human error, to unduly interrupt this new life. Instead, he and Edna would seek the higher goals, knowing they could not be reached, but only approached. A mere step or two closer would suffice. Later that same day, he promised “not to let [himself] speak of politics or public affairs, of war or death,” nor even of ideas that promised the amelioration of suffering. There was little reason for such faith in human agency.
For the present, a long, long present, the very concept of progress has become an evil jest. They sacked cities aforetime; they bomb them now. They slaughtered the innocent from age to age; they are doing so still. Machinery has only made the human brute more dangerous. Platitudes, of course. But anyone who still clings to some Utopia to be built by men not morally better than these men is a fool, and there is no help for him. Meanwhile, thank God, there is dawn and dusk, flower and tree, meat and wine, love in its thousand aspects and enchantments, children and sunlight on lawns and waters, poetry and prose and in a few people the desire for perfection, the seeking after God. If one grows a little more perfect, if one moves one small step nearer an intelligible spiritual goal, one has done the utmost, not only for oneself but for the world, that anyone can do. Let us then do that, cling to that as long as the brutes do not overwhelm us…. And these personal and intimate things, these things that grow out of the interior life, the life of the soul, they, too, are the only universal things.37
The desire to separate his private life from the public pervaded all that he wished to do, though the reality of his life being played out on a public stage contorted this desire. “When I write, I don’t squeeze, I pour,”38 Ludwig told Edna over lunch a week after the wedding, explaining that he wrote only until noon, and that it came so easily that so brief a period each day was all the time he had ever needed to be as productive as he had been for so long. Without ever revising his work, the remainder of the day could be spent reading, answering correspondence, lecturing, or going out—all of this carefully orchestrated to the beat of his father’s pocket watch which he kept beside him at all times, even while making love.39 “Not only when you write, my husband,”40 Edna had noted in an unpublished portion of her original diary, much of which would not appear in Haven after Ludwig’s editorial hand had set to work. This particular entry was amended in Haven to read, “Not only when you write, but when you live, my husband.”41 Out of a need to appear unemotional, mature, and respectable in the eyes of the courts, he had sought to control whatever impressions the book might elicit, believing, as well, in his right to exercise his literary judgment upon Edna’s writing. She had, by her own admission, then and much later, joined him in marriage in part to learn the craft.42 Unfortunately, Haven would suffer from the loss of these more revealing images of the happiness and thoughts they shared. Thus, where Haven merely noted Edna’s need to record Ludwig’s discussion of why he found a diary so much easier to write than a novel (as the latter “requires such a careful building of structure”), Edna’s original entry read, “‘I’d better put that down’ and we get to giggling, trying to eat without saying anything that might make words for immortality.”43 What might Ludwig’s own original diary have contained about which he felt the need for such editing?
A further example or two of the deletions from Edna’s original diary. Over a long, leisurely breakfast on February 16, Ludwig had told Edna of the many literary influences in his life, listing his favorite books and authors (Homer, the Bible, Horace, Faust, Gibbon, Johnson, Boswell, Mann, Gide, Rilke, Of Human Bondage, Madame Bovary, and others), speaking of the languages he read (English, French, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish), and commenting how, “of course in the past 15–18 years I have been immensely influenced by Talmud and Midrash and by Hebrew.” Much of this is either expanded upon (languages) or deleted (influences) from Haven. Deleted as well were Edna’s comments concerning Jim’s re-abduction to New Jersey and the lawyer’s phone call asking if Ludwig knew personally the judge who was to hear the habeas corpus motion he was to file the next day and moved to Ludwig’s emended entry on the following day. Nor is there any mention of their awakening from an afternoon nap, and of Ludwig, “thoroughly awake, but still pajama pant-less,” telling Edna “animal stories, about Siki, the cat who came over with them from Paris and who understood nothing but French … [or] the African horse who understood nothing but Arabic.” All this is absent from Haven.44
More significant are deletions from the following day’s entry, where “whole in our togetherness and vision, pure in our ether,” they suddenly realized “how we must appear to the world.” Edna goes on to quote remarks which Ludwig would later choose not to make public. “Here I am, 56 years old, an old reprobate who wants young flesh. You, with a wild past behind you, do everything, even become a Jew, so that you may go to bed with me. That we got married must bewilder people who read newspapers, but that confusion they cut off, ‘Well, we give ‘em six months at the most.’” Nor would he want Edna’s defiantly angry response to be known, aware of just how negative the reaction to their marriage would be, even by those who should have understood. “We got married so that we could be what we are to each other in safety, so that the fight to keep our purity wouldn’t be too much for even us. The little lies, the inability to acknowledge that which is right, the furtiveness, the glances, the sneers, these in the end destroy the rightest relationship. People will say, ‘But he lived with Miss S. 16 years … why couldn’t he continue?’ The fact that the greatest patience has an end doesn’t occur to them.”45
By February 19, Ludwig had already begun to feel the impact of scandal upon his work as a Zionist spokesman. Two weeks into the marriage, they had remained “serenely happy and blessed. None of the mud has stuck,” he told Spiro. “We are writing a book together, a good book.” But the mud had stuck, as he himself knew, for cancellations had already begun to arrive, with lectures arranged in the United States and Canada evaporating in the heat of the moment. A few pleasant words had been received, but as Edna had noted in her diary several days earlier, “Nobody sends us wedding presents.” Nor had Stephen Wise’s silence gone unnoticed by Ludwig. Had he, too, abandoned him when it was most difficult to remain loyal, even though he had earlier encouraged Ludwig’s separation from Thelma? “Stephen, who jubilated, you remember, at the separation hides himself in silence. Why? Because Thelma exceeded his utmost expectations in vulgarity and stupidity.” After so much effort, he was being abandoned not only by the masses, but by those very leaders who had once called upon him to leave his private world for the mantle now being torn from his shoulders. “I ask you, Saul: What is the ethical value of any acceptance of a leader if he can become the prey of the first vulgarian who chooses to try to smear him in the gutter press?”46
Nothing official had yet occurred to remove him from the Zionist arena. If local groups had begun sporadically to cancel his appearances, others remained for the weeks ahead. So, too, was he continuing his weekly column for the ZOA’s New Palestine. The hour demanded this of him, even if, as he openly complained in Haven, he had “written so much political and semi-political stuff in recent years … [that] the whole thing rather bores me.” So, too, did economic necessity, forcing him to neglect his “impulse … toward the logic of a beginning, a middle and an end.”47 The new novel had days before begun “taking on shape.”48
“[I] so ache for the free exercise of the creative faculty,” never truly certain of what he had ever accomplished for all of his political efforts. The world seemed unchanged.49 Exhausted by late evening after another grueling day at the lectern, he would return home to Edna and sit with her in bed, laughing wryly at the enthusiastic reception he had again received, convinced that few would turn their applause into meaningful personal change or public action.50 He longed for the opportunity to put his thoughts—about the current state of Jewry and of the world’s immoralities—into a more coherent statement, for himself as much as for others. “How the act of writing crystallizes inner processes!” To be set in pre-revolutionary Paris, Renegade was “not to be an historical novel at all, but a narrative bodying forth present and universal issues under the symbolisms of 1767–1770,” unable now to “project life through the symbolization … of the contemporary. The confusions are too catastrophic, the interplay of forces too intricate and madly dark.”51
As much as anyone, he knew these forces well. And so, though he wished to be able to set aside the daily work of the political arena, he could not, and not merely for financial reasons. He had always found a way to put bread on the table, and would again if forced to. But few others were speaking out, and the Jewish community seemed frozen by inaction. On the eve of his departure for Baltimore, with wedding plans and fears for his abducted son filling his thoughts, he had found space in his life to pen the longest poem of the Edna-inspired series. “Can you see those eyes, those eyes, as the frail hand clenches / The scroll and they are hurtled into the grave?” he asked, as other sharply disturbing images, of “children’s feeble feet / Dragging after a crumb” and of the “Earth … flung down upon them, breast and brow,” while “the S.S. men stamp with hard heels” so that “it moved a little” poured from him, with barely a word changed in any of the thirty-four lines of “1940.” “Do you see, O Jew, / Dining at Longchamps, lolling on Miami Beach, / Do you see them, well-lined belly?” Where was the outcry demanded by “The universe [that] throbs like one great wound of pain?… No friend, no friend / Speaks,” he accused them angrily. He knew of the Talmudic dictum, to strive to be a man where there were none, and so he would persist for as long as anyone would provide a forum, complaining of boredom, artistic deprivation, but realizing these were as nothing in the measuring of human suffering, “a Jeremiah in the abomination of these days.”52
On the morning of the nineteenth, Ludwig went off to yet another gathering of Jews “very wearisome to mind and body,” the occasion being the dedication of a Jewish community center. The mayor, school superintendent, and congressman were present as well, each delivering his remarks, “undoubtedly convinced of their own benevolence. All three with those rigid masklike American faces through which no ray of piercing thought or emotion seems ever even to struggle. Utterly hidden and self-hidden souls, for the souls must be there. All three with an almost lecherous glibness—lecherous but how cold!—mouthing the given platitudes of the occasion: ‘at this time’… ‘this great country of ours’… ‘tolerance, freedom, conscience.’” But “what do they mean when they are alone with themselves?” he wondered. “To what extent could they be trusted if freedom and its maintenance ever involved a sacrifice?”53 For all of his criticism of the Jews he had met in the thousands of miles he had traveled, there was something far more threatening than their seeming inaction, whatever the source. Here, again, were those “American faces” he had known since his youth in Charleston. “The Jews,” he noted in Haven more sympathetically than in “1940,” “frightened and therefore more aware of fate, measured up rather better, except one poor chap who was in a creepingly propitiatory mood and asserted over and over again that no wall was being built around the Jews because they had a communal institution of their own.” All too familiar with such attempts to find one’s place as a Jew in American society, Ludwig had little patience with such rationalizations, knowing that exclusion, not ethnic survival, had motivated the center’s builders.
Of greater concern on this occasion than his talk (“I spoke for only thirty minutes,” he reported) was the establishment of a new Zionist group in that city. He found there, again contradicting “1940,” “men genuinely grave, with true concern for themselves and their people written upon their plain care-worn faces.” Of these, he spoke longest about an elderly Orthodox man who, though visibly poor, was willing to contribute more than he could afford out of the conviction that in doing so he was participating in the divine plan of redemption, about which he became convinced by Ludwig’s repetition in Hebrew of that portion of the liturgy which told of the gathering of the Jews out of the Diaspora and into Zion. “That was my good omen,” Ludwig recorded in Haven with that same pride that had enabled him to look with love upon his fellow Jews’ ability to endure despite the “constant residual terror in their souls,” and, in giving voice to their lives, to look upon This People as his best work.54
The next day brought a letter from Canada canceling all twenty-three lectures scheduled for May, the “wide currency in the press about your personal affairs hav[ing] unfortunately impaired the value of you as a United Palestine Appeal Speaker.” It would mean a substantial loss of income, but a gain of time to work on Renegade—a benefit unforeseen, though it had left Ludwig with that old “terror of being poor,”55 and angry over his abandonment. If he could aid those artists and writers who came to him in a steady stream looking for assistance, why couldn’t a few of his oldest supporters and friends, aside from Spiro, speak out on his behalf? “All these mitzvahs [good deeds] in just the past few months,” Edna noted bitterly in a passage cut from Haven.56
By February 23, Ludwig’s patience was exhausted. How much longer need he wait, he wondered, before someone who knew him well and who knew the facts concerning Thelma and Jim would speak up? Writing Wise a long, impassioned letter, Ludwig asked why, having expressed his joy in December at the news of the separation from Thelma and the prospect of gaining custody of Jim, he was not to be heard from now that, “as you suspected, that evil [had] raised its voice”? Why had no one offered to speak out in their old colleague’s defense?
The worst that you expected has happened. I am temporarily under a cloud; even Zionist districts have canceled lectures. Slander has gone forth in a hundred forms; no one of those who know has uttered one word of voluntary, spontaneous and, above all, public defense. Do not think for a moment that Edna and I have been shaken, have been so much as touched. Even for Jimmie this is better. He will be all ours and not constantly exposed to warping and corruption. Nor are we afraid of being poor. He who has at last grasped the supreme values of life is liberated from small fears. But as a moral fact I am shocked and grieved that after all my years of service and devotion, a dozen voices have not been raised to say: the man who wrote those books and lived this life and spoke these words in this tone on a thousand occasions is not the man who is depicted in the News, the Mirror or Hearst’s papers. That cry should have come from those who knew nothing or little of the inner facts. Those, on the other hand, who knew the inner facts should have stemmed the muddy tide when it first started to roll.57
Still angry with Wise more than half a year later, Ludwig included this letter, without comment, in Haven.58 Wise’s response, if there was one, has not survived. Three weeks later, however, Wise spoke of the letter in a note to William Rosenblatt concerning Ludwig’s continuing indebtedness, about which he was “not too unduly worried … [given] Lewisohn’s unweariable marital exploits.” Misconstruing the cause of Ludwig’s anger, Wise promised his fellow creditor that he would “be amused to hear that Ludwig had the chutzpah to write to me in reproach because I failed to congratulate him upon his third marriage.” Wise even jokingly proposed that he and Rosenblatt “go down to Mexico together, drink a gallon of pulque, and then have his divorce from Mary invalidated.” His heart, he freely admitted, was filled with nothing but “abhorrence” for what Ludwig had done, leaving others to cover his settlement with Mary by incurring the added expenses of a new wife. For such outrageous behavior, Wise fantasized the ultimate punishment which respectable American society could exact from so profligate an offender of the public order. “What he needs is a good, stiff operation that will, if possible, completely emasculate him. I think it foul swinishness for him to go off and get married and start a third matrimonial venture and let you and me pay the bills. With all his fine writing, he has not the first instinct of a gentleman.”59 What would Wise have said had he read Edna’s edited entry for late February regarding Ludwig’s concern for her health while she lay in bed with a heavy cold, of “tears coming in his eyes when I apologize for already costing him so much money. How can a man be so great and so sweet at the same time?”60
Whatever it was that they felt for each other, however we are to define love, in these early months together, they were clearly smitten by each other’s presence in their lives. “I want to carry you off on a snow white charger, and conquer new realms. I talk a lot of bosh about the loneliness of intellectual isolation, but I really want to go right on bashing the world in the nose.” With Edna by his side, he could bear up under the pressure that was mounting all around him. “And you expect to be paid for that?” Edna, amused, asked her new lover, uncannily anticipating Wise. “You think the people who have the sense to bleed from you are going to dig down in their pockets so that you keep on bashing them?”
To Edna, it seemed that only Ludwig, “out of all the world would hear me and know the answers to my questions … [or] light the way for us to a new kind of world!” For her, Ludwig, “by being what he is makes our simplest outing magical,” filling the hours with endless talk “in that rich colorful tone.” Even his physical movements thrilled her in these early days. “I love to watch him walk … a kind of indomitable loping walk bannered by his magnificent hands.” But of all his bodily attributes, it was “the impact of those great, dark, velvet, shining, wonder-ful, questioning, eloquent eyes” which nearly made her heart stop each time he came near. “Dear Heart, feel me near you, as you go on and up…. You are not alone. I out of all the world, know you…. Let your roots go deep in me. And flower over the heads of men.”61
On March 1, 1940, the twentieth anniversary of his father’s death, Ludwig lit a Yahrzeit (memorial) candle, said Kaddish, and sadly thought back on “so fine a soul, so dark and meagre a life.” Contemplating its tragedy, he grew determined “not to let the cancellation of Zionist or U.P.A. lectures falsify my vision or hurt me for myself.” If the Jews now rejected him, he would be secure in the unique position he had cut for himself, “the only American man of letters of Jewish birth ever to have … identified myself with them. And I am still the only one,” having brought out not only his novels of Jewish intent, but books on Jewish thought and contemporary affairs. “I am, by common consent, the only Jewish thinker in the English-speaking world who had made important additions to Zionist philosophy.” Adding to this the thousands upon thousands whom he had addressed across “innumerable weary miles” and the many translations of his works appearing throughout Europe and South America, he felt justified unreservedly in claiming that “my voice and mine alone has been heard as the voice of American Jewry.” If so, he asked rhetorically, if an Argentine writer can recognize his efforts as those of “a prophet and a master … spreading … Jewish consciousness”—“if any of that is true—what business did my Jews, I say: my Jews, have to regard smears in the gutter-press with anything but loathing and contempt for that press, and for those who egged that press on? Their instinctive impulse should have been to defend me … for their own sake, not even mine.” Instead, he felt as abandoned in America as his father had, and much as Herzl had felt when he wrote in his diary, “I am a useful instrument toward the return home of the Jews—and they let me wear myself out … this movement which has made me old, tired, and poor.” Ludwig found these words “consoling even while it was tragic.” If the Jewish people could reject him, as they had Herzl, it could only be out of a continuing “suicidal tendency. This shall be my last word even to myself on this melancholy matter.”62
Yet, Ludwig could not keep such a promise, and when an invitation arrived three days later to sit upon the stage at a Carnegie Hall Zionist rally, he was left to question what not attending would demonstrate to those “Zionist gedolim, the ‘great ones,’ [who] have chosen so far [not] even to pay their respects to Edna and me.” Having “too often made the mistake in life … of fading out of a given picture at the slightest indelicacy or neglect,” he wondered how not “to give this circumstance an importance which it doesn’t deserve.” Or had he once again, as so often in the past, unrealistically overestimated human nature? “I’ve always set too high a standard for everyone and have therefore lived in a state of continuous moral disappointment. By what right?” he wondered, finally deciding to leave the decision in Edna’s hands.63 “I have no natural relation to the material world,” he wrote on the anniversary of their first month of marriage. She was the worldly one.64
The following day, with Jim’s habeas corpus hearing but one week away, Ludwig’s thoughts turned with foreboding to what he knew the press would do with these next proceedings. A week after the wedding, he had noted how even he had been “surprised at the appearance of their rather cruel stories.”65 He had always been mistreated by the press concerning his marital affairs, but now they were attacking his wife and child, further proof that American society needed to mature far beyond the point at which it had stagnated for decades.
I want to record for myself and perhaps for some distant better future that the men and women on quite good papers in America in 1940 simply do not know that there are such things as goodness, tenderness, truth, aspiration, delicacy of sentiment. And it would be interesting to know what they make of their own lives in view of the fact that they do not know that such things exist. I suppose they learned to spell these words in their childhood. That completed their relation to them. For even the best—a woman, for example, from a metropolitan evening paper—was guilty of such vulgar flippancies that one’s gorge rose for her. Privately here I set down these observations sine ira aut studio. They are notes toward the moral history of the time.
He would try to remain “aloof” from their actions, however “overexposed” he felt. “The stuff has of course no relation to Edna or Jim or me. It is all out somewhere in a world to which no path leads from our own.”66
The weekend before the hearing, Ludwig flew to Chicago and then went on to Duluth, Minnesota, and Racine, Wisconsin, to speak on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, dates spared from the many cancellations now arriving with disturbing regularity. With Ludwig gone and Edna asleep on the couch, Ida left the apartment to shop. Edna was awakened by the “commotion outside the door [and] the porters entering with fire extinguishers.” The couch was on fire beneath her, but she had not been harmed. It had smoldered rather than burned, the smoke alarming her neighbors and sparing her life.67 Was it attempted murder, as Edna later claimed, or a cigarette that dropped as she dozed? And were her cosmetics poisoned, or had she suffered a severe allergic reaction shortly after the fire? Though Ida would soon testify on Ludwig’s behalf, she would claim not to remember anything beyond Thelma’s constant plaint of a ruined career. Her reluctance to provide stronger testimony is puzzling, if not suspicious.68
Thelma’s account of her life with Ludwig strategically appeared the next day in the April issue of Living Romances. Had it not been for Ludwig’s unwillingness to share Jim with her, Thelma now claimed, she would not have sought this attention. Rather, she would have suffered the “heartbreak” of seeing Ludwig married to another. “Ludwig’s happiness comes first,” she asserted, more concerned that his art flower than that she not suffer “the haunting memories of our once great love…. If he writes even greater books than he has written in the past then my sacrifice will not have been in vain.” There was but one condition, “that I have Jim.” He was all she had left “of a love I gave so fully for sixteen years.” She would fight to keep her son and to rebuild her own life from “the broken pieces … that lie around me.” Understandably angered, hurt, and fearful of abandonment and poverty, Thelma admitted to “emotions which lie seething underneath, so deep, so fundamental, that even words cannot express them.” Perhaps she would find the voice she needed in her songs, “the songs which meant so much to Ludwig and me—those verses which he wrote to me when our love was at its Springtide.”69
But Thelma had already found her voice as the long-suffering ex-lover and former muse in a spate of new poetry published a year later as Many Mansions. It would be her most benign response to the months of struggle between them. “You have gone and left me desolate, / Uprooted, tear beset, dreading the morrow, / Huddled in a cavern with my sorrow, / Striding your destined path,”70 she wrote in one poem, adding in another, “You repudiate me to the world /… Now you have become unkind.”71 She likened him to a thief “who stole my harvest, all my stored-up grain, / The hours, years, spirits, wealth I’ll never regain.” The “haunted house,” built on such a foundation of grief, would soon fall. “You will lose it all—ill-gotten gain. / Life has its purpose; each link completes the chain.”72
How, then, was she to understand this sudden and total reversal between them, other than as the natural outcome of so total and passionate a love, of having shared “journeys alien to life’s common track”?73 “Had you not loved you could not hate me thus / With such intense loathing and mad distrust— / Your fellow pilgrim for sixteen long years /… Can it be,” she pondered, in a rare reflective moment, “that love so glorified must turn to hate / Because there is an invisible pendulum for every fate?”74
Whether or not such a fated pendulum existed, it was now clear that their great love had become a great hate—with Jim the pawn at its center. While Thelma retained custody, she would invoke Ludwig’s absence at every possible turn, even as mother and son celebrated the coming of the Sabbath. “Every Friday night we have a tryst, / A sacred rendezvous … / You are not there—and yet we three commune with the divine.”75 Taunting her former lover, she reminded him of how much of her own face was in their son’s. “When our little son smiles—think of me.”76
In her defense, we must note her ambivalence, desiring a new life free of old restraints, yet caring for Jim out of “mother love. / With its whole-hearted giving.” To know such love, she understood, was to have “fathomed the middle of the universe, / The reason for life and living.”77 Clearly, she wished with all sincerity that Jim’s life be one of highest fulfillment. “May you make music greater—loftier than those who bore you, / And may your star give light to those about you,” she wrote in “A Poetic Letter,”78 wishing with “unconquerable zeal / To be a mother worthy of you.”79
But by so many others’ accounts at numerous hearings in the months ahead, Thelma was profoundly unprepared emotionally to assume the responsibility of caring for any child, let alone one who already had begun to display unmistakable signs of emotional distress. On Wednesday, March 13, the habeas corpus hearing over the issue of custody began in the chambers of New York State Supreme Court Justice Aaron Levy, and continued for the next three days. Ida, Theodore, and friends of both parties gave witness for and against Ludwig and Thelma as parents, while the head of the Lakewood, New Jersey, boarding school to which Thelma had sent Jim attested to the six-year-old’s happiness there.80 Documents were placed in evidence to support each side’s claims, including Thelma’s damaging letter, sent after initially agreeing to Ludwig’s full custody of Jim, in which she wrote Edna that “You cannot uproot a great love without blood and tears, and believe me, I am having my share, especially concerning Jim, whom I do love even though I am not the mother, but the artist par excellence. I can’t envisage life without him, and yet I know that his father can do more for him and is a better balanced individual.”81
Spiro’s three-hour testimony, above all other elements in the case, proved the most damning to Thelma’s newest assertions. Substantiating Thelma’s own claim of being the less balanced of the pair, he cataloged a long series of inappropriate and psychologically damaging behavior—giving alcohol to Jim, swearing in his presence, “stalking stray millionaires with a view to luxurious marriage,” and trying on underwear in public areas of department stores, among many others. He went on to confirm what so many others had testified, that Thelma had repeatedly told her son that she hated him for being a “stumbling block” to her career. To this, Spiro added how she had refused to marry Ludwig for Jim’s sake, saying instead that she wanted to be free to “marry any millionaire that comes along.”82
With the concurrence of attorneys for both sides, Ludwig was granted permission by Levy to visit Jim at school that Friday afternoon after three months’ separation. (Ludwig would that day receive the Maryland attorney general’s ruling that he was not bigamous since Thelma had not been his legal wife.) With Spiro at the wheel, Ludwig, Edna, and Arnold Brock, Ludwig’s attorney, drove to Lakewood. Shown the facility by “the most kindly and warm-hearted principal,” Ludwig was nonetheless saddened by the Spartan conditions under which his son was being kept. Though Jim wanted to leave with his father, he understood why he could not, showing appreciation for Ludwig’s struggle to regain custody and return him to the warmth of his own home. “This place is all right, you know, Papa, but I want to go home with you,” he told Ludwig, promising to “tell the Judge that he belonged to his Papa and wanted to go home to him and his Auntie Edna.”83 The visit lifted Ludwig’s spirits for the interminable weekend that was to lead into Monday, when Levy was to attempt a compromise settlement between the parties, having suspended the case indefinitely after hearing the testimony against Thelma that might lead him to take the unprecedented step of awarding custody to the father in the case of an out-of-wedlock child. Rather than be forced into this decision, Levy hoped that an acceptable compromise could be reached with the cooperation of the attorneys involved.84 Developments in and out of court were admittedly better than they might otherwise have been, but Ludwig was nonetheless saddened by “a completely mad world … in which my son and I are separated from each other.”85
Monday found Judge Levy’s court calendar unexpectedly crammed with more urgent business, forcing a postponement of the next round of negotiations until Thursday. After speaking that evening in Richmond Hills, Queens, Ludwig returned home late to sandwiches and beer and several hours of good conversation with Edna.86 “In the last few years, I must have spoken to several hundred thousand people; shaken hands with tens of thousands…. I am tired to the bone of lecturing,” he told her. “I want six months of absolute freedom in which just to breathe and write.”87 An upcoming lecture tour of the South (“eight appearances in eight cities on eight successive days”) would only heighten this need.88
Before going south, Ludwig saw Jim again. Edna had remained in the car during the last visit, at the suggestion of their lawyer. Now she would be a full participant in the afternoon’s outing to town. Jim was happy to see them both, though unable to relax. They took him toy shopping and bought ice cream in a small downtown Lakewood shop, and in time he loosened his reserve a bit and related how, during his abduction, Thelma had thrown him into a taxi and later attempted to win his favor with candy, feeding him so much that he finally became ill. Now, when she visited the school (accompanied always by her attorney, “a gorilla” according to Jim), she would “shriek at the children.”89
The next morning Ludwig had two court appearances. Wise and the other creditors had filed charges against him for “criminally withholding” the collection of Jewish antiques, but as the judge hearing the case was an old friend, Ludwig was certain that he would disqualify himself, sending the matter into some future date. More important were the morning’s proceedings over the custody issue, to which Ludwig sped once the criminal case was postponed. Excluded from all discussion, he and Edna were later joined by Brock, who told them that Levy’s interests were twofold—Jim’s well-being and Ludwig’s reputation. To safeguard both, he had suggested a cooling-off period. But Ludwig thought the case was clear enough to disqualify Thelma and allow him to take sole custody, with Edna adopting Jim so that he would legally belong to them both. Brock cautioned patience, convinced that the judge was fully aware of the situation. There could be no further immediate harm with Jim away at school. Given Brock’s confidence, Ludwig and Edna agreed to wait.90
That evening, with Ludwig’s departure imminent, he and Edna attended a Greenwich Village party of her old friends. Pleasant enough people, he thought, but she disagreed, having discovered new values during her years of illness, away from the world they still inhabited. She had grown beyond their aimlessness, with its affinity for the “cocktail hour” as an escape from the daily realities of their lives. “My God, it nauseated me. There isn’t much time between birth and death, and I don’t want the little time I have to be blurred and drugged. I don’t want oblivion. If I’m tired at the end of a day’s work, as my friend insisted that all these thousands of cocktail drinkers were, then why not take a nap? ‘Intolerant,’ said my friends. All right. Help yourself to your midday deaths. I’ve had enough of them.”91 She and Ludwig soon left the party, stopping for a late Italian dinner before walking through old and familiar streets. Happening upon 6 Jane Street, they discovered, to each other’s amazement, that both had once occupied the same top-floor room, which had been his study before the house had been sold and divided into rooms for rent. “We marvelled at the strange coincidence … of where we had slept, so many years apart … and taxied uptown, happy in the thought of at last being together, of being safe, of being warm. It was 3 A.M. when we unlocked our door.”92
On Sunday, Ludwig flew to Nashville to begin his tour with a banquet and a speech. He had long anticipated the return, a “territorially-terrific trip in the deep South,” he had written Spiro in January.93 “It is by all means the most poetical part of America,” Ludwig would confide to his old friend some months after the tour.94 Ludwig hated the thought of lecturing indefinitely (“God forbid, I have to go on barnstorming”), but being able to go home to “the South, the South,” as he excitedly wrote in his journal on the second day, was adequate compensation. He seemed now to miss the region more with each passing year, its “indescribable light” recalling “Mediterranean shores,” touching something ancestral in his soul.95
But now the reception was mixed, as news of his personal affairs had reached there, as well. “People [are] divided between those who have a shadow of sullenness toward me and those who glow toward me,” he wrote Edna from Nashville that first day. “Strange how a living experience divides and shows up men and women.”96 Ludwig went on to Memphis and New Orleans, Montgomery, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and then back to Atlanta before flying home on April 4. Throughout, he had “been able, despite everything, to renew [his] impressions of the greater part of the South,”97 its physical wonder, its misguided repression, and “the life of the eternal soul of man” which only the Jews, “the poorest whites,” and “the outcast Negroes” (“the truest life led here”) had ever sensed.
I’ve criss-crossed the entire deep South in the past eight days. What a paradisal land! I know it takes on some of its color from my Southern childhood and youth. Not all. It is so much less spectacular than California or the Northwest. It’s full, by the way, of literary “values” which, so far as I know, the newish Southern writers have simply missed—lyrical and psychological values. Caldwell does “sociology” and Faulkner largely his inner madness. Talented men both—but they haven’t touched what lies unevoked here.… People here (I don’t mean our Jews) must be soft and passionate. But their abominable repressive religions keep them in check. They cannot live the passionate life that goes with this land—passionate, melancholy, gallant—and so their softness hardens and grows ugly. (Ku Kluxers. Groups of them are being indicted here today for abominable acts of naked sadism.)
Perhaps these impressions were his alone, born of that very different heritage, with its own perceptions, which had always set him apart. “Maybe I am … all wet, hopelessly a Jew, a man out of a tradition of life and sensibility toward life that has ceased to exist.… No wonder I’m unpopular,” he added in the thoughtfulness of his solitary hotel room. “My hierarchy of values is different.”98
All told, it had been a successful trip, for “our cause” and “our people.” His dedication to both remained constant (“I don’t love either less than ever”), planting seeds for a more consciously Jewish future in the South. “Communities are slowly awakening. I have done not a little good,” though only a portion of the credit was his. “Above all there is a new life sustained by quite young men, young men of deep and exact feeling and penetrating thought.” Whatever their livelihood, they had been touched by the same tradition that had moved him to give so much of himself for so long. “That’s what always in the end reconciles one to our people. A salesman in buttons is a flowing soul, a character of truest spiritual dignity, an illuminated mind.” As he left, lifted in spirit by what he had found, he expressed hope that “the accustomed sweetness and reverence” with which he had been treated, “scandal or no scandal,” had been truly earned.99
In his absence from New York, Edna dealt as best she could with his affairs. First to arrive was a package containing six copies of the new Modern Library edition of The Island Within, complete with the original dedication to Thelma. “I started to sulk, but decided it was childish … no more [able to] eradicate the threads from the fabric of your life than you can from mine.” Later that day, a note demanding payment for a New Rochelle fuel bill appeared, threatening court action by April 1. “I suppose nowadays people calculate that you spend so much time in court that it is a convenient spot to meet you. But I fixed ‘em. I sent them a check.” Other mail included gifts from Spiro and a second friend, invitations to various cultural and social events, more activity concerning the legal business over Covici Friede’s failure to publish his book, and a disturbing letter from Sisley Huddleston explaining that he had fled from France to Monte Carlo “because of the invasion of refugees and soldiers,” taking up residence as Edward Titus’s neighbor. There were letters to be written and phone calls to be made, but by midafternoon Edna sought the asylum of the streets and a movie theater, where she saw Abe Lincoln in Illinois, a film that evoked discussion with Theodore (actively involved in radical politics in Harlem) over “the discrimination against his people”—“a question of ‘the system’” as he explained it to her.100
The second day of Ludwig’s trip brought Edna more of the same, including another threatening letter from a Broadway lawyer concerning an earlier case which appeared to misidentify Ludwig as the defendant, and which he, therefore, had ignored. Edna promised to “take care of him,” though she was already feeling the drain of “so much nervous and mental energy” upon her still weakened constitution. “And I’m the girl who shields you from photographers—according to the papers—and is chipper to the end.”101 “Would that I could sit down cozily and write a long literary letter to my husband,” she complained on March 26, “but how can I when I use all my creative ability in writing letters of mollification to creditors, condolences to bereaved friends I’ve never seen, and thank-you notes? Am I not a good wife to you Ludwig?”102
She hoped, also, to be a “good Ma to Jim,” as she, Theodore, and Ida drove to see him in Lakewood that afternoon. He was pleased to see them, and their talk and play grew less strained. They ate, laughed at each other’s stories, and tossed about on the swings. Edna had brought him a gift of several chicks (it had been Easter the previous Sunday), and Jim, wanting them to have something of his to play with at home until he returned, placed his prized toy gun in their box. But there was a clearly discernible chill toward them from the school’s staff. Driving home, Ida and Theodore commented angrily on the rudeness they had encountered, but Edna explained that she must have appeared “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” who, if capable of “snatching” Ludwig from a “happy home,” might not hesitate to do the same with Jim. “I told them that the important thing was that we had made Jim happy for an hour or two.” It was, naturally, disconcerting to be viewed so suspiciously, but they couldn’t expect anything more from “simple people … [who] have no way of knowing what it is all about.”103
On the third day, word arrived that all attempts at compromise with Thelma had failed. A trial was scheduled for April 8. Edna, confident earlier that the evidence would vindicate Ludwig and return his son to him, had grown less certain now, fearing that “facts completely irrelevant to the case may in the end defeat us.” But she kept such thoughts to herself while Ludwig was away, and filled the intervening days with a never-ending round of business and social mixing, though never fully at ease during his absence.104
A week after Ludwig had left, an older woman who had previously tried to talk her way into the Lewisohn home on the pretext of offering French lessons suddenly appeared pretending to sell homemade cosmetics. “If she does have cream to sell I’m sure it’s filled with acid at the request of one of our closer acquaintances. Aren’t you?” she recorded in her diary.105 Was it merely a case of nerves, or had Edna correctly sensed Thelma’s hand in this?
There was no mistaking the following morning’s telephone call from a reporter at the New York Mirror informing Edna that a warrant had been issued in Lakewood against her, Ida, and Theodore for attempting to lure Jim away—a charge of attempted kidnapping, using the chicks as bait. Only a teacher’s alarm, it was alleged, had prevented the greater crime from occurring. When Edna protested that this was merely an attempt by Thelma to discredit her further for purposes of retaining custody, the reporter agreed, adding only that she would include quotes from both Edna and Brock, and some better photos if Edna cared to sit for them. It was, simply enough, too good an opportunity to pass up. “So I sat for my picture. I not only sat, but I curled up on the floor, posed against the mantel, lay on the bed reading a book, stared at various pictures of you from all angles, smiled, looked grave.” That night, the Mirror’s early Sunday morning edition carried the story. “Ma Says Rival Tried to Kidnap Him. Lewisohn’s Ex Accuses Wife,” read the title, complete with a photograph of the sad-faced Jim.
Ludwig, reading the report of the arrest warrant in a Chattanooga paper, frantically wired Brock on Tuesday with instructions that he do whatever was necessary to keep her from jail. Brock assured him that no such arrest would take place, and telephoned Edna with the story of Ludwig’s concern. Usually calm about his cases, Brock was now boiling over with anger. He had called the New Jersey court, only to discover that the entire business of the warrant was a hoax, that no such papers had ever been issued. He was tired of Thelma’s “grandstand plays” and was ready to go to trial.106 So, too, was Ludwig, and not only with Thelma, but with all those pulling at them both from every angle. Perhaps he feared the ill-effects which too prolonged and messy a confrontation would have upon their marriage. She needn’t worry, he promised Edna. He would teach her how, in the midst of this whirlwind, to find an inviolable place of her own.
I haven’t any words for the latest exploit of defendant’s counsel. I don’t know whether to feel that it’s a pity that one is not the horse-whipping kind or whether to laugh. This I do know, Edna: we—you and I—must soon live our own lives. I will also (with no lack of appreciation of their unforgettable devotion) step on the “retainers.” I’ll teach you, my sensitive one, the art of dismissing people by silence, by a gesture, a glance. Oh, it wasn’t easy for me to learn either. But the iron discipline of the years has taught me how to defend myself and my privacies.107
Returning Wednesday, April 4, Ludwig began his defensive counterattack. At Levy’s invitation, he, Edna, and Brock met with the judge. “Most sympathetic … [with] surprising insights into the characters involved in this tragic-comedy,” Levy announced his decision not to broker a compromise and advised that they go ahead with a trial. Thelma’s attorney, also present, promised to file for a postponement, which Brock in turn promised to fight “to the utmost … [beginning] more and more to identify himself passionately with our cause.” The next phase of the struggle, however, would be fought in the press, where Thelma and her attorney were successfully waging their campaign of slander, and not only in the newspapers, for Thelma’s articles first in Living Romances and now in True Confessions were swaying public sentiment against Ludwig and Edna. In their defense, Brock arranged an interview with a Hearst reporter, hoping for nationwide exposure and support to correct the distortions which he feared might, however the trial ended, “remain the story.”108
Later that day, Ludwig wrote Arthur Hays in response to Wise’s filing of the criminal complaint against his alleged withholding of the antiques collection. Louis Asher, one of the three guarantors, had already agreed to “forgive his share,” Ludwig informed his attorney, and had Wise “lifted his voice in my defense during the campaign of incomparable slander,” the thousands of dollars of lost lecture fees would have enabled him to repay the debt. “I am at a loss to understand how at this moment anyone who knows the inner facts can bear to add to my difficulties,” particularly Wise, whom Ludwig now viewed with “grieved but undiminished affection.” If it would satisfy Wise, he would relinquish a portion of the collection equal to the two unreimbursed shares. To demand the whole of it without a plan for its sale was unreasonable. Or was it Wise’s plan to use the antiques in his newly planned temple, Ludwig wondered angrily.109
“I shall not think of Monday until Monday comes,” Ludwig commented the Saturday before the custody trial was to begin. He and Edna had spent a contentious Friday together, beginning unexpectedly as they dressed to go to a Village cocktail party. “Ludwig, not even aware of it, began to shout with a deep irritability,” Edna would note in her diary. The party only deepened his darkening mood, as did “a chance remark” by her about his past. The final “explosion” came later that evening at a Village restaurant as he struggled with her past, over which he had not yet come to terms.110 “We must cease talking about our past lives,” Edna advised, knowing how difficult it would be for them both. “It is childish and wrong.” These “little unhappy ghosts” had only impeded their efforts “to create ourselves anew for each other and strengthen the newness we have already found in ourselves. We must work toward a complete dissolution of our separate parts. We must,” she insisted, drawing on Ludwig’s outburst and her own periods of escape into the streets of Manhattan as proof. “We have had a great quietness in our souls toward each other in spite of all the external turmoil, but there has been some frenzy, and no time. No time at all,” she offered as explanation. More than one acquaintance had commented on the “custody mess” and how it had deprived them of a honeymoon. “Flowers need time as well as air and water and sun and soil for perfect blooming. Flowers need time,” Edna repeated, almost liturgically.111
The pace of these first months had robbed them both of what all new marriages need if they are to take root. When, by late March, Scott began to write, Edna quickly warmed to the idea of renewed contact. Ludwig, aware of their correspondence and of her increasing reluctance to abandon it, could only hope that she would “outgrow it,” unaware of how resentful she was beginning to feel over the sacrifices she had made in marrying him—the loss of Scott’s sexual energy, the sharing with Jim of Ludwig’s affection, and the beginning of Ludwig’s sense of the passage of his years, causing him to feel more frustrated at those things which stole time and energy from his creative needs. “I longed for Scott and his sexual touch,” Edna recalled forty years later, jealous still at the thought of having “given up Scott for Ludwig … [who] loved Jim far more than he loved me. That wasn’t necessarily true,” she added, “but that’s the way I felt … [a] part of my leftover childhood traumas, I wanted someone to really just love me.” To Edna’s credit, she remained committed to Jim’s well-being, assuming much of the caretaking before and after his abduction and return, in an attempt to ameliorate the damage caused by Thelma’s manipulations. “I was very absorbed in Jim because I’d never had a child before,” having undergone an abortion some years before, only now to learn that because of her illness, future pregnancies could be life-threatening. She helped to cure his enuresis and to deal with “the whole list of what I knew were his anxieties” each Saturday evening when he returned from his day with Thelma.112
What she could not affect was the passage of time for Ludwig, both how it determined the nature of their relationship and how it moved Ludwig independently of it. Late that spring of 1940, an old friend from her days with Scott dined at the Lewisohn home. Some forty-four years later, he vividly recalled the stilted conversation throughout the afternoon until Edna excused herself for interrupting and invited her guest to see the city’s skyline from the roof. When they reached the top of the building, “she put her arms around me, broke into tears, and said, ‘There are two hearts breaking,’ by which she meant hers and Scott’s.”113
Marriage had allowed Ludwig to find a kind of peace that had taken him beyond the “horror and disillusionment” of that “protracted period” with Thelma, when the “trains, people, rush, talk, speed” of the lecture circuit had served as his only “release.” Having escaped with his life still somewhat intact, he was now terrified by the knowledge that the many unhappy years spent with Thelma were themselves now setting bounds upon his hopes and energies, marital and artistic. How many of the disruptions—professional, legal, even conjugal and parental—would he be able to endure, before they became “psychically unbearable”? As Edna would insightfully record that same Saturday morning, “Now that the walls are dissolving and the anaesthetic wearing off and he is allowing himself again to be raw to life and pain and wind, these interruptions of himself as himself will be almost maddening. And this fact, added that time is growing shorter … will create a problem for which I must be integrally prepared, and at which I must not allow myself to dissolve in tears.”114