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37

Painfully Awake

DNA would later claim. And though their relationship was truly crippled by forces beyond themselves, there were others that had at once brought them together and would pull them apart—forces which neither could dispel. For all that she wished to be “integrally prepared,” there were generational walls which neither could tear down. “So, longing for Scott and my youth, I humiliated Ludwig in private ways,” Edna would confess in retrospect, though before the world she “behaved normally,” standing by him throughout the two years of struggle for Jim, “and in every other way,” as she would, with justification, assert so many decades later. She believed that of his many wives and lovers, she alone, even after their relationship had ended, had always “tried to prove my love for him.”1

Their life, of course, extended beyond the custody battle, and there is ample record in Haven of a vital social and cultural experience together during these early months of marriage. Endless talk filled their days and weeks as Edna pursued the well-known and near-famous among Ludwig’s friends and acquaintances, sometimes vicariously through recollection, at other times in the flesh, at parties and gatherings, large or intimate. He was at home in his world, and had brought her along as a willing and excited guest.2

But his world contained, as well, the tragedies of his fellow Jews, of which he was ever conscious. “Strains of Wagner’s Ring came over the air last night. I shut them off,” he wrote angrily in Haven on April 10, 1940. “The Huns are on the march truly,” their hearts beating to the rhythm of a German culture whose true spirit had been all too sharply revealed. “Oh yes, one can condemn a whole nation and all the forces within it which, though once fair in outward seeming, were symptomatic of its incomparable barbaric corruption.”3

How much more tragic internal Zionist politics had thereby become at this moment, what “dreadful discrepancies [existed] between the Zionist idea (the pure redeeming idea) and the methods of its embodiment … which the world and the quality of men forces upon us.” How deathly unfortunate that the efforts of the few leaders of true substance (Morris Margulies, Daniel Frisch) were “menaced by the vanities of small, false men.” If only “higher men” could gain the upper hand in the world, in all spheres. “Against men who have not the will to be redeemed all the arrows of the spirit are blunted and all its lances break.”4

In such a world, he was “so exquisitely happy … [just] to come home—rain, muddy streets, slimy subway—to Edna and to myself and our moral atmosphere which we have created around us.” But, Edna questioned Ludwig that April, was God at the center of this moral universe? How could anyone still believe? “You must act as though there is a God,” he responded in a moment of truthfulness. “If enough people behaved as though there were a God, there would be a God.” It was this God who was at the center of his universe, the moral anchor who had brought him together with Edna and whom, as she slept beside him, he thanked for her presence in his life.5

On April 10, Thelma moved in court to secure all of their property for herself. Ludwig was forced to enumerate all that he had spent on Thelma and her mother (including a ticket to Europe and the final $750 on the Burlington house’s mortgage in 1932). Thelma’s conduct throughout the proceedings was so unruly that she ultimately earned the court’s admonishment, while throughout the day the trial was interrupted by various criminal procedures involving other cases (prostitution, theft, and the like). It was all “terribly wearing … [and] futile to ask why it’s my portion to have to do these alien, irrelevant things and spend my time in these weird and alien places.” (He was particularly angered by society’s inappropriate response to prostitution. It was no one’s business “what she did with the body God gave her,” he believed, even if “her way of life was in the long run and from her own angle [nothing] other than disastrous…. Unless society has an alternative life to suggest for her—a life without labor too cruel and ugliness or subservience too fierce, what the devil is the sense of dragging her here?”)6

Postponed until the eighteenth, the property settlement would take a backseat to the custody battle, now rescheduled for the fifteenth. Two days before its resumption, Ludwig awoke from a disturbing sleep. Brock had earlier forewarned Ludwig that the judge was likely to find Thelma unfit as a mother, but that he might order Jim to be sent to an acceptable boarding school for the coming year, “in order not to exacerbate feelings unduly.” Ludwig had objected on financial and moral grounds. “My son’s place is not somewhere in an elegant vacuum. It is with me and Edna.”7 Now, days later, he dreamt of not being able to find Jim. “I run up and down dark alleys. I know he is there. But I can’t find him. The image of him haunts me—little, confused, trying to be brave and even hard and yet so forlorn.”8 What was to become of his son? This once open and trusting little boy had now been rendered defensive and closed by the events pushing him about. “The confusions have closed his heart,” Ludwig recorded after the trial started. “But I hope that when, please God, we get him back he will be able to open his heart again.… He is very like me and a closed and inarticulate heart is not good for him.”9

During the coming week of testimony covering both issues, Ludwig spent ten hours “in the witness box,” only an hour of which had been to answer his attorney’s questions. “The whole thing so degenerated into a game and into a battle of wits that I took every opportunity to remind everyone concerned that it was my child’s welfare that was at stake.” Ill-prepared, Thelma’s lawyer had tried to draw him as “a graceless libertine … unworthy of bringing up a child,” capable only of seducing an unsuspecting country girl of eighteen, as Thelma claimed he had. The judge, his patience exhausted by her attorney’s poorly presented, rambling cross-examination, summarized Ludwig’s testimony in an attempt to lend coherence to the proceedings—a “good omen” perhaps, Ludwig noted that Saturday as he awaited the case’s resumption on Monday, April 22, and Jim’s subsequent visit with the judge in his chambers as soon thereafter as possible. It would be Passover that week, and he “had foolishly hoped” to have Jim home for second Seder. He felt terribly frustrated in not yet being able to free Jim in this season of liberation, seeing once again a cosmic metaphor in a human event, even if he was unsure that the God of the Exodus did, in fact, exist beyond the imagination of man. Yet despite “the garish and deforming light” into which Ludwig’s life and the lives of those about whom he cared the deepest had been thrown, he remained faithful to his dreams—of marriage and love, of fatherhood, and of a God who validated the moral values by which he could sustain them all.10

The ongoing battle “to save [Jim] from moral and physical destruction” (as Ludwig spoke of it in a late April explanation to his creditors’ attorney as to why he had “naturally discontinued [his] efforts” to sell the antiques)11 came to an end on May 3. After further testimony, Ludwig and Edna returned to the court hoping merely to catch a glance of Jim as he emerged from the judge’s chambers. With a squadron of reporters filling the courtroom press box and a corridor full of photographers awaiting the couple’s occasional retreats, roles each had played throughout the trial, Jim emerged at 4:30 with Brock and the judge’s secretary, who announced matter-of-factly, “Here is your answer. The boy goes to his father.” The courtroom erupted, Jim ran to Ludwig, while Ludwig, lifting son into his embrace, cried out, “He’s mine.” Thelma, appearing confused and in tears, half-hysterically kissed Ludwig on the cheek, asking that he promise “to be good to the boy,” and then ran out of the court while her lawyer assured those who were listening that she would appeal the decision.12

Judge Levy noted in his writ of habeas corpus that the court had, of course, looked with disfavor on “the relations which these parties saw fit to maintain over a period of years,” but that Ludwig had tried to rectify this, only to be rebuffed by Thelma, who had then agreed to surrender her right to custody. Only jealousy and “the undue and pernicious influence of still another woman” (Mary, presumably, though a name was never mentioned in the trial) had caused Thelma to reverse her decision. After due consideration of “these circumstances,” Levy awarded custody to Ludwig. “The court is constrained to hold that this respondent [Thelma] is not temperamentally or otherwise prepared to care for the child, and that his interest is best served by superseding any claimed natural rights which the mother may tender.” Judge Levy had broken precedent and established new law with the case. Thelma was granted visitation rights, “but in the light of what has occurred here, this will be cloaked with the obviously necessary safeguards.”13

The newspapers spoke in detail of the “dramatic scene,” reporting that Ludwig and Edna were overjoyed at not having had conditions placed upon the granting of custody, as previously feared. Yet, of all those involved, Jim was most uncertain of the future. The newspaper photographs show two beaming adults surrounding the tiny six-and-a-half-year-old child, held by his father, both looking at him while he stares ahead, his saddened, almost vacant eyes fixed on no apparent point of reference. “Little Jimmie’s Not So Sure”14 read one caption, while another noted that “Mama’s Frightfully Mad!”15

Followed by reporters throughout the first three months of his marriage, Ludwig now hoped to settle into the quiet of his home, wife and child beside him, with all worldly intrusions now passed. On his second night home, Jim asked if he might call Edna “mother,” but Ludwig was fearful that this sign of adjustment was but prelude to some disaster unforeseen. “There is a joy which pierces so to the depth that it is akin to grief; there is good so massive that it casts a shadow into the sunlit world and one is afraid of the Furies.” It was all so uncharacteristically joyful from the moment when, hearing Judge Levy’s decision, it had taken “what strength we had merely to exist and carry ourselves decorously in courtroom, corridor, and in the presence of friends.” Even the press had begun to sympathize with him, as had the public present at the hearings. Still disbelieving this unmixed blessing a week later, he wrote in Haven,

I have said all my life even in darkest hours: Magna est veritas aet praevalebit. I have said it and I have now experienced it. My whole being has been conditioned to bearing burdens, to shifting a burden, private or public, from one shoulder to another, to drawing on some still deeper source of interior strength. I do not yet know what to do with truth triumphant, with justice accomplished. My organism is going through a period of adaptation to the facts that within one year, precisely one year, I was able in the face of obstacles that seemed insurmountable to marry Edna and to recover our child.16

Yet victory, as he feared, was not without its costs. Deeply in debt, and now more isolated than ever, he spoke of “a silence [that] has fallen about me. It seems certain that I have lost a few friends … whom I particularly valued,” who had initially approved of his break with Thelma, but had abandoned him when “in the course of the doing of it disagreeable, supremely ugly things happened.” Added to these losses were the anonymously written letters whose “initial point of attack was, of course, always the Jew … the supposedly lecherous Jew who had even abandoned his child.”

Still, he felt free. “Now we can go forward. We can stay where we belong. We can be what we are. We can read and write and play and laugh.… We can watch our child grow.” He would start anew, caring less for the “material things” for which he had so long felt “driven, [as if] to buy peace with them.” He would instead turn the direction of his life over to Edna, allowing her to “set the note and strike the key.” Having in her years of recovery “rejected all the illusions of the world … I shall let her guide me,” Ludwig promised himself.17

Edna was prepared to accept this role. Believing “that Ludwig has not yet written his best work, nor anywhere near it,” she was determined to limit their expenses so that he would be free of lecturing and other “quick money” distractions that would “dissipate the time and energy that should be used for writing. No one has ever husbanded Ludwig’s strength at all.” Together, they would create, “Ludwig being my favorite writer, and I, at the moment, being his…. Amazing how naturally and simply we two stark and touchy and independent souls do collaborate,” tossing ideas back and forth, “and before we know it, both of us are adding to it, building, elaborating, touching up, and the little creation, be it story, book, or play is finished.”18

But Ludwig—and, perhaps, Edna as well—knew that he was too independent to “collaborate” for very long. At whatever the cost, he had felt most alive treading his singular path, never in “consonance with the environment,” never “swaying in the direction of the prevailing. If you are stiff on account of some uncompromisingness you can’t help, the wind will harry you; the wind will break you.” Certainly, without such consonance, his marriage would grow “stiff” and break. There were already signs of dissonance between them, even in their roles as parents, with Jim soon becoming a cause of some friction, she the disciplinarian, he the more lenient, looking at her “with some bewilderment.”19 “I ought to have known that in the great matters having to try is already a mark of failure and that what is truly ours must come without effort. I knew that truth in art: I had not wholly grasped it in life. The unwritten books are the books that are not ours to write. I had had the wisdom not to sweat and strain over those. It was my loneliness that had made me labor even to exorbitance over a life that gradually lost all touch with my true being.”20

Edna sensed that something was wrong. Jim had engaged her in creating little books together, but Ludwig saw this as an interruption and scolded him, saying that she was “in the publishing business with father, not son.” “At the moment,” Edna recorded, “I frankly feel more like being in the publishing business with [the] son.” Unfamiliar domesticity, a forced inactive social life, the lack of a lecture tour to put him back on the road—and only minimal progress on his novel—were all exacting an emotional and physical toll which had become as apparent to Edna as it was to Ludwig. Their plan was to spend a recuperative summer at her parents’ estate, working and resting, returning to New York energized, once again ready to wrestle with their world.

L. is strangely exhausted these days. But nothing to worry about. It is a period of convalescence for him after a long, long physical illness. The crisis is safely past. He must eat a good deal and breathe in quantities of fresh air and let the sun have a chance at his marrow. It is agreed that all summer in the country we go to bed at ten-thirty and get up at seven. After breakfast L. will work until noon six days a week. The rest of the time we’ll spend walking and eating and goat-milk drinking and reading and sun-soaking. After three months of this schedule L. ought to be ready for some new fights. Me, too.21

Not that he was ever disengaged from the struggle. In his “Watchman” column for the New Palestine he continuously confronted those who would slow the Zionist program or oppose it, wherever and whomever they were, much as he attacked the complacency of isolationist Americans and those who would allow themselves or their countrymen to fall prey to the Nazi propaganda being spread throughout the nation.

And let no one be deceived. There is a Trojan horse in the United States. In the past two weeks I have seen copies of two leaflets, one distributed at an unknown filling station, one sent by mail. Each in shamelessly Teutonized English repeats in foulest terms the gutter lies of the gutter-press of the Nazis. There are, then, active centers of that poisonous infection here. And it is not for us to tremble; it is for our American Gentile fellow citizens and friends. They are to be maddened until they barter away their American heritage and exchange the home of their ancestral freedom for the kennel of the slave.22

Edna, too, though physically and mentally exhausted by illness and the events of the past months, wanted to engage in this struggle. “Today it is impossible to fiddle while Rome burns because those who have set fire to Rome want, above all, to burn the fiddle so that it shall be silenced forevermore,” she wrote on May 18,23 Ludwig himself having noted the previous day that “the German war is a war of extermination against the soul itself of Western mankind—a war against Moses and Jesus, against Plato and Isaiah, against this entire CIVITAS DEI, this city of God which slowly and painfully our fathers sought to build.… The world’s fate for a thousand years hangs in the balance.”24

Edna’s plan seemed a worthy attempt to bring stability to their lives. All needed to rest. But she had misread Ludwig, for in spite of all his protestations to the contrary, he thrived on struggle, as she did on peace. He could no more disengage from the world’s fray than she could join in battle beyond her immediate reach. “My God is the old Yavah of the desert,”25 for whom he needed to vent his prophetic voice, as she needed to simply find a voice of her own. As always, he saw his life as a “concrete … symbol” of the larger human drama, the “evil” that had befallen him but a microcosm of what had been the fate of nations past and present. “Any human life properly and awarely understood has a meaning for all human lives. The evil in the world is the same evil whether an individual or a nation is beset by it. And indeed men can learn more from the evil that attacks a single human destiny than from that which besets or issues from a collective destiny.”26

Yet Edna was, in fact, as much the dreamer as Ludwig, bringing perceptions of the larger world into her life rather than speaking out of it as a paradigm for all others. And so, as she and Ludwig and Jim were spending a lazy, playful morning that summer, it came to her, “somewhere during that time, half-asleep and extraordinarily content … that the world should be destroyed because men had not used the powers for joy and health and honesty that God had given them.” “A whole new pattern must be made,” she believed, for even “the best men” were being destroyed by the world’s evil, having “so mistaken their purpose and use that upon them was visited the most terrible wrath.” Was this not, Edna seems to say by implication, Ludwig’s own shortcoming? “Who can doubt the exquisite possibilities of man, when his moral organism is so delicate that one denial of the life force, one small turning aside, one turning away from vocation to expediency, can so tarnish and destroy a soul that its betrayal of the life forces rots inside the generations that it begets, and a whole line of balance and clarity and force is smashed.”27

Still, old patterns and fears persisted and would have to be reckoned with in the days to come. Edna knew this, and focused upon worries which Ludwig readily dismissed. She doubted her talent; he countered by telling her that she was, at the moment, “my favorite writer.” If not the “great writer” she hoped to become, “I’m proud to work with you,” he assured her. She thought of the critics’ charge, that like Boswell, she merely recorded “the honey [that] drips from his lips,” to which he responded, “that’s right,” a response that elicited from Edna one of her more critical lines—“he now has competent help in projecting and recording his inordinate and stupendous ego.” Was it too soon to publish their reaction to the court battles? she asked. “That’s just what I was told when I wrote Upstream,” Ludwig recalled with a touch of the old anger still beating inside him. “Let it mellow. It’s too fresh—too intimate. Wait until there’s some respectable dust on it. I couldn’t wait, and didn’t. The publishers who were afraid of it have been sorry ever since,” he added with customary defiance. Above all, he insisted, they must write truthfully, out of themselves and not as some frightened publisher would have them do, either to placate the market or to ensure against a public outcry. “We’re what we are and it’s normal for us, but not for everybody…. We can’t be different, nor could we learn how or would we want to.” They could have “no sense of what would be viewed by publishers and public as sensational, pornographic, indiscreet, undiplomatic.… Nor would we, if something was too glaring, want to inhibit the other by mentioning it. To compromise would be death to both of us.” Besides, there was already interest, he assured her, as friends had passed the word among publishers of the book in progress. He was certain it would find a home, but, he argued, it must be one “who accepts us in totality, and who is made of the same substance, who believes in us, and doesn’t go forth to publish us in fear and trembling.”28

And then there was Scott, now in Los Angeles, about to marry, yet still profoundly in love with Edna, resenting her abandonment of him for a man who could not possibly care for her as he did. Sometimes speaking out of a bottle, at other times sobered by rest, he wrote an endless, painful cry to her, promising at its conclusion that he would not write again “if I find that I have to write such endless grief.” It was, he unashamedly admitted, “a maudlin and weary thing.” At bottom, what remained unforgivable and, in his heart, irreconcilable was the gnawing sense of betrayal he felt, a note that would prey upon Edna throughout the rest of her life. So, too, as Scott accused her, had she sacrificed passion in the name of peace.

Sometimes I have a dream of your infidelity (for only occasionally can I accomplish the jesuitical jujitsu of regarding it otherwise) and I awaken with a sensation that is like a colossal orgasm of futility. It was peculiar that you should think of Lewisohn’s needing you as a reason. My need for you was quintessential because you happened to be my mate, Lewisohn’s need for you was what my need for other women now is. What you took from me was brutally torn from a living heart, what you give to him cannot be more than a bloodied fragment to be observed beneath the glass of a museum case.29

Scott’s letter of June 3 had arrived in the midst of their preparations for the trip to Rochester. In spite of her resolve, she knew with growing certainty that he was right. Though on June 1 she could write of how she would “face the difficulties, accept the form in which the rest of my life is cast,” she knew herself well enough to doubt that she could withstand the pent-up sexual needs she had misplaced upon Ludwig. “But I cannot keep cool in any place where there’s a sexual relationship. It is all or nothing with me. This is a particularly difficult period for me because all the quiescence of the last 5 years awakes in great wild surges and demands and I’m afraid only a year long debauch would satisfy me: Now that I am so tremblingly violently awake. For many reasons I have never been so wildly and painfully awake…. I almost destroyed Ludwig the first two and a half months of our marriage. And I was only tasting the beginning. God help me. God watch over Ludwig.” She had wanted Ludwig to satisfy her sexual needs (“this of course has nothing to do with my love for him”), while realizing, as she watched the Jews’ “attitude to L.,” that he clearly “does not belong to me but to his people, and to the world.” Her role was “to cherish him and keep him well and free from too much worry”—not to destroy him with her own physically strenuous demands. Scott’s letter a few days later only seemed to confirm her growing doubts over her ability to submerge her needs in her husband’s. “That I wish with all my heart to do, but I am such a clamorous individual myself, that my entire will cannot and is not put toward L’s welfare. I falter badly and often, but he seems to understand.”30

But did he? For Ludwig, life seemed finally to have found some order, and he managed, somehow, even to refuse to be lured into ZOA politics as the organization’s more progressive voices were being purged, among them that of Morris Margulies. In March, Spiro had told Edna of Margulies’s speaking against the ZOA’s cancellation of Ludwig’s lectures, and by late May had urged Ludwig to likewise speak on his defender’s behalf. But Ludwig wanted to stay out of the fray, unconvinced that even Margulies had supported him in these last weeks as cancellations mounted one atop the other. “I had been left abandoned by my friends on the executive; they permitted lectures to be cancelled without rushing to my defense.”31 Spiro, of course, knew this to be the case, as he himself had witnessed the abandonment, and would observe its continuation in the year ahead, including Ludwig’s removal from all editorial duties at the New Palestine and the eventual forced sale by Ludwig of his manuscripts and other valuables in order to live.32 Even Wise, despite several conciliatory attempts by Ludwig that spring of 1940, refused to see his old friend and fellow Zionist, telling a third party how “deeply resentful about the whole matter” he felt, Ludwig not having followed his advice.33 On June 4, Ludwig offered his Judaica library for sale.34

Yet, outside of this continuing rejection and its attendant financial burden, there was room for peace and a sense of satisfaction. Jim had come, finally, to be with his father, and together with Edna, they would spend the summer in relative solitude, each adjusting to the other, out of the focus of the press and public. Renegade, Ludwig’s long-anticipated novel of Jewish adjustment to the opening world of eighteenth-century France, was about to be launched with full speed, much as he had always composed his works of fiction, full-blown from his imagination. And, quite unexpectedly, his play Adam, long out of print, was about to be produced by the newly established Everyman Theatre, opening night June 10. Though produced in years past by amateur groups, this was to be its first professional outing. The Lewisohns would leave for Rochester after opening night, though Ludwig was not at all certain that the production would survive the summer, or even past this initial showing. Still, as Edna noted in her diary, it was all “very cheering.”35

If the politicians had all but turned their backs to Ludwig (his last official act for some time having been a speech supporting a Jewish army in Palestine, delivered at the ZOA annual convention on June 30 in Pittsburgh), he was not without the recognition due him in the Jewish literary world. Throughout these many months, he had continued his involvement in one publication project or another. To “keep the pot boiling,” as Ludwig liked to say, he had completed a translation from the German of Franz Hoellering’s The Defenders, a novel of Vienna on the eve of the Anschluss, to be published to critical acclaim in September.36 Ludwig felt a special obligation to aid refugee writers, often finding them publishers, at times agreeing to undertake their book’s translation himself, even after the war and the return of steady employment for him.

Most recently, his literary connections had brought him the opportunity to add his foreword to the collection Hath Not a Jew of Canadian poet A. M. Klein, “the first contributor of authentic Jewish poetry to the English language,” by Ludwig’s assessment. Here, he proclaimed, was a Jew who had not “repressed” his Jewish identity, but, rather, had spoken out of “his authentic self and his authentic humanity.”37 About to begin his Jewish novel after an endless parade of dispiriting delays, Ludwig found unanticipated affirmation in Klein’s pleas to that Eternal to whom they both addressed their efforts—“Lord, accept my hallelujahs; look not askance at these my petty words; unto perfection a fragment makes its prayers.”38

By July 18, six chapters of Renegade had been completed in the quiet of the Manley estate.39 Edna, despite receiving further correspondence from Scott (“We are that rarest of all miracles, two entities which touch at every point and through our mutual stupidity we have thrown this miracle into the ash-can”)40 in response to her own ambivalent answers to his, had found sufficient peace to begin work on a never-completed study of women in America.41 Even her parents’ “un-understanding” of her needs (as Scott characterized her portrait of their relationship) and their strange requirement that Ludwig pay for his family’s food42 had not disrupted the recuperative effects of her absence from New York.

In mid-August, though progressing nicely with Renegade, Ludwig took the occasion of Mark Van Doren’s recently published assessment of contemporary literature in Poetry to vent his own frustration at the isolation he was suffering from this larger literary world. “Why does no one ever quote me? I developed nearly all the germinal critical ideas that are now current … all the ideological returns to order and the great tradition now being made probably too tragically late.” Beyond the literary, he felt sadly justified in making this protest by recalling the political vision he had incorporated into Trumpet of Jubilee five years earlier. “The prophecy of the Moscow-Berlin total revolution … in symbol and symbolic vision all that today is breaking the hearts of men.” Still, “No one quotes me. No one refers to me. I live and work (undaunted!) in silence.” It was, he believed, the “gutter-press last winter and spring,” acting so badly until the court awarded him Jim’s custody, and not unexpectedly writing of Jim’s being “happily here with us now.” Perhaps, he asked Van Doren, they could, like Thomas Mann, be favored by his offering one of several solicited “protective pre-views” of their account of this “silly” business. They had written “a journal which became a book … which may not fare too well in a world which has deliberately coarsened (for the time) its sensibilities and hardened its heart.”43

Ludwig, of course, had every reason to fear his critics’ reaction. They had rarely been supportive. That same year a critical survey of Contemporary American Authors repeatedly emphasized Ludwig’s alien nature—his critique of Christianity relative to “Hebraism”; “his temperamental hostility to Puritanism”; his failure “to adapt himself to American academic life”; his championing of a “liberalism [that] is Continental rather than American in origin,” and, thus, less “genial and palatable.”44 Once again, the old charges were being repeated, as if neither he nor they had moved on in their thinking since the days of Up Stream and the novels of the twenties. There was every assurance that Haven, too, would fail to receive a hearing on its own merits. In an odd-sounding retrospective voice, the survey’s author had noted that

Lewisohn was well fitted by race and culture to play an important part in the liberation of the American spirit from its inhibitions and its provincialities. But the tone of his creative work proved to be much less generous and civilized than his critical work had been. The painful severing of his academic connections during the World War and his deepening sense of racial loyalties alienated him almost completely from any profound understanding of the nature and operation of the American spirit. This physical and spiritual exile from his adopted land brought about in him a sort of exacerbated masochism which make such novels as Don Juan (1920) and The Island Within (1928) seem self-pitying and peevish.45

If he could not speak openly and frankly with Van Doren about these deeper reasons for his isolation from the general American public, he could do so with Wise. Now that the Zionist leadership had largely abandoned him, he felt no hesitation in pointing out just how much he had sacrificed by becoming so prominent a voice for their people in these desperate times. “I lost my position in American literature because I identified myself with our people; I lost (as Feakins used to warn me) my general lecture practice for the same reason. Thus it came about, against my will, that more and more of my modest earnings every year depended upon Jews, upon Zionists. And now—from silence and whispers—it seems that I am being liquidated.” He was, in this latest reorganization of the ZOA, no longer a part of the New Palestine staff, nor, apparently (“according to silence and an article … in the Morning Journal!” [a Yiddish daily]), was he being reelected to his position as honorary secretary of the ZOA. “Tell me what to do!” he demanded of Wise. “I’m not young enough to change.… But I must live.” It had been a good summer, with half of Renegade completed by September 3 and Jim having “almost forgotten the horrors he was made to endure.” They had hoped to send him to the Ramaz Jewish day school that fall, “if I can afford it,” as he had hoped “to give these years that Edna had recovered for me to following up Renegade by other and even larger dealings with the central myth of Israel.”46 All this would be impossible if such abandonment and isolation became irrevocable.

Anticipating the need for additional help, Ludwig sent a strong letter to Spiro that same day, outraged at having become “more and more anathema in literary circles for them.”47 Three weeks later, he again wrote Spiro, angered by the lack of courtesy shown him by a Zionist official, a Washington banker, to whom he had written. “The mamser [bastard] hasn’t even answered me. That is what they have done to our cause: an installment shark can afford to be insolent to me in a Zionist matter.” Yet, all was not disappointing nor so thoroughly upsetting. Ludwig was convinced, now that he had passed the midpoint, that Renegade would be a “major work,” signaling the end of an extended creative drought. And Haven, quickly accepted by a new publisher, was due out on October 16.48 Still convinced that “it is not likely to find much favor in the eyes of the present generation of reviewers who have … deliberately repressed the heart and its promptings, the spirit and its operations,”49 he wrote Mencken and Upton Sinclair, as he had Van Doren and Mann, soliciting “something agreeable” to counteract the “habitual vulgarities of the lower tribe of reviewers.”50

Mann, ever the cautious bourgeois gentleman, proved unexpectedly unhelpful. Though “moved by the human document,” he believed, as Dreiser had decades earlier with Up Stream, that it was all too recent, that “the book needs the shield and protection of the posthumous … [and] a sense of confidentiality.” To publish such intimacies would be to “push [them] into the public realm … [when] the private has so much reason to hold back.” Rather than expose “one’s own mistakes and one’s own good fortune,” he advised that the journal of these days be left to a literary executor to publish. “There would be nothing to say against this work, on the contrary, its publication would be a gain,” but, “opposed to the public existence of this book,” he declined to lend his support. “With a renewed advocacy for your artistry,” Mann was quick to add, “I prefer to wait for a new more objective work for which you will not keep us waiting long.”51

Ludwig was, of course, accurate in his assessment of Haven’s reception by his critics, each from his own perspective. Whether it was found to be too liberal or, as the Daily Worker judged, to speak from “a rarefied atmosphere of reactionary idealism and mysticism,”52 he could not find a review based solely on the book’s own merits. He seemed to offend, even when it was unintentional. But he had told his story, as had Edna, and they were content to move on. Accompanying Haven’s appearance that October was the first installment of Renegade, being partially serialized in Opinion.53 It, and not Haven with its anticipated critical response, belonged to his future. And even as he continued throughout the fall to map his way through the second half of the new work, ideas for a second new piece were taking shape. Tentatively titled Voices, it was to be a “dramatic monologue with ‘interlocutors’” concerning the “liberation of religion through love.” Among the possible monologists’ names was Louise, a Jew, who, in being questioned by “6 Goyim,” is forced to look inward.54

The autobiographical parallels are clear, and the rearward glances still present, but he was now looking to the future with joy and hope. Jim, seemingly revived and developing a good relationship with his stepmother,55 would attend Ramaz after all. The Jewish education Ludwig had missed as a child would not be withheld from his son.56 And a “new career,” as he termed it for Bennett Cerf in early December, was beginning “with flying colors.”57 He was still occasionally lecturing to Jewish audiences that fall,58 but he needed more income if he was to care for his family and continue to write. With the help of a new agent, Herbert Askwith, formerly of Liveright, he had, by late October, succeeded in adding a tour on literary themes out in the larger world. Even the possibility of a literary column in the New York Post had suddenly appeared.59 Here, at last, was life as Ludwig had envisioned it could be.

Edna, too, shared in this general sense of well-being, though still harboring a not ill-conceived sense of self-doubt, hoping that “the better half of me which loves Ludwig” would enable her to be “good to him” as no other woman ever had. “How strange,” she thought, that this had been his fate. She was, at the moment “hav[ing] an entirely new seeing of Ludwig,” as she did “every now and then”—as if searching for those qualities in him that made more comprehensible, even more palatable, her love for him and her commitment to their marriage. On September 30 she noted in her diary, “He was standing by the desk and I happened to look around at him. His eyes in his eagle head looked so wide apart, so long, so dark. He is a terribly attractive and distinguished looking man. I was breathless for several moments. Ludwig said: ‘You do love me, don’t you?’ He is a magnificent man, an unbelievably sweet husband and father too: endlessly dear adorable patient and generous with his two babies whom he seems to like.”60

Two months later, she had “new realizations” while dining at the home of Kurt Blumenfeld, the Zionist leader who had brought Ludwig to that cause nearly two decades earlier. Perhaps, she realized suddenly, shockingly, he hadn’t really wanted the worldly involvement after all. “It occurred to me that Ludwig’s poetic yearnings have gotten him mixed up with organizations and heavy men and heavy considerations and heavy thinking and heavy ultimatums which have nothing to do with him.” She thought him “clear, direct, strong and fey,” not understanding that Ludwig was the other as well, even if he couldn’t admit it to himself, for his poetry was, ultimately, as he had repeatedly proclaimed in his youth, a manifestation of the prophetic voice he wished to bring to the public arena. “Ludwig was so relieved by my realization of this fact, that in release we giggled ourselves to sleep.”61 But behind their laughter lay other realizations yet unspoken between them, of a more complete picture of their deeper selves, their true needs, and of their incompatibility. The strain of the year ahead would put all of this into sharper focus.

By mid-January 1941, the world, in the shape of Ludwig’s creditors, was at his doorstep.62 The illusion of peace had been short-lived. The Jewish antiques were finally being demanded.63 When the announcement of a new Readers Club appeared in the daily newspaper, Ludwig, in desperation, suggested to Canfield on January 26 that several of his earlier books be offered to them at a group discount.64 Driven as he was by “economic pressures and attendant worries,” he rushed to finish Renegade, completing the second half on February 1, after only six weeks of writing.65

At the age of fifty-eight, he was now more physically exhausted than he had been after similar periods of uninterrupted work. Yet he was in no position to decline an unexpected series of lecture invitations, and so two weeks later he was once again heading west. Encouraging news from his agent—that Dial Press, Haven’s publisher, wished to bring out Renegade—had left him “cheerful” as he prepared to leave for his first stop, Detroit. While packing the night before, he allowed himself to speculate about his next project, a pure money-maker, a novel about “the fabulous twenties” into which he would put all those literary personalities he had known in New York and Europe. Edna, in the privacy of her solitude after his departure, would note that “if the war ever ends people could sit back and enjoy such a novel,” though she wondered if “it perhaps is not Ludwig’s forte. Some hack could do a better job.”66

Edna, of course, was correct in her observation of Ludwig’s talents and incapacity for the frivolous. Returning home from his two-week tour, bereft of all patience, he wrote of his frustrations in “The Princess,” its protagonist, as in Snare, crying out to be free of all imposed strictures, lest she be transformed and die to herself.

       Thither I fled from pomp of pallid pages,

       From lamentable bugles blowing blood,

       From malice of malignant tongues, from dark

       Poisonous faces full of eagerness.

       On bare white feet I had to flee unless

       I would my face to be like theirs.

Beyond this world of seeming reward, whose “olive hedges have been trimmed for ages,” lay untrammeled nature. On and on she ran, further and further into it, freeing herself of that “stealthy thunder from afar,” of “the rumor of hot vows and wishes /… [and] The madman withering with the lust of war.” Onward she ran, seeking what “man’s fever” had not touched, listening for the “exquisite / Eternal blowing of the wordless wind,” peering upward at that “vault by casual constellations lit,” hoping soon that her “heart [would] be medicined / gorse and heather and the swaying tress, / By undulation of unnumbered grasses, / And by the unaccounted hour that passes.” But life would not allow such fancies; only the drift of poetic imaginings could fulfill the dream. It, alone, remained his refuge.

       I fled and stripped my raiment as I fled.

       Now I am I, naked of doom and dread.

       Upon this waste, amid these wild expanses

       Beside a moonlit ocean’s magic roar,

       Divinely free in my unpatterned dances

       At last I enter at my being’s door.

       I shall not sleep until the shivering branches

       Tell of the dawn, until the moonlight blanches,

       And all the larks of morning sing and soar.67

Ludwig had particular need of such flight just now. Thelma had promised to appeal the court’s custody ruling, and having filed and failed twice in the same court before two judges, one Jewish, the other Protestant, she had vowed to find one who was Catholic. Moving her appeal to the appellate division, she found someone who would hear her case on April 20. Fearing the worst, Ludwig realized his need for a private investigator to gather damning information concerning her personal activities, hoping thereby to support his continuing claim that she was unfit to care for Jim.68

Barely covering his expenses with lecture fees and an occasional short magazine piece, he was once again forced to seek financial assistance. However humiliating, he had no choice, as the unfolding events of the next several weeks were to prove. (He had fortunately received a ruling in his favor the previous June when a judge dismissed Thelma’s claim for unpaid support and legal expenses.) On April 9 he wrote Spiro, asking that he intercede on his behalf,69 and followed this with a long letter to Wise on the tenth in which he laid out the same circumstances. Renegade was scheduled to go to the printer in May, with a guarantee of good publicity and an anticipation of substantial sales. “All who have seen it consider it the strongest and in a good sense most popular of my Jewish novels.” But “reduced … to the edge of want” until then, he hoped for “one or two … who, remembering what I have written and how I have served and will—and will—would not want to give me a little help in this extremity.” He was attempting to “throw a legitimate protection about Jim,” but a “referee, a Catholic of about eighty who is fiercely prejudiced against every one, takes the point of view that Jim should pay for sin.”70 And to a third associate, Ludwig added that day, “Am I not the only voice of this kind of American Jewry and am I not (Renegade!) going bravely on amid poverty and heart-ache over Jim? Is it possible that I am wholly friendless and helpless in a crisis?”71

A week later, through Margulies’s help, a Jew from Wilkes-Barre sent Ludwig six hundred dollars, enough to be “tided over until the royalties from Renegade come in,” Edna noted in her diary. Now they could pursue the private investigation of Thelma’s affairs. “If we get the dope on Spear’s immorality we’re ‘shed’ of her forever.”

Awaiting the forthcoming hearing, Edna read while Ludwig lectured locally, including one evening spent at a gathering of Austrian refugees, speaking German throughout. “He loved it and for the first time came home and told me what he had said,” that they were experiencing “the end of the world as we knew it,” that with “the trojan horse … already within the gates … the unfit seem to be the fittest” for survival. The order had been reversed. “We must try to be unfit in that sense, or we shall be destroyed.” If he was to keep and save Jim, he would have to accede to the uncivil, even to the barbaric necessities of the moment. He was convinced more than ever before of the need to use whatever the investigator found that would destroy Thelma’s reputation.72

But it would all prove for naught. Though the evidence against Thelma would be conclusive and overwhelming—her alcoholism, an affair with a married man amidst numerous other relationships, a history of child neglect, and the “established fact” of having “corrupted him sexually, introducing his penis into her mouth and urging him to urinate in that position”73—the appellate judge, Dennis Cohalan, deferring to the report of a hearing held by his appointed referee (an eighty-three-year-old Irish Catholic who “refused to adhere to the terms of the case, namely, the question of ‘changed conditions,’” and who judged Thelma “a person of culture and responsibility”), would ultimately concur with its recommendations and overturn Judge Levy’s decision, granting immediate custody to Thelma, while removing all visitation rights from Ludwig until he could show evidence of no longer influencing his son against his mother. All arguments regarding superior care and opportunities, of disrupting his religious schooling so late in the year, of the established precedent of a father retaining custody of an out-of-wedlock child—all would fail to satisfy the judge as it had his referee. Cohalan, receiving the report during the last week of April, however, chose not to rule on it until the middle of May, leaving Ludwig’s attorneys with some hope of victory and with time enough to prepare an appeal should what appeared probable finally occur. Cohalan, whose pro-German activities in World War I had earned for him the charge of treason, and who would soon support Viereck in his trial as a Nazi agent, may already have known his decision. Ludwig was certain of it.74

With Renegade’s publication nearing, interest had developed within the Jewish Publication Society to distribute it as a selection for its membership—part of the slow thawing toward Ludwig within official Jewish circles that had included a recent United Jewish Appeal appearance.75 Judge Levy’s granting Ludwig custody of Jim may have served to exonerate their wayward Zionist. While Ludwig hurried through a translation of a yet untitled novel by Joseph Roth,76 members of JPS’s publication committee debated the merits of Renegade and the wisdom of publishing any work by its author. Cyrus Adler, president of the Jewish Theological Seminary and a leading member of several other Jewish organizations, “hated Lewisohn,” according to the society’s executive vice president, Maurice Jacobs, and “objected to the J.P.S. having anything to do with the man or his manuscript.” Jacob Rader Marcus and Shalom Spiegel, two recognized scholars, however, championed it, with Spiegel rising to address Adler. “When one smells the perfume of a rose, he does not think of the fertilizer which made it possible.”77 On May 11, the committee voted ten to five in favor of Ludwig’s novel of “positive Jewish values.”78

The committee had met that day as a part of the society’s more general gathering for its fifty-third annual meeting, at which Ludwig had been invited to speak. Addressing the “New Literary Responsibilities” of the society in response to the devastation in Europe, he praised the group’s past achievements as “unquestionably the greatest institution of its kind that modern Jewry has created,” urging it to continue its work never “more vital and necessary…. At this moment we are Jewry—the only Jewry free to act” and bound by “a new and added responsibility, a grave responsibility that requires vision and courage and unyielding tenacity,” and a commitment to the “one effective answer to lies and to half-truths [concerning the Jews]—and that is the whole truth.”79

But the society was somewhat hesitant to speak this “whole truth” as Ludwig would have them do. In approving his book for publication, they insisted that he remove all “unfavorable references to the Catholic Church.”80 Over the next three days, Ludwig agreed to several terms—to postpone the Dial publication to coincide with the society’s in January 1943, to cut his royalty out of regard for Spiegel’s “energetic … efforts to have the book selected,” and to make some changes to the manuscript—“provided, of course, that these changes were not of a major nature.”81 J. Solis-Cohen repeated this concern for “certain paragraphs … offensive to the Catholics” in a letter of May 17 to Harry Scherman of the Book-of-the-Month Club,82 as did Solomon Grayzel in a memo to Solis-Cohen two days later in which he noted that “On two occasions in different parts of the book the various institutions of the Catholic Church are spoken of as encouraging immorality.”83

Though in fundamental agreement with JPS’s terms, Ludwig over the next several weeks would find it ever more difficult to comply with this last demand. On May 15, 1941, Judge Cohalan concurred with the court referee’s report and granted sole custody to Thelma, denying all visitation rights to Ludwig by citing his actions toward mother and child as “cruel and reprehensible.”84 But when Thelma suddenly found herself with responsibility for Jim’s welfare, something she never truly wanted, she became undone. “What do I do with the bastard? I don’t want him,” she screamed as they left the courtroom, handing him back to Ludwig, content merely to have control over them all.85

Preparing for Thelma’s inevitable change of mind, Ludwig’s attorneys filed for a stay of Cohalan’s ruling on May 19, pending their appeal. Distraught, Ludwig wrote Wise from his attorneys’ office that day, declaring that “If it is not granted I don’t know what will happen. Thelma will torture Jim. No, I don’t exaggerate.” He was in a state of panic, as evidenced throughout the uncharacteristically poorly typed letter. If only he had not been abandoned by close colleagues throughout these unending proceedings. Though “neither a fool nor morally unaware why or how I have forfeited your friendship and kindness,” he felt justified in questioning Wise’s judgment. “I do not understand … WHY you have not come and stood by me morally during some of these recent happenings.” With all this still pending, why were Wise and the other creditors so determined to collect the antique Judaica now? He asked one last favor. Could they at least be left in his home another two weeks until he and his family left for Rochester, where they would await the outcome of whatever legal steps remained? He would leave the apartment key with his attorney, and the collection could be picked up at any time once they were gone. “In the name of a friendship that was so precious to me and of our common love of Israel I beg you to call off these people for two weeks and not inflict on me a humiliation which, perhaps minor in itself, I am at this moment not equal to bearing.”86 A compromise was reached between the parties the following week, and the collection was sent to Wise’s synagogue for disposition.87

Thelma’s refusal to take Jim with her after Cohalan had rendered his decision allowed him to return to Riverside Drive and to his familiar world. Though but slightly aware, at the age of seven, of what was happening in his life, he was already showing clear signs of emotional distress, repeating how he did not want to go away with his mother. Ludwig and Edna, after consulting their attorneys, decided to take Jim to Rochester. “At this point it seemed the proper time to go to my parents’ house … where little Jim was loved.”88 Suffering a mild tubercular relapse, Edna preceded Jim and Ludwig’s departure by a week, arriving at the Manley estate on June 1 hopeful, but uncertain of the length of Jim’s stay.89

In the days following Cohalan’s decision, and prior to Ludwig’s departure for Rochester, differences with JPS concerning Renegade had been settled. Realizing that he had little choice, Ludwig notified the society on May 22 that he was “in agreement with all your stipulations,” so long as they would guarantee the sale of four thousand copies.90 An internal memo accurately assessed Ludwig’s need for money as the reason for his acquiescence.91 On June 10 the society sent word to Dial of its agreement to distribute Renegade. “It is our understanding that you will make the changes in the text to be outlined by our Editor and that these changes will appear in your edition as well as our own.”92 Dial consented to “make such changes as your editor outlines in your edition, and, if practicable, will make the same changes in ours.”93 The society’s final approval, giving the go-ahead for a January 1943 publication date, was rendered on the twenty-fifth, without completely settling the possibility of the Dial edition’s differing from JPS’s. Further negotiations would ensue in October before all parties would have their needs satisfied.94

To Ludwig now fell the task of amending his critique of the Catholic Church, a difficult assignment made more so by the appellate court’s unanimous decision on June 13 to reject his motion appealing Cohalan’s ruling.95 Not that Ludwig was condemnatory of Christianity. The real enemy, he had noted in a letter to the editors of the Atlantic Monthly on May 19, was the “paganism” of European fascism, “the infiltration of that pathological revolt against Christianity and freedom and the Judaeo-Christian tradition which is destroying Europe and will, unless checked, destroy that Western civilization which our fathers, Jew and Christian, built.”96 Rather, it was this same tendency toward totalitarian control within Catholicism that Ludwig identified as fundamentally anti-Christian. He believed it at work in the minds of the court referee upon whose judgment his tragic loss rested. “The referee who is trying to destroy my child is a Catholic and his action is typically such. He said: ‘A child born in sin must suffer.’ Catholicism is fascism—the mildest form today because not at the moment in the saddle,” he had written Saxton six days before the final court ruling.97

Two days earlier, Ludwig, not “know[ing] what bloody hell will break loose,” had taken Jim shopping and to a kosher restaurant where Jim “gave each waiter a bright new penny for mazel tov, for good luck, subconsciously, poor lamb, trying to propitiate fate,” Ludwig wrote Edna. They were both happily anticipating joining her in Rochester, though, as Ludwig reminded Edna, “there is the danger that I may have to take Jim back.” Still, “he will have had what he has had and the psychological effect will be good.”98 Even this brief stay, Edna later confirmed, had added some stability to his young life. Surrounded by an assortment of caring adults, “he became a normal little boy.”99

When news of the court’s refusal to accept arguments for a return of Jim’s custody to Ludwig reached them in Rochester, Edna simply recorded in her journal that “Spear has custody, but when he will be ‘called for’ we don’t know.”100 Fear for Jim gripped Ludwig immediately, as if he had not thoroughly contemplated the loss each would now sustain. “What Jim’s plight will do to him I do not know.”101 Each time the telephone rang a fearful rush seized them. On the fifth day after the ruling, the call came. Neither could at first muster the courage to face Jim. “We were sick all day Wednesday with dread of telling Jim that he had to go. He took it bravely saying nothing for awhile, but the little tick in his throat was suddenly audible. We looked out at him sitting with his head in his hands on the lawn.” Two days later, on Friday, June 20, a week after the court’s final ruling, Edna’s brother flew with Jim to New York, Ludwig deeming it best not to confront Thelma at this moment.102

In the week or more that followed, during which no word from or about Jim reached Ludwig, he busied himself with caring for his ailing wife, “toting bed pans,” cooking, sharpening her pencils, feeding the horses on the estate—“performing many new feats,” as Edna commented at the end of June. She anticipated a full recovery in the near future, but saw no real need to “get up.” Simply, she was too depressed and worn out. “No doubt life has been too great a strain on this delicate flower,” she wrote of herself, observing that Ludwig had taken his pen to the problem, though he “managed to write only about 30 lines this week.”103 Stifled by the exigencies of publishers, and in need of an outlet for his anger and frustration over the injustices suffered in the courts, he chose to begin a novelette entitled “A Man Named Uriel,” the story of a godly man, belittled by a coarse public, who, perhaps naively, clung to a higher order of values. “From coast to coast … a national joke and a national legend,” he was that “goofy professor who’s always getting in Dutch,” unaware that “you can’t buck” a world filled with “moral cancers” created by “conspiracies of silence” that allowed “the slayer” and “the demonical” to go forward without accountability. “There must be no speech, for speech would lead to truth and so to the knowledge of guilt and to the necessity of expiation. How many men in how many societies will face this necessity? The silences become as iron.” Had he not experienced such silence, among friends and colleagues, and within the press once the deeds had been committed against the true moral order? “The faint recurrent murmur concerning him stopped suddenly—as a man’s breath stops when lightening strikes the tree at his gate—at the end of the one month’s furious interest in his final catastrophe. Since then there has been silence.”104

To Edna, it appeared that Ludwig had found his catharsis, as she had not. “Ludwig (having come in from [a] walk around [the] fairway) says he’s caught the beginning of a new long poem.” He would, she was convinced, “gradually return to normalcy and health and creative vitality.” She, however, was less certain of her own future after nearly a year and a half together. “I am weary of following his psychic ups and downs, and tired out. I wish I could jump in the lake and let the cool water ease my tortured soul.” Ludwig was no less tortured, spending “a great deal of time … twisting his hair,” but she could not see past the pain he knew he had caused her, nor imagine how this awareness had deepened his own.105 She need only have listened to the darkness of his poetic vision as it deepened forebodingly from that lonely walk.

       There is a city of great heaviness.

       Stone upon stone mountainously hewn,

       and men mistake their ravenous distress

       For the divinity of discipline.

       And on the highways, the market-places

       They walk with withering upon their faces,

       Taking for wisdom their own weariness.

       Out of wide mouths a rattle of death they utter

       And crowd together by the garish gutter

       Dismal to any who would brood or bless.106

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36. Damning Assertions

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38. Desert Journey

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814345030
Related ISBN
9780814345047
MARC Record
OCLC
1056689244
Pages
215-237
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-14
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC
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