Emma Lazarus (Jewish Encounters Series)
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Part of the Jewish Encounter series
Emma Lazarus’s most famous poem gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty, but her remarkable life has remained a mystery until now. She was a woman so far ahead of her time that we are still scrambling to catch up with her–a feminist, a Zionist, and an internationally famous Jewish American writer before thse categories even existed.
Drawing upon a cache of personal letters undiscovered until the 1980, Esther Schor brings this vital woman to life in all her complexity. Born into a wealthy Sephardic family in 1849, Lazarus published her first volume of verse at seventeen and gained entrée into New York’s elite literary circles. Although she once referred to her family as “outlaw” Jews, she felt a deep attachment to Jewish history and peoplehood. Her compassion for the downtrodden Jews of Eastern Europe–refugees whose lives had little in common with her own–helped redefine the meaning of America itself.
In this groundbreaking biography, Schor argues persuasively for Lazarus’s place in history as a poet, an activist, and a prophet of the world we all inhabit today–a world that she helped to invent.
Publication Society. Lilly Library: Excerpts from four letters from the Lilly Library’s Gilder collection. Reprinted courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. The New York Public Library: Excerpts from various letters from “The Letters of Emma Lazarus 1868–1885,” published in Bulletin of the New York Public Library, edited by Morris U. Schappes (vol. 53; July, August, September 1949). Copyright © 1949 by The New York Public Library. Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial
artist, there is neither residual guilt nor desire, nor even a trace “of the old illness” of love—simply self-approbation. If Emma Lazarus was disappointed by the novel’s quiet reception, she was soon distracted by the death of her mother on April 21. For Esther Lazarus she wrote neither elegy nor eulogy, and only the relationship between Alide and her mother remains to suggest how keenly Esther worried over the marriage prospects of her daughter—an unmarried twenty-five-year-old hankering after
biography of Spinoza. “I do not want to read anything more about him,” she wrote, “until I can get at the man himself & study his philosophy at its source. And I have so many other things to do that I do not know when this will be.”74 When they traveled together she issued the marching orders, and he didn’t seem to mind: “I am very much obliged for your offer to call for me in a carriage, but I should prefer not to have you do so. I would rather go in the [street]cars—if we are obliged to drive
sailor & a Scandinavian god. Morris was delighted to give her a tour of his experimental factory at Merton Abbey, where the profit-sharing workers of Morris & Company wove and dyed textiles and carpets, many printed with Morris’s own designs. He was a visionary who had brought his vision to life, “the only man I have ever seen who seems to be as good as Emerson—& I don’t know but that he is better—for he is more of a republican & not an aristocrat as Emerson was….”19 She was captivated, also,
threatens the Crown Prince of Germany, there died yesterday a young writer of New-York.” After finally naming her, faintly praising her poems, and noting her affinity for “Henri Heine,” it closed by sketching “a personality no one could forget”: “Devoted to study and by nature extremely fastidious and critical, Emma Lazarus had comparatively few intimates, but they were constant and warm. Those to whom she never gave the pleasure of her wit, caustic retort, and clever repartees vied with her