top of page
< Back

Children of Magnolia Street

Bernard Wasserstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Children of Magnolia Street* BERNARD WASSERSTEIN My subject is the children of Magnolia Street. But a word first about its pro? genitor. Louis Golding was born in Manchester in 1895, tne son ?f a Hebrew teacher who had immigrated from Russia. He studied at Manchester Grammar School and Queen's College, Oxford, where he read 'Greats' (Classics) and earned a first-class degree. His university education was interrupted by the Great War. The Officers' Training Corps rejected him on medical grounds, so he volunteered to work overseas in the YMCA. He thus came to spend much of the war in Salonica - an experience he recorded in a memorable passage in his most celebrated work. His first novel, Forward from Babylon (1920), was written while he was still a stu? dent. 'A story of youthful rebellion against family and tradition', it evoked outrage in the correspondence columns of xht Jewish Chronicle, where it was discussed under the headline 'Jewish anti-Jewish writer'. Undeterred, Golding pursued a career as an author. In the course of the next thirty-eight years, until his death in 1958, he produced, according to my count, a total of fifty-one books of fiction, travel writing and poetry, as well as Hollywood scripts and several works on Jewish themes, notably his 'Penguin Special', The Jewish Problem. This appeared immediately after the so-called Reichskristallnacht, in November 1938, and was reprinted four times in the following eight months. A propagandist work, written from a Zionist per? spective, it was no doubt effective in its time, though to modern eyes some passages might appear as a lamentable example of the contemporary Jewish tendency to internalize some anti-Semitic complaints - as, for example, when Golding advises 'young Jewish tailors from the East End' that it is 'tactless and . . . unwise' to talk too loudly in public places or when (echoing a common Zionist theme) he calls for occupational redistribution of the Jews and a 'reversion to manual labour'.1 The best-known Anglo-Jewish writer of his day, Golding was occasionally compared with Israel Zangwill, the literary giant of the previous generation, the final part of whose career just overlapped with Golding's. But the judgement of posterity has been I should like to thank Paulina Kewes and David Wasserstein for their helpful comments on this essay, which was first given as the Presidential Address to the Jewish Historical Society of England on 25 October 2001. 1 T.nnis f-rnlrlinp- Thp Ipmixh Prnhlem. fHarmnnrlsworth Tfi^S^ 9.D/I-C i7i</page><page sequence="2">Bernard Wasser st ein much less favourable to the younger man: he wrote too much, it is said - and too much that was second-rate. All his books except one are now unavailable, save in specialized libraries, and his work is largely forgotten. 2 Magnolia Street, first published in 1932, is the only novel by Golding that is still in print, but it is little read these days - perhaps justifiably so since it does not fit in at all with current literary fashions. By turns senti? mental, prurient and coy, lumberingly constructed, often predictable in its plot development and time-bound in its attitudes, in places painfully arch in tone, it is almost everything that the modern reader has learned to despise. Golding himself was initially dissatisfied with it. He 'decided that the thing had not come off. I had succeeded in producing a series of "char? acters". I had not written a novel.' He rewrote the manuscript, completing the revision 'in an anguish of uninterrupted composition that went on for twenty-four hours.'3 The self-critique was apposite since the book, even as revised, remains more a series of vignettes than a coherent whole. Yet for all its faults Magnolia Street deserves to survive and is Golding's closest approach to a great novel - a provincial Anglo-Jewish comedie humaine. In its day it was a worldwide success: it sold a million copies, was translated into twenty-seven languages, and was performed as a play in the West End, starring George Devine and Anthony Quayle (though it closed after four and a half weeks). It remains worth reading, even if less on grounds of literary merit than as a socio-historical document, one of the few realistic fictional depictions of the Jewish working class in England in the first and second generations of immigrant life. In this, as in other respects, it stands comparison with ZangwilPs Children of the Ghetto, published forty years earlier, though it must be admitted that the comparison is hardly in Golding's favour. Magnolia Street was one of a series of novels by Golding that came to be known as the 'Doomington saga'. I do not intend here to venture on an appreciation of this set of works ? though I think they deserve renewed attention. As is sometimes the case with literature of the second rank, they offer richer pickings to the social historian than many more original, uncon? ventional and idiosyncratic works. Rather I should like to take Magnolia Street as a point d'appui for some remarks on the evolving cultural sensibili? ty and collective self-consciousness of Anglo-Jewry in the course of the last century. Golding himself wrote that the novel 'dealt with a self-contained Jewish 2 J. B. Simons, Louis Golding: A Memoir (London 1958); Brian D. Reed, 'Louis Golding', Dictionary of Literary Biography CXCV: British Travel Writers 1910-1939 (Detroit 1998) 123-30; Vera Coleman, 'Louis Golding', in Glenda Abramson (ed.) The Blackwell Companion to Jewish Culture (Oxford 1989) 273-4; The Times (obituary) 11 August 1958. 3 Louis Goldinff. The World I Knew (London riozLol") 21 2S7. 172</page><page sequence="3">Children of Magnolia Street society which has been progressively and tragically disrupted since the first quarter of the century'.4 Magnolia Street depicts Doomington, a thinly dis? guised version of Manchester, between 1910 and 1930. One side of the street is inhabited by Jews, the other by Gentiles. The plot revolves, Romeo and jfuliet-style, around a pair of lovers, Rose Berman and John Cooper, not in this case from opposing houses, but from opposite sides of the street - and therefore from different religions. As counterpoints to the main theme, we also learn of other forbidden relationships: one between an Englishman and a German woman, another between a white Englishwoman and a black man, yet another between two young women. In a melodramatic, yet, to my mind, genuinely moving denouement, the Jewish and Gentile pavements alike join in a celebration of inter-racial harmony, sealed by yet another forbidden love, this one between the Jewish painter Max Emmanuel (probably to be identified with Golding himself) and John Cooper's sister, Enid, earlier revealed as having lesbian tendencies. They are both free spirits who seem to represent a new generation liberated from the constraints, prejudices and limited horizons of the immigrant generation. Thus described, the novel may seem like little more than a Mills and Boon romance. But it moves to a higher level in its close observation of subtle variations of distinction in a highly stratified society, in its sympathetic ear for the human comedy of superficially banal, everyday conversation, in its acute analysis of the rela? tionship between collective and individual violence, and in its deft delin? eation of the shifting contours of community. Magnolia Street is, in part, an autobiographical portrait of Golding's own youth in Manchester. His family lived in the Hightown district of Manchester on Sycamore Street, 'one of a series of streets lying off the Waterloo Road, called after the names of trees - Cedar, Beech, Sycamore, Chestnut and so on. Sycamore Street was different from the others because it alone had a rigid division as between the Jews living in the odd-numbered houses and the Gentiles living opposite in the even-numbered houses. It was a distinction [Golding later wrote] which was to turn out of importance to me in my life as a writer.'5 Who are the children of Magnolia Street? They are, of course, the gener? ation of Jews who moved out of what social historians have called the areas of'primary settlement' such as Cheetham Hill in Manchester, the Leylands in Leeds, the East End in London and the Gorbals in Glasgow. In all these cases the movement was out of dense concentrations in the centres of industrial cities to more spacious suburbs. The distance travelled was not merely geographical: it was also social and cultural. The geographical and social movements have been carefully mapped and studied. The cultural 4 Quoted in Simons (see n. 2) 135-6. 5 Golding (see n. 3) 14. 173</page><page sequence="4">Bernard Wasserstein migration has received less attention, and that is what I should like to focus on here. Among the items of evidence that may help us understand the nature and significance of that cultural shift, I draw your attention in particular to four books by Anglo-Jewish authors that are of great literary distinction ? in my view much greater indeed than Magnolia Street itself. They are all works of non-fiction, autobiographical memoirs of childhood and adolescence by writers who, each in his own way, may be termed a child of Magnolia Street. All four were the sons of Jewish immigrant fathers. All four grew up in milieux that, in one way or another, were intensely Jewish. All four studied at Oxford. All four rebelled in some degree against their background and moved into a different cultural world. The first is David Daiches's Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood, first published in 1957 but deservedly still in print. A son of Salis Daiches, rabbi of the Edinburgh Jewish community from 1919 to 1945, David Daiches was born in Sunderland in 1912, but grew up in Edinburgh where he attended George Watson's Boys' College. He worked during the war at the British embassy in Washington and eventually became a distinguished literary critic, a fellow of Balliol, and professor of English at the University of Sussex. His memoir is a candid, evocative and richly humorous portrait of a lost world of childhood. Its emotional axis is the relationship between the writer and his father, a dominating figure in the family and in the Jewish community in Scotland. Scion of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty, Salis Daiches was a scholar whose intellectual migration took him from the Lithuanian yeshivas, through the world of German orthodoxy to the ratio? nalist thought of the Scottish Enlightenment. His religious conduct would not satisfy the orthodox precisians - for example, his ruling that electric switches could be turned on or off on the sabbath. Chaim Bermant recalls that he was spoken of in strict constructionist Glaswegian rabbinical circles as 'a greiser talmid chochem, ober a freier' (a great scholar but a fool).6 David Daiches recalls his father with affection and respect, but he also rec? ognizes some of his foibles, for instance his snobbery and almost childish self-regard. The title of the book reflects the dichotomy that David Daiches later saw between his Jewish and his Scottish engagements, but he stresses that in his childhood they 'were not really separate.' 'Indeed,' he writes, 'one of my father's great aims in life was to bring the two worlds - the Scottish and the Jewish - into intimate association, to demonstrate, by his way of life and that of his community, that orthodox Jewish communities could thrive in Scotland, true to their own traditions yet at the same time a respected part of the Scottish social and cultural scene. It never occurred to 6 Review in Jewish Chronicle, 4 July 1997; Bermant, with greater charity, translates 'freier' as 'freethinker'. 174</page><page sequence="5">Children of Magnolia Street me as a child that this combination was odd or unattainable.'7 The climax of the book is the disentangling of these two worlds in Daiches's mind while he was at university in Edinburgh and Oxford - an 'anguished reconsidera? tion' that he describes with great feeling: 'It was a long, difficult and painful process. . . . My deep affection and admiration for my father never altered, but I had a sense of living on a precipice. ... I translated some of the poems of Jehuda Halevi into Scots. Unconsciously, I was preparing for a show? down with my father. Whatever happened, I was not to be accused of lack of knowledge of or affection for my ancestral heritage.'8 My second case is Ralph Glasser's Growing Up in the Gorbals, published in 1986, the first of a series of autobiographical works. This too is set in Scotland, but in the harsh poverty of the Glasgow slums rather than in shabby-genteel Jewish Edinburgh of the interwar period. Glasser's story has a rougher edge. Born to a working-class immigrant family in Leeds in 1916, Glasser moved with his family to Glasgow a few months after his birth. Unlike Daiches, in fact unlike all the other children of Magnolia Street, Glasser's account of his childhood contains not one jot of warming nostalgia. His tale is one of unredeemed horror, a graphic and unrelenting account of the dirt, squalor, wretched poverty and degradation of slum life. This is the same place in the same period as described with cloying senti? mentality by Evelyn Cowan in her memoir of growing up in the prewar Gorbals.9 But psychologically the two are far apart. There is little room for nostalgia in Glasser's recollection of his enforced departure from school at fourteen to work as a presser in a local tailoring sweatshop; nor in his depic? tion of what we would now term his dysfunctional family; nor in his painful relationship with his father, a feckless, inveterate gambler who never learned to write English and who seems to have been barely articulate even in his Mammeloshen, Yiddish. Here again we have a story of generational rebellion, but shorn of the sav? ing grace of mutual sympathy and humanity of Salis and David Daiches. I know of few scenes in literature, certainly none even in heart-tugging Magnolia Street, more shocking, searing in its exposure of betrayal, an inci? dent related as a natural outcome of passions beyond human control, than that in which the seventeen-year-old Glasser, after saving for nearly a year out of his thirty-shilling-a-week income the four pounds needed to fulfil his ambition to buy a new suit, returns home one evening in a pleasant mood, looking forward to wearing it - only to find it has disappeared. He knows in a flash what has happened to it: his father has pawned it to cover gambling debts. The ensuing confrontation between errant father shamed before his 7 David Daiches, Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood(London 1957) 5. 8 Ibid. 145. 9 Evelyn Co wan, Spring Remembered: A Scottish Jewish Childhood (Edinburgh 1974). 175</page><page sequence="6">Bernard Wasser st ein son was traumatic and marked Glasser's entry to adulthood; it was, he writes, 'a kind of farewell, a renunciation, a seal on the past and the future, for me the end of that infinite optimism of childhood and youth when all things were malleable, all mistakes could be put right.'10 Whereas academic achievement and awards came easily to Daiches, Glasser had to struggle to make his way out of the cultural as well as the economic gutter. A determined autodidact, he taught himself enough to win an essay competition that secured him a place at Ruskin College, Oxford. He was so poor that he could not afford a railway ticket and cycled the nearly four hundred miles to get there. Like Daiches, although for dif? ferent reasons, he was unhappy at Oxford.11 Yet for Glasser, as for Daiches, Oxford proved to be the gateway to a new world far removed from his roots: he later worked for the British Council and became an economist con? cerned, in particular, with the fate of traditional communities in the Third World. His memoir is in essence a rumination on the loss of his own tradi? tional community in the Gorbals - transformed by so-called 'redevelop? ment' in the 1960s into an anti-human wasteland. The memoir is suffused also by a sense of guilt. An assertive left-winger in his youth, Glasser seems still deeply anxious over whether he has 'sold out' to the ruling class. No such preoccupation seems to trouble the third of our cases, John Gross, son of a doctor in Mile End who had immigrated from Russia with his family at the age of fourteen. A Double Thread: A Childhood in Mile End - and Beyond is a clear-eyed, precisely recollected picture of a childhood in the final stages of Jewish life in the East End, full of pungent smells, jokes, oddities, the mixture of dissolving Yiddishkeit and decaying Englishness, but without a shred of sentimentality. Gross is the most reticent of our authors and seldom reveals moments of conflict or revolt. His was evidently a more gentle, subdued rebellion. Yet his story, like the others', is essential? ly one of movement out of one world into another. Whereas Daiches entered the diplomatic and academic elites, Gross penetrated even further than Glasser into the heart of the cultural establishment: he became the edi? tor of the Times Literary Supplement, a distinguished essayist and theatre critic. Oliver Sacks, like Gross, was the son of a doctor who started off as 'the Yiddish-speaking GP of the Yiddish-speaking community' in the East End of London. Sacks's father was brought to England from Lithuania with his immigrant family when he was only three or four. In 1930 he moved from the East End to Cricklewood in northwest London. By the time Oliver was born in 1933, the family was securely ensconced in the middle-middle class 10 Ralph Glasser, Growing Up in the Gorbals (London 1986) 176. 11 See Ralph Glasser, Gorbals Boy at Oxford (London 1988). 176</page><page sequence="7">Children of Magnolia Street in a comfortable household that included a senior nanny, a junior nanny, a cook-housekeeper, a 'daily', a chauffeur and a gardener. Perhaps the best known of our four writers, Sacks became a prominent neurologist in the USA and a best-selling author on both sides of the Atlantic. Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood is a cunningly constructed mem? oir of his early life, half-disguised as a history of chemistry. Sacks indulges in moments of nostalgic recollection of religious practice in his family home, but he too records youthful rebellion. Echoing a famous letter of Kafka to his father quoted by Gross, Sacks recalls 'the oppressive atmosphere of the synagogue, an atmosphere that reached a sort of horror on the Day of Atonement'.12 His parents were moderately orthodox Jews and sympathizers with Zionism. Sacks regarded the Zionist blue-box col? lectors who came to solicit donations as 'gangster-like evangelists'. He tells us (though he says he never told his parents): 'I came to hate Zionism and evangelism and politicking of every sort, which I regarded as noisy and intrusive and bullying. I longed for the quiet discourse, the rationality, of science.'13 What do these four cases have in common and what larger tendencies do they illustrate? Some are no doubt merely confirmations of trends already familiar to us from daily observation and sociological investigations - for example, the declining size of the Jewish family. We know from social sur? veys that the Jewish population in this country no longer maintains its numbers by natural reproduction. Sacks's mother, he tells us, was the six? teenth of eighteen children; he himself was the last of four. His first cousins alone numbered almost a hundred. But the spiral of demographic decline is no longer news. What about anti-Semitism? One of the striking things about all these four books is how little of that is recorded. Daiches writes: 'Anti-semitism I never met with at this time, and knew of it only as a phenomenon of the unhappy days of old, about which I read in such Anglo-Jewish story books as Apples and Honey\XA Gross reports that the only anti-Semitism he encountered as a boy was in books. T never suffered on account of being Jewish', he writes. 'The general attitude I encountered was one of casual acceptance.'15 But he adds later: 'Knowledge of the Holocaust has modi? fied, as nothing else has, what I feel about my childhood in retrospect'.16 Glasser reports that until the advent of Mosley's Blackshirts, there was lit? tle molestation of Jews in the Gorbals. In contrast, 'at school... persecution 12 Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten (London 2001) 176. 13 Ibid. 171. 14 Daiches (see n. 7) 6. 15 John Gross, A Double Thread: A Childhood in Mile End ? and Beyond (London 2001) 68. 16 Ibid. 101. 177</page><page sequence="8">Bernard Wasserstein was relentless, though patchy'.17 He recalls that the most savage hostility was reserved in Glasgow for the Irish. At the same time one detects in all these accounts an unusual childish isolation and social separateness. Gross tells us, T never had a best friend and never joked in a gang'.18 Daiches writes: T had no close friends at school - at least none I saw anything of after hours'.19 The father-son relationship is critical to all four memoirs. For Daiches the culminating point in the relationship with his father came with his deci? sion to marry outside the faith. Unlike one of the characters in Magnolia Street, who, in the stereotypical manner, goes into the traditional mourning when her son 'marries out' and refuses to speak to him again, the elder Daiches's reaction was one of anguish but humanity: 'Only at the moment of bitterest difference between my father and myself, writes his son mov? ingly, 'did he bring himself to voice sentiments of tenderness and love'.20 Nevertheless, David Daiches, realizing the effect his marriage would have on his father's position in the little world of Scottish Jewry, resigned his fel? lowship at Balliol and moved to America ? where he arranged for an ortho? dox Jewish marriage ceremony 'for my father's sake'.21 In Sacks's story too, the issue of intermarriage appears in a poignant form. Sacks records how his father's brother Bennie had been excommuni? cated from the family fold when, at the age of nineteen, he had gone to Portugal and married a Gentile. His name was never even mentioned there? after. Sacks goes on to tell us how, after the war, his father started to put on weight and decided to go at regular intervals to a fat farm in Wales. He would return, with little to show for his efforts by way of weight loss, but always 'looking happy and well, his London pallor replaced by a healthy tan. It was only after his death, many years later, that, looking through his papers, I found a sheaf of plane tickets that told the true story - he had never been to the fat farm at all, but loyally, secretly, had been going to visit Bennie in Portugal all these years.'22 All of our authors were unusually bookish in their childhoods. Daiches's and Sacks's homes boasted considerable libraries. Sacks's father was a com? petent Hebraist who owned and read many Hebrew books, but Oliver was more interested in scientific literature that he found, in particular, in the Willesden Public Library. Glasser haunted the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, in his day the greatest public library in Europe: 'The Mitchell 17 Glasser (see n. 10)21. 18 Gross (see n. 15) 71-2. 19 Daiehes (see n. 7) 143. 20 Ibid. 147. 21 Ibid. 148. 22 Sacks (see n. 12) 100. i78</page><page sequence="9">Children of Magnolia Street Library! My private temple! My Aladdin's Cave!'23 Gross was captivated by ZangwilPs Dreamers of the Ghetto and, more surprisingly, by Cecil Roth's The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, first published in 1938, another exercise in Jewish apologetics akin (although far superior) to Golding's The Jewish Problem ? in fact, it greatly influenced Golding in writing that book. What appealed to Gross about Roth was his 'romantic feeling for his subject' and his opposition to the so-called 'lachrymose' interpretation of Jewish history.24 Later Gross was inspired by Jewish writ? ers of the Holocaust period such as Primo Levi, Hillel Zeitlin and Sholem Asch. He tells us there are very few days in his life when he has not thought about them. Gross wrote an important book on Shylock. Yet for him, as for the others, the primary focus of his literary life has been in areas of litera? ture far removed from the traditional Jewish world. Of the four, the only one to receive something approaching a systematic Jewish education was, not surprisingly, the son of the rabbi. Daiches could read Hebrew before he was able to read English, learned some Talmud, and went on to make as his first significant contribution to scholarship a book on the King James translation of the Bible. On the other hand, Yiddish was banned in the Daiches household as a bastard language beneath contempt. Daiches learned it only later, whereas Glasser spoke it familiarly with his father. None of the four seems to have used much Yiddish in later life - though Gross notes that the survival in some Anglo-Jewish speech of even occasional scraps of inherited Yiddishisms may have some significance. 'A little learning', he suggests, 'in the right context, can exert a powerful hold; a feeling at one remove may be only a shadow of the original, but it is still a lot sharper than a feeling at ten removes'.25 Gross, whose father was deter? mined, he says, 'to pass on the torch in however guttering or spluttering a condition', learned rudiments of Hebrew and records his childish fascina? tion with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but he says his Hebrew educa? tion was 'very scrappy and limited'; and the Talmud remained a closed book to him. Sacks's book interweaves autobiography with his gradual, joyous discov? ery of the unfolding history of modern science. He points out that 'there still existed, in the early nineteenth century, a union of literary and scientif? ic cultures - there was not the dissociation of sensibility that was so soon to come'.26 It may not be too far-fetched to suggest a parallel dissociation between Jewish and secular sensibilities in the modern period - a dissocia? tion to which all our children of Magnolia Street give testimony. Socially 23 Glasser (see n. 10) 118. 24 Gross (see n. 15) 42. 25 Ibid. 34. 26 Sacks (see n. 12) 126. 179</page><page sequence="10">Bernard Wasserstein each of these authors has travelled far from his roots, though emotionally each cherishes the ever more tenuous links with his childhood. But all have traversed an even greater distance culturally, particularly when measured against the outlook and assumptions of the generation of their fathers. Glasser, in particular, remained conscious of and troubled by this process of cultural dislocation and in later books kept returning almost obsessively to this theme.27 None of these authors denies his Jewishness in any way. On the contrary, as Gross reminds us, 'Jews growing up after the war (not all of them, I need hardly say) felt under a strong obligation to affirm their Jewishness. Attempting to deny it seemed peculiarly base.' All four devote great efforts in their memoirs to the careful analysis of their relation to Jews, Judaism and Jewishness. In one way or another all remained deeply attached to it at some emotional level. Yet, in spite of this, I think it is also fair to say that all four have left far behind the intense Jewish preoccupations, unspoken assumptions, half-acknowledged prejudices, unquestioning beliefs, day-to? day practices and close entanglement in the warp and woof of Jewish life that characterized the world of their fathers, and even more of their grand? fathers. By and large their Jewishness is a matter of retrospective loyalty, of nostalgic warmth, a glow of fond remembrance rather than a burning bush that commands their present or shapes their future. To illustrate this point let me mention, by way of contrast, one other child of Magnolia Street who really belongs to an earlier generation, but whose life as a writer was shaped almost entirely within the cocoon of the Jewish world. Maurice Samuel was born in Romania in 1895 Dut spent his childhood in Manchester, where, incidentally, he was a friend of Louis Golding. In 1914 he moved to America where, between 1924 and his death in 1972, he became a much loved writer, lecturer and broadcaster on Jewish subjects, in particular a translator and interpreter of Yiddish literature to a Jewish audience that could no longer read it in the original. In his memoirs, published in 1963, Samuel speaks of two 'incommensurable' worlds - 'two non-communicating worlds'.28 But for him these are not only the non Jewish and the Jewish worlds, or the world of childhood and the wider world into which each of our writers matriculated at Oxford. For Samuel the distinction is also between the inner world of the imagination and the outer world in which he lived. That remained for him the world of Magnolia Street, albeit transplanted to another continent and revitalized in the context of the last flowering of American Yiddish culture. Samuel was mobilized into political Zionism in its formative period as a movement that 27 See Ralph Glasser, Gorbals Voices, Siren Songs (London 1990) and Ralph Glasser, A Gorbals Legacy (London 2000). Glasser died in 2002. 28 Maurice Samuel, Little Did I Know: Recollections and Reflections (New York 1963) 29. i8o</page><page sequence="11">Children of Magnolia Street had real meaning in Diaspora Jewish life, not merely as a fund-raising enterprise or a type of vicarious patriotism, but as a creative cultural force. This immigrant community was not a closed culture, but one that retained sufficient internal self-confidence and dynamism to be open to the world. My former colleague at Brandeis University, the late Milton Hindus, recalled a meeting with Samuel in Ludwig Lewissohn's apartment at Brandeis at which 'Samuel astonished us by quoting from memory a long passage from the celebrated Scott-Moncrieff translation of A la recherche du temps perdu' And he recalls a final meeting, shortly before Samuel died, at which he recited flawlessly a paragraph from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Samuel had met James Joyce and it has been suggested that he may have been one of the models for the character of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses.29 That highly coloured, vibrant Jewish cultural world lasted one generation longer in America than in Europe. It died in New York round about the same time as Samuel himself. By the 1970s the last Yiddish daily newspapers, theatres, landsmannshaftn, friendly societies and so forth were on their last legs. These institutions and their members had constituted the society power? fully recreated by Irving Howe in his Immigrant Jews of New York, original? ly published in the USA as World of Our Fathers?0 In a perceptive article on Howe's master-work, Morris Dickstein explained the phenomenal success of that 'elegy for a lost world' with second-generation American Jewish readers. 'In World of Our Fathers they were able to reconnect to a world of struggle and idealism they had long repressed. The book, finding its way into virtually every Jewish home, provided them with an emotional cathar? sis.'31 Magnolia Street performed a somewhat similar function for second generation British Jews. In varying degrees, this psychological process is re-enacted at a personal rather than collective level, it seems to me, in the memoirs I have discussed here. Jewish acculturation in the West is not yet complete; but it is far advanced. If the cases I have referred to are at all representative, they afford little support to those who argue that a specifically Jewish culture in the Diaspora is not disappearing but merely changing. I have argued in my book Vanishing Diaspora (1996) that there comes a point in analysing the development of any social or cultural organism where change is so exten? sive, pervasive and persistent as to involve wholesale metamorphosis and the effective disappearance of the original entity. The elegiac memoirs that 29 Introduction to Milton Hindus (ed.) The Worlds of Maurice Samuel: Selected Writings (Philadelphia 1977) xxviii-xxx. 30 Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers (New York 1976). 31 Morris Dickstein, 'A World Away, a Generation Later', New York Times Book Review 6 April 1997. i8i</page><page sequence="12">Bernard Wasserstein I have discussed here, I believe, are evidence of that continuing process: but I concede that they are also eloquent testimony to a certain stubborn tenaci? ty that characterizes what remains of Diaspora Jewish cultural expression even in the post-modern era. The bush may no longer burn; the torch flame has dimmed; but at any rate among these children of Magnolia Street we can still glimpse a leaping spark. 182</page></plain_text>

bottom of page