The attention the narrator gives this painting signals to the reader that Kitty had once had, or had been aware of, "the kind of beauty" possessed by "the rather sallow women of the Simon painting" The painting hints at the interior self that has been eroded by the necessity, the habit, of self-publicizing. The place of the soft gray painting is being taken by Kitty's mocking bird in its gilded cage next to the artificially blooming white lilac tree. Kitty tells Tevis that she worries that her fans will forget her, but Tevis reassures her, "There is an affinity between you and the popular imagination" , and the stories and gossip that she has always attracted are keeping her alive with her public.
After talking about the most exotic of the myths-that Kitty has an eight-year-old son living in Saint Petersburg in the care of his father, Grand Duke Paul-Kitty asks how ugly gossip starts, and Tevis tells her of an elaborate masquerade staged some few years back by Siegmund Stein, a department store millionaire. Stein, who started as a poor immigrant garment cutter, has climbed through a series of guises into social prominence. At one time, finding it useful to appear a success with women, he picked a little coat model, Ruby, who superficially resembled Kitty, had the girl suitably coiffed and dressed, and then escorted her to operas and restaurants.
His clientele from Sioux City and Council Bluffs was flattered to associate with a man known to associate with the famous singer, and besides, Tevis observes, "They want the old gaudy lies" Kitty responds with two stories of her own, the first a preface to the second. At the outbreak of the Balkan troubles threatening war, she had smuggled a young tenor onto an ocean liner at Naples by pretending to the inspector that the "ridiculous" boy was "indispensable to my happiness. Where a cash bribe would not work, this scandalous pose, one of the old gaudy lies, did.
Kitty's follow-up story brings in Stein.
Semites and Stereotypes: Characteristics of Jewish Humor
She tells of a recent evening at the Stein mansion, where she and Peppo presented a private concert to a large invited company. She now sees in the attentive care that Stein and his wife lavished on her, and in the rapt appreciation of the audience, their assumption that here was a dramatic encounter of wife and discarded mistress-another of the old gaudy lies. Even at the time, Kitty recalls, she had felt suffocated by the attention and had sent Peppo for a taxi and fled.
Kitty appears to put the seal on her victimization when she says, in the closing line of the story, "If the Steins want to adopt you into their family circle, they'll get you. That's why I don't feel compassionate about your Ruby. She and I are in the same boat" What Kitty doesn't see, and the reader does, is that Kitty is as much deceiver as deceived: the very practice of her art-her smile, her zest, her acting a part in the old gaudy lies-is eating away at the reserves of her being.
She projects a persona for the inspector of the ocean liner just as she does on the concert stage or at the Steins.
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And finally, is she not like Stein-a stage manager, a master of effect and image making? The devices practiced by Stein in his rise-reported by Tevis in detail-dovetail with those Kitty uses: when Stein had been only "a hideous underfed little whippersnapper," working the machines in Rosenthal's garment factory, he was concerned about dress, associates, recreations; he studied libraries and museums to learn about pictures and porcelains and took lessons in the social graces; as he accumulated wealth, he became a collector of art objects and of as-yet-unknown poets and musicians In the full meaning of the term, Stein is self-made-he is the ever-changing sum of his public selves.
Kitty seems to have sensed this kinship to herself; she remembers that she felt something "hideously forceful" about him In Cather's lexicon, force has a special ring; it denotes essential, though anarchic, vitality and power, the energy without which nothing, least of all art, is accomplished. Perhaps that is why Kitty fled: she sensed their similarity; she dimly realized that she had just played a part in Stein's scene, not a part the condescending opera star in her own.
Why did Cather choose a Jew to stand for the underside, as we might say, of building a career-the relentless effort, the conniving, the exploitation? True, it is Tevis who voices the full dislike that he, and others of his kind, feel for the upstarts pushing into the Fifth Avenue mansions "that used to belong to people of a very different sort" , and it is Tevis who describes Stein's physical ugliness "tiny black eyes, with puffy lids and no lashes" .
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Nevertheless, despite the obvious snobbery, we are meant to agree with Tevis's repugnance, the story suggests, so as to perceive that living by publicity is a danger to the integrity of the self: it is Stein who represents the danger to Kitty, not, as she thinks, the used-up Ruby. Clearly Cather knew all about the stereotype of the social-climbing Jew-the stereotype of the drawing room and salon more than the poolroom.
Did she know that she might risk offending her friends and associates who were Jews? She must have, but she took that risk. A slight story Cather published in the Century magazine in , "Ardessa," suggests that at McClure's Cather had met, and sympathized with, Jews from the working class, stenographers, office managers, and the like. The story shows her awareness of the new immigrants from Eastern Europe and their efforts at gaining a toehold in American culture.
Centered on office personalities in a magazine publishing house, the story describes an old-fashioned, leisurely office style that is yielding to modern business demands for efficiency. Ardessa Devine, the secretary who has been with the firm from its founding, who comes in late and takes vacations at will, exploits Becky Tietelbaum-"a thin, tense-faced Hebrew girl"-by concealing Becky's stenographic abilities When Ardessa's boss, the hard-driving O'Mally, discovers this, he transfers Ardessa to the business office.
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There she will have to work under handsome Rena Kalski, another "slender young Hebrew," whose self-assured intelligence has made her the office manager's chief assistant The tone of this little story is tolerant, amused at all the characters but clearly on the side of Becky and Rena. In defeating Ardessa, they, and particularly Rena, treat Ardessa with unexpected kindness. Of particular interest is the narrator's description of Becky's family. Becky lives with eight brothers and sisters, her mother, and her father, Isaac, in three dark rooms behind Isaac's tailoring shop, hoping to move soon to a better flat upstairs.
Isaac is ambitious for his daughter, who has finished a high-school commercial course, and tells her that she must "improve herself. In the novels Cather wrote in the twenties, only one Jew appears, Louis Marsellus, but his is a pivotal portrait in any discussion of Cather's anti-Semitism, partly because the novel in which he figures, The Professor's House , is one of Cather's major works and partly because Marsellus has so frequently been cited as evidence, from a biographical point of view, of Cather's deepest feelings about Jews and about the marriage of her friend Isabelle McClung.
Schroeter and Leon Edel first proposed the notion that through Marsellus, Cather was at last venting her resentment of Jan Hambourg, who had married Isabelle some nine years before, in , and this interpretation has been widely accepted. Anger at Hambourg has also been seen, more plausibly, behind the portraits of Poppas and Stein, since the stories in which they appear were written close to the time of the event.
But the whole matter of Cather's feelings about Hambourg should be regarded as conjectural. There can be no question that Cather missed the McClung home in Pittsburgh as a refuge the house was sold after the death of Judge McClung in late and following that, the loss of Isabelle to marriage. But what is striking is how open Cather was about her feelings-she spoke about her sense of loss to friends and wrote about it in letters.
Such honesty is the opposite of seething anger.
Elizabeth Sergeant, in her memoir, stresses Cather's exuberance and physical joy in living in ; McClung's marriage cast a shadow, but it was not devastating. Further, the sheer biographical evidence of the continued friendship between Cather and the Hambourgs, full of immediate sociability in New York as shown in the Hochstein interview and then long visits in Toronto and later in France, should be considered. The Professor's House is dedicated to Hambourg "To Jan, because he likes narrative" ; it seems inconceivable that this mark of esteem and trust Hambourg's ability to see into fiction is only "a nasty joke," as Schroeter terms it Disengaging Marsellus from serving as a mask for Cather's alleged hatred of Hambourg does not, however, mean that his is not an anti-Semitic portrait.
It does mean he can be looked at in narrative context. It is my view that Cather here deliberately explodes the stereotype, showing that Marsellus's energy and zest for living what the Professor, with unconscious bias, calls the "florid" style make him the true inheritor of the Outland legend.
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He did not belong" Here is not the place for a full discussion of this story, perplexing because the allegorical substructure is so close to the surface that realistic characterization scarcely applies. The Rosens, modeled on the Wieners, who were kind to Cather in her youth, are important figures in "Old Mrs.
Rosen tells her There is nothing of the poolroom stereotype about the Rosens, who appear thoroughly at home in Skyline, Colorado, where Mr. Rosen, not ambitious for a great financial success unlike his urban relatives , has a dry-goods store. Semitism, in the sense of a people apart, is not an issue in this story. The Rosens belong to no church but contribute to the support of all.
Simpler and more likable people than the Nathenmeyers, the Rosens are linked only subtly to the ancient Jewish wisdom that Cather liked to invoke: through a quiet simile, brief, but epic in suggestion, Cather touches lightly on the deep past of Judaism. Rosen, she says, "carried a country of his own in his mind, and was able to unfold it like a tent in any wilderness" Momentarily we see the small-town merchant silhouetted against the desert violets of his remote Hebrew heritage. To contrast Mr. Rosen with Lichtenstein, the first Jew to appear in her fiction, is to see how surely Cather advanced in fineness of execution and also in delicacy of feeling.
It is unlikely that we can glean significant new insights about endemic anti-Semitism in the first decades of the century from Cather's fictional Jews, many and varied though they are. Possibly the sheer intensity of hatred on the part of cultural leaders Fred Hallet, Pierce Tevis is revealing. Though there is nothing here to equal the brutal, mindless tormenting of Robert Cohn The Sun Also Rises , there is a surreal physicality in the way Hallet describes Merryweather and Tevis describes Stein, and in Kitty's sense of suffocation by Stein's guests, that brings home to us the visceral impact of this particular prejudice.
An interesting dynamic also appears. Hallet's case against Merryweather is climaxed by his outrage at Merryweather's sufferance "When you had him, he always crawled"  , and Johnson is annoyed at Zablowski's patience with Hallet's teasing "Why don't you ever hit back? The comparison to Cohn's persecutors is again apt-they become increasingly maddened by his endurance of abuse.
It is significant, I think, that in The Professor's House Cather again dramatizes this forebearance Marsellus excuses his anti-Semitic brother-in-law, Scott, who has secretly blackballed Marsellus's admission to a club , but this time patient forgiveness Christian, we might say is admired.
The Professor says, "Louie, you are magnanimous and magnificent! Of more particular interest is whether Cather should continue to be seen as harboring an anti-Semitic streak. Those commentators who base their answer on the incidence of "positive role models" in her fiction must say yes. The moral absolutists, too, who find any expressed consciousness of otherness evidence of racism or elitism, will find many instances of distancing, if only in the epithets Jew, Jewess, Hebrew.
The rest of us must read and ponder. We can at least agree that Cather was aware of Jews as a presence in American life and, more than any other writer of her time, chose to register that presence in fiction. Zablowski, the Nathenmeyers, Poppas, Stein, Becky Tietelbaum, Marsellus, the Rosens-just to list these figures, vivid and memorable-must be convincing. She witnessed, and put in her fiction, the anti-Semitic prejudices of the dominant culture. In her way, she combatted this bias, but hers was not the direct way of the social protest novel and, clearly, she did not make it an overriding concern.
She put the needs of the work first.
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We can say of Cather as a writer, as Henry James said of Hawthorne, that she "is perpetually looking for images which shall place themselves in picturesque correspondence with the spiritual facts with which [she] is concerned. At the same time, one of the "spiritual facts" dearest to Cather was the worth of art and learning, and the Nathanmeyers and the Rosens can be numbered among the many images by which she sought to dramatize her faith.
Andrew Jewell, editor. Updated July Toggle navigation W illa C ather A rchive. Source File: cat. Schroeter is here quoting Bernard Baum, who perhaps should be credited with being the first to find "anti-Semitic caricatures" in Cather stories, concluding that "the lady.
Go back. Of course the turn of the wheel of fashion exposes the criticism of the past, as well as its literature, to this stringent examination. Schroeter's assumption that Cather he calls her "Miss Cather" or, occasionally, "Willa" embraced with the same "Whitmanesque hug" both "immigrant Mexicans and stolid Norwegians" Schroeter is not one that today's commentators would share, noting, for example, that in "Old Mrs.
Harris" the trash man is merely "the Mexican," whereas the neglected Maude children, whose paternity is questionable, are given the dignity of a name. Very likely, neither did Hochstein. In the interview, Cather quotes from one of Hochstein's letters to his mother in which he writes that in France he has found a belief: "I adhere to no creed, no more than my father did, nor to any particular kind of God, but, dear mother, I believe " "Fiction Recalls" Zangwill's chief works are The Master , which Cather called "a very remarkable novel"; Dreamers of the Ghetto , somewhat imaginative biographies of famous Jews who rebelled against orthodox Judaism, including Spinoza and Cather's favorite, Heinrich Heine; and Children of the Ghetto , both a novel and a play, set in London's East End.
Cather would have learned a great deal about Jewish life from the long and detailed Children of the Ghetto and perhaps would have absorbed Zangwill's half-mocking, half-admiring attitude toward orthodox beliefs and practices. The tone of the article is sympathetic, stressing such traits as discipline and ambition and reporting on the immigrants' desire for full assimilation.
The article could have played a part in Cather's change of attitude as reflected in the difference between her portrayal of Lichtenstein and Zablowski or Becky Tietelbaum. There is some evidence that Cather herself did not think she had written a muckraking story. In her essay "Escapism" she says: "When I first lived in New York and was working on the editorial staff of a magazine, I became disillusioned about social workers and reformers.
The man who has a true vocation for imaginative writing doesn't have to go hunting among the ash cans on Sullivan Street for his material" The Singer Tower was a significant landmark, both architecturally and socially, at the time see Hall and Haller. With Hallet's racism in view, we note that his attitude toward Caesarino is always condescending.