The adolescent self-fashioning of Mary Antin.
The year 2012 marked the centennial anniversary of the publication of Mary Antin's autobiography-cure-paean to America, The Promised Land. (2) The text, divided into two parts, narrates Antin's self-proclaimed conversion from an oppressed Russian Jewish subject into a patriotic, educated English-speaking American citizen; At the time of its first appearance, much of the American public greeted her glowing tale of successful Americanization warmly, landing The Promised Land on the national best-seller list in both 1912 and 1913. (4) The Journal of Education saw The Promised Land as proof positive that public education worked. After all, the system had turned a poor Yiddish-speaking immigrant into a fine American writer. (5) Life magazine declared The Promised Land to be "good medicine for excessive anti-Jewish antipathy." (6) And multiple publications lauded The Promised Land for providing insight into the experience of the immigrant, for demonstrating the immigrant to be worthy of America, and for bespeaking a promising future for the country. (7) The Promised Land was received as more than a single woman's autobiography. Rather, published at a time of increasing xenophobia and anti-immigration agitation, Antin's text demonstrated that onetime immigrants could become loyal, literate, and law-abiding citizens. Theodore Roosevelt, then on his third presidential campaign, even solicited Antin to stump on his behalf, which she did, (8) and her photograph would go on to find a place in Roosevelt's autobiography. (9)
Although The Promised Land no longer wields a popular readership, the work remains a touchstone among scholars of Jewish and ethnic American literature. Antin's model of obstacle-free Americanization, not surprisingly, has received critical attention from scholars who investigate her various modes of literary self-fashioning. How, researchers ask, does Antin present herself in this eminently public text? "The assumption is that Antin's autobiography models Greenblattian self-fashioning; it is a text that acts "as a manifestation of the concrete behavior of its particular author, as itself the expression of the codes by which behavior is shaped, and as a reflection upon these codes." (10) In Antin's case, this assumption is compounded by a second: that something has been lost in the creation of the autobiography. What elements of herself, scholars ask, does Antin purposefully obscure in order to present a palatable, consumable image of the Jewish immigrant? Comparing the manuscript to the published version of The Promised Land, Keren McGinity has declared Antin "a woman on a mission" who "intentionally omit[ted] material ... [to construct] an identity for herself that would be attractive to a predominantly patriarchal Gentile country." (11) Similarly, Alvin Rosenfeld has identified Mary Antin as having created the model of the American Jewish autobiography with her self-presentation as a liberated, secular intellectual. (12) In a less complimentary vein, the American author Ludwig Lewisohn and critic Sarah Blacher Cohen have respectively admonished Antin for fashioning an autobiographical self that suppresses her connection to her Jewish identity. (13) Concerned more with the codes of racial self-fashioning, Linda Joyce Brown has recently argued that Antin's autobiography is an attempt to establish her identity as a white woman, showing that Antin "constructs the process of assimilation as an act of claiming a position as a white American." (14) Mary Dearborn and Magdalena Zaborowska have added to the literature by demonstrating how Antin's gendered perspective impinges on her techniques of "working out an American 'socialized' identity." (15) Finally, Hana Wirth-Nesher and Steven Kellman have shown that The Promised Land may be conceived as a model of linguistic self-fashioning, whereby Antin asserts her American identity through her facility with English. (16) Wirth-Nesher labels the effort as a form of "linguistic passing, where erasure of Hebrew and Yiddish would be [Antin's] submission to the nativist pressures and linguistic policies and practices of her day." (17) As these scholarly analyses make clear, Antin's autobiography can be read to reveal a variety of anxieties and personal identity politics that are superficially subsumed in the narration of her seamless integration into the American social landscape.
This paper builds on the line of inquiry described above; however, I turn my attention to a comparison of two autobiographical precursors to The Promised Land, both of which have remained peripheral to scholarly discussions. The first is Antin's 1899 booklet, From Plotzk to Boston, which narrates the author's journey with her mother and three siblings from their hometown of Polotsk (now in Belarus) through Vilnius and Hamburg, and on to Boston, where her father was waiting for them (he had emigrated three years earlier). (18) A condensed version of this text forms the central--if curiously short--chapter of The Promised Land entitled "The Exodus." (19) The second text is a sixty-page handwritten Yiddish letter that Antin composed to her maternal uncle, Moshe Weltman, (20) after arriving in Boston at the age of thirteen. Antin's own heavy-handed translation of that letter became From Plotzk to Boston. The original manuscript of the letter has remained virtually forgotten, bound between leather covers in the Boston Public Library; for the first time, a transcription and translation of that letter is being made available to the public in the present issue of Studies in American Jewish Literature.
These instantiations of Antin juvenilia, both the Yiddish letter and From Plotzk to Boston, are critical variables in the complex trajectory of Antin's lifelong self-fashioning. Of particular interest to this paper is that these texts allow us to investigate Antin's autobiographical rhetoric targeted at two audiences, distinct both from each other and from that of The Promised Land. Recall that much of Antin scholarship today concerns how the adult author manipulated her ethnic identity in The Promised Land to appeal to a white, Christian, American audience at a time of increasing xenophobic political discourse. As I will show, Antin's 1894 Yiddish letter and the 1899 From Plotzk to Boston have decidedly different readerships: the former was intended for Antin's family in Russia and the latter for an English-speaking, Jewish-American philanthropic elite. Comparing the two texts reveals Antin, even as an adolescent, to be a writer who alternatively discloses and withholds her ethno-religious background (Judaism) and mother tongue (Yiddish) to various rhetorical ends and with an eye toward various readerships and associated social codes. (21) When and how, I ask, does Antin manipulate her autobiographical tales to render herself sympathetic to her readership? And when and how does she deploy her Jewish identity as a variable in her American self-fashioning?
FASHIONING TEXTS: FROM YIDDISH LETTER TO ENGLISH BOOKLET
To begin to answer these questions, it is necessary to reconstruct the muddled history of the Yiddish letter's composition and the publication of its English reworking, From Plotzk to Boston. Mary Antin, her mother, and three siblings arrived in Boston on May 9, 1894. Shortly after disembarking, the precocious thirteen-year-old (22) sat down to write a long letter to her maternal uncle, Moshe Hayyim Weltman, with a detailed account of her family's journey from Polotsk to Boston. In Russia, Mary's uncle had cared for his sister's family while his brother-in-law had been in America. (23) He had, moreover, treated Mary with special attention while her family prepared for the journey, and he had asked her to write to him of the trip so that she would not forget him. (24)
The letter that she produced comprises an astounding sixty-plus handwritten pages. (25) It is composed in a conversational tone that is peppered with self-assured digressions and feisty interjections. Antin addresses her uncle quite directly and does not hesitate to admonish him. She criticizes their shared hometown and chastises her uncle for his provincial life experiences in contrast to her international escapades. (26) She also explains that her goal in the letter is to communicate her feelings directly, even if that means potentially insulting her uncle. (27) What is most evident from the letter is that it was composed by a writer eminently at ease with her addressee. Here is a letter from a young girl to a beloved uncle with whom she feels at liberty to demonstrate the bombastic ego of an early adolescent as well as the affectionate feelings of a close family member. Antin's budding authorial identity is also evidenced in long descriptive passages on the power of the ocean (28) as well as verbal explosions of false modesty; her repeated gestures toward the limitations of her pen are followed by extended descriptions of the subject at hand. (29) Most importantly, she also asks her uncle to send along the letter to her other family members. (30) I emphasize this to suggest that we cannot simply distinguish between Yiddish letter and English booklet as the difference between private correspondence and public exposition. Rather, both the letter and subsequent English rendering are public texts with different intended audiences. We should not underestimate how Antin's Yiddish letter served to meet the expectations, predilections, and assumptions of her Russian family. Antin's letter, albeit occupying the more intimate position as "a family document," (31) remains a highly constructed text. Again, we would be remiss to forget that the letter was over sixty pages long! (32)
That this letter is now housed in the Boston Public Library is the result of a series of fortuitous accidents. Antin recalls that while writing to her uncle in 1894, the lamp she had been using had fallen over and soaked her writing in kerosene. (33) Antin thereupon made a copy of the stained sheets and sent that copy to her uncle. When Antin traveled to the Polotsk region in 1910, she retrieved that copy from another uncle in Vilnius. Antin's brother-in-law later bound the letter and it was deposited in the Boston Public Library in 1914. Throughout this essay, when I refer to Antin's Yiddish letter, I am referring to the copy found by Antin in 1910 and deposited in the Boston Public Library in 1914. (34)
If Antin sent the letter to her family in Russia, though, what was the source for her English translation in 1899? The answer: the stained original. After the letter became drenched with kerosene, it would seem, Antin kept it for several years. In late 1897 or early 1898, (35) Antin had the urge to destroy it but did not do so before first listening to her father. She recounts that her father encouraged her "to translate the letter into English, for the benefit of a friend." (36) This unnamed friend, as confirmed by a note appended to the bound Yiddish manuscript, was Antin's beloved schoolteacher, Miss Mary S. Dillingham. (37) Dillingham was also the first person to encourage Antin to publish her work. It was on her recommendation that Antin's 1895 "Snow," a short description of various types of snow and winter activities, was accepted to the journal Primary Education. (38)
More than Antin's first literary fan, however, Dillingham served for Antin as a model American. Antin identifies her as "my first American friend," (39) and describes an invitation to tea at Dillingham's home as her "first entrance into a genuine American household." (40) Moreover, we learn that Antin wished desperately to please Dillingham, writing that "[Miss Dillingham's] approval was always dear to me" and "more to me than all the praise I could hope to win by conquest of fifty languages is the association of this dear friend with my earliest efforts at writing."(41) What emerges here is an image of Antin as a young writer supported by and eager to win the praises of a woman whom she considered to epitomize American identity. The questions we might now ask include, how might this desire to please the model American have inflected Antin's translation? How might she have turned a letter to her family into a public declaration of her admiration for all things American?
"The questions about what motivated Antin's translation of her Yiddish letter into English text do not stop with the influence of the all-American Miss Dillingham. In fact, it was Dillingham's efforts to generate interest in the translated letter that direct us to Antin's second set of interlocutors: Jewish American philanthropists. Dillingham brought Antin to the attention of Lina Hecht, the wife of Jacob Hecht, who together "set a model for Jewish philanthropy in Boston." (42) Hecht, in turn, brought Antin's work to the attention of the British Jewish writer Israel Zangwill, (43) who suggested that she contact Philip Cowen, editor of the New York-based American Hebrew: A Weekly Journal for the Jewish Home. (44) Cowen serialized Antin's translation in 1899--albeit misspelling both Antin's name and the name of her hometown, despite Antin's protestations; Belarussian Polotsk became forever known as the Polish "Plotsk." (45) and Mary debuted as "little Marie." (46) As Antin would later recall with frustration, "My corrections in the proofs were ignored." (47) Alongside such misspellings, there emerges the image of a young author at the mercy of her literary support network, and the voice of that bombastic Yiddish niece begins to fade.
After Antin's letter appeared in The American Hebrew, the philanthropic Hechts funded a separate, booklet version of the work under the same name, From Plotzk to Boston, with the typo prominently persistent in the title, though the spelling of the author's name improved. This booklet, dedicated to Lina's niece, Hattie, featured a foreword by Zangwill, with whom Antin had struck up an obsequious correspondence, and additional prefatory remarks by Antin. (48) The booklet was also printed on Cowen's own New York press. (49) The first edition promptly sold out and a second edition was issued; according to Cowen, Lina Hecht had bought out the first run. (50) Once again, the importance of the Hechts in Antin's literary success, financial and otherwise, must be acknowledged; and, as it turns out, the involvement of those such as the Hechts, Cowen, and Zangwill was frequently mentioned in contemporaneous reviews of From Plotzk to Boston, providing Mary Antin social capital by association. (51) This is of particular significance considering that there was more at stake than simply Antin's budding authorial reputation (that is, her social and literary capital) in the publication of From Plotzk to Boston. The proceeds from the booklet were to support her education at the Girl's Latin School, something that was made explicit first in The American Hebrew, (52) then in Zangwill's foreword, (53) and was also noted in reviews of From Plotzk to Boston. (54) Without these funds, she would have had to quit school and work to support her family. Antin needed her text to appeal to her benefactors, to get their institutional and financial support, for eminently practical reasons.
This sketch of the history behind the publication of From Plotzk to Boston is critical for analyzing the shifts that can now be identified between the original Yiddish letter and its subsequent English rendering. What I have outlined above, following Mary Dearborn's work on the ethnic female text, are the literary "midwives"--editors, writers, publishers, and friends who ushered Antin's text into the public eye. In addition to Miss Dillingham, there appears a network of influential, wealthy, Jewish Americans--with emphasis on both "Jewish" and "American" players--whose support Antin would have had to garner and resources harness to allow her text to be published and profitable. Zangwill, for his part, was British, yet it is his attestation as to Antin's capacity with English that will be of consequence. Moreover, it is in a letter to Zangwill that Antin makes her reliance on these Jewish philanthropic "midwives" explicit. Having just received Zangwill's preface to From Plotzk to Boston, Antin assures him that her friends, here identified as her Jewish literary and philanthropic supporters, need not worry that Zangwilrs praise will spoil her. After all, her goal is to maintain their confidence in her common sense, which Antin, writes, "I can do so only by being, as nearly as possible, the girl you and my other friends would have me." (55) Evidenced is an adolescent Antin attuned to the set of behavioral codes, to return to Greenblatt, with which she must present herself. Keeping in mind these words of the eager-to-please youth, we now begin to isolate the calculated shifts from Yiddish letter to English text that Antin deployed in order to fashion herself sympathetic to her Jewish-American interlocutors.
FASHIONING HERSELF THE EDUCABLE HEROINE
Were Antin's uncle to have opened From Plotzk to Boston, he may have been surprised to find his presence totally erased. (56) If not for Israel Zangwilrs foreword, in which he alludes to an earlier, though not specifically epistolary, Yiddish version of From Plotzk to Boston, Weltman would have been functionally expunged from the literary record. The elision of Antin's uncle no longer seems such a curious omission when we turn to Antin's prefatory remarks--a preface, it should be noted, that does not appear in the original Yiddish letter and one which she added only after completing From Plotzk to Boston. (57) As Gerard Genette reminds us, the preface serves as the forum in which an author "offer[s] the reader an advance commentary on a text the reader has not yet become familiar with." (58) It is a moment in the text when the author attempts "to ensure the text is read properly." (59) Antin seizes this opportunity to identify to her readers how her autobiographical tale should be read: It is no longer a rambunctious letter to relatives but rather a polished narrative of her family's grand physical migration to America and spiritual migration to freedom. It is not simply a shift in genre but in scope.
Consider Antin's opening line: "In the year 1891, a mighty wave of the emigration movement swept over all parts of Russia, carrying with it a vast number of the Jewish population to the distant shores of the New World--from tyranny to democracy, from darkness to light, from bondage and persecution to freedom, justice and equality." (60) She goes on to explain that it was in that year and under those grand historical circumstances that Antin's father set sail for America only to send for his family and little Mary three years later. Antin couches her family's individual migration narrative in the epic sweep of history, using the biblical rhetoric that literary historians Sacvan Bercovitch and Werner Sollors have investigated as constitutive of American literature and self-fashioning, in general. (61) Put somewhat differently, Antin announces that her family's migration is not only personally significant (and thereby warranting a long letter to an uncle) but that it is of national significance.
Lest her readers think that her family is the subject of From Plotzk to Boston, Mary is quick to assert herself as the hero of the Antins' epic migration. It is she, the translation shows, who is worthy of the literary spotlight. This becomes evident when we examine some of the ostensibly minor or technical changes from the Yiddish original that Antin introduces into From Plotzk to Boston. We might begin with what may be the smallest of these changes: a shift from the first to the third person.
On the journey to America, the Antin family is frequently harassed by the German authorities on account of a recent cholera epidemic in Russia. After crossing the German border, they are stopped and their belongings are seized and disinfected. (62) As they wait for a train to arrive to continue their journey, they make the acquaintance of the Gittelman family. In the Yiddish text, we learn that the eldest Gittelman son provides Antin's family with books to read. Mary writes that "the 17-year-old Gittelman [son] took books out from his travel bag and gave them to us to read. We read them all together, recounted our journey up to that point and spoke of other things. (63) The son also entertains the Antin children after they are allowed to board the next train. As Antin writes, he "treated us to chocolate and other sweets. And when we parted from them in Berlin, he gave Fenye a small book as a souvenir. (64)
The scene may attract little attention in the Yiddish letter. It appears to be nothing more than negligible gossip about the innocent flirtation of the Gittelman boy with Mary's older teenage sister. However, the version produced in From Plotzk to Boston serves to place Mary, rather than Fenye, at the center of the narrative. As soon as Antin introduces the Gittelman family in the English text, she somewhat awkwardly switches all references to herself from the first to the third person. (65) Following a paragraph in which she obtusely refers to herself, Antin writes of the scene: "she was interested ... enough when the oldest of the young Gittelmans, who was a young gentleman of seventeen, produced some books which she could read." (66) Again, the gift establishes a relationship between Antin, an avowed lover of books, and the Gittelman teen. Later, after the Antins and Gittelmans have boarded the next train, Antin describes how the young man entertains everyone with stories (no longer candy). She then recounts that "during one of his narratives he produced a pretty memorandum book that pleased one of us very much, and that pleasing gentleman at once presented it to her. She has kept it since in memory of the giver, and in the right place, I could tell more about the matter--very interesting." (67) At no point in this clunky, pronoun-jumping sentence does Antin clarify that it was her sister on the receiving end of the gesture. Antin has already established a bond between herself and the Gittelman son as provider of books and there is no reason to think that the third-person object of his affection would not be Antin herself. The additional assertion, "I could tell more about the matter," only emphasizes the intimacy between Antin and the event, further hinting that it is she who receives the gift. Antin effaces her sibling both in this episode and elsewhere in From Plotzk to Boston, (68) and the comparison with the Yiddish text reveals Antin to be grooming her readers to see Antin herself at the center of the plot's action. For her family in Russia, we may surmise, the presence of Antin's siblings would have clearly been of interest.
The scene described above suggests that Antin is presenting a specific image of herself as heroine--that is to say, someone ripe for learning. After all, the young Antin no longer receives the ephemerally satisfying piece of candy but the gift of literature. A few pages earlier in the Yiddish letter, before meeting the Gittleman family, we find Antin and her family waiting in a German train station. Antin describes at length the food for sale in her vicinity, for she is clearly hungry and her family cannot afford to buy the food. She takes only one line to notice that across from her "was a bookshelf where books could be borrowed." (69) In From Plotzk to Boston, in contrast, Antin relegates any mention of food for sale to the background and spends multiple lines describing the bookshelves in her line of sight. They are filled with German tomes, whose titles Antin is unable to decipher. Antin recalls that "it was very hard to see people get those books and enjoy them while I couldn't." (70) However, rather than sulk, Antin satisfies herself by counting the books. She is so enamored by the number of books that she is willing to count them just to engage with them! Lost is the image of a young Antin looking longingly at the food for sale around her, and it is replaced with an image of a young girl hungry for books and learning. Once again, we must consider the circumstances of the text's production as a fund-raiser for Mary's education. Antin's decision to emphasize her unyielding love of books now reads along strategic lines. She has positioned herself as the consummate potential reader and student, someone ripe for learning and someone worth educating.
FASHIONING HERSELF IN ENGLISH
As indicated in the previous section, the shift from Yiddish letter to English booklet corresponded to a shift in Antin's self-presentation. No longer simply one among many siblings, Antin stands out as the star of her family's narrative and as an educable young girl eager to improve herself through book learning. We must note here that this image of Antin as a sponge for education was also manifest in the language shift itself--from Yiddish to English. Part of the greatness of From Plotzk to Boston, as noted by contemporaneous reviews of the booklet, was Antin's near miraculous handling of English. (71) The sentiment is echoed by Zangwill in his foreword, when he writes that Antin's "capacity to handle English--after so short a residence in America--shows that she possesses also the instrument of expression." (72) Not only has Antin acquired English quickly, but in doing so has enhanced her literary potential. (73) The mere shift in language from Yiddish to English provides Antin with an aura of wonder, the social capital to appeal to and woo her readers.
I must note here that there has been some debate as to whether Antin's English would have been robust enough for her to translate the Yiddish letter by herself. Scholars frequently maintain that Antin was assisted in her translation by Rabbi Solomon Schindler, a German-born Reform Rabbi based in Boston. (74) I have been unable to corroborate his involvement in the project. It is decidedly possible that Schindler would have known Antin through his work as the director of the United Hebrew Benevolent Association in Boston or from his work on behalf of Jewish women. Nevertheless, rhetorical evidence of his involvement in the translation is lacking, as Antin's English reveals no overt references to works by Schindler or Schindler's particular style. (75) Schindler's involvement has also been contested by Hattie Hecht, Lina and Jacob Hecht's niece and Antin's close friend to whom From Plotzk to Boston is dedicated. (76) Moreover, reviews of the work uniformly comment on Antin's auto-translation. (77) I find most convincing, however, those documents in the archival record that speak to Antin's English-language skills. "There exist several texts by Antin written between 1895 and 1899 that exhibit an author with an adept handling of the English language. Her 1895 "Snow-Crystal," possibly a school assignment, narrates a darling dialogue between a "gurgling, murmuring stream, which," Antin writes, "we shall call a brook, and his always-silent friend, a large rock, which was close at its edge." (78) The dialogue is accompanied by a poem with similar amateur elegance. Antin's letters from the end of this period (1898-9) also reveal a young woman with a steady grasp of the English language who exhibits an adolescent flare for high rhetoric. (79) Finally, and perhaps most convincing, her journal from her trip to Cuttyhunk Island off the coast of Massachusetts from May 1899 confirms that Antin had a firm grasp of English, as she is able to describe the ocean landscape, sea creatures, and beautiful vistas with sophisticated and precise language. (80) Philip Cowen, who would go on to serialize From Plotzk to Boston in The American Hebrew, would also recall that Antin's English-language skills were confirmed by Israel Zangwill, who declared Antin's "English as perfect." (81)
Having established that Antin had a strong working knowledge of English in 1899, we may return to the question of the rhetorical importance of Antin presenting herself in English. The recent dissertation of Naomi Brenner here adds a helpful caveat to Greenblatt's contention that "self-fashioning is always, though not exclusively, in language. (82) As Brenner notes, "self-fashioning between languages is also crucial to reading Jewish culture." (83) And the case of Antin will make this eminently clear. By switching languages, Antin fashions herself remarkable in the eyes of her readers and reviewers. Moreover, she fashions a specific image of herself as completely removed from her Yiddish past. To explain: Antin does not allow for slips in grammar in From Plotzk to Boston and only rarely allows a non-English word entry into the text. Despite having written the original letter in Yiddish, Antin uses only a single Yiddish word in From Plotzk to Boston: droskies, which itself is a Russian cognate; the term refers to a type of carriage that the Antins took to the train station in Vilnius at the beginning of their journey. (84) Of the three other non-English words to be used, all are of Russian derivation: isvostchiky, the plural Russian term referring to "cabbies, drivers"; and two street names, Nemetzk ayah (sic) Ulitza and Hospitalnayah (sic) Ulitza. (85) The one Yiddish and three Russian words are relegated to the first five pages of the text, while Antin is still in Vilnius. Once Antin leaves the lands of her youth, she no longer draws on any words of Russian origin, and the only "foreign" words are references to Russian and German currency and a brief allusion to a Russian mujik (peasant). (86) This is in marked contrast to the Yiddish letter, in which Antin repeatedly draws on transliterated Russian and Polish words as well as Yiddish words of the Slavic component. I would argue that the inclusion of these terms in From Plotzk to Boston serves to efface Antin's Yiddish-language past even more aggressively. She appears to be of a Russian-language background rather than a Yiddish one. Accordingly, the English texts identifies her as not having been burdened by the blemish of having been raised speaking Yiddish, a language which at the time was commonly referred to as jargon--including in the pages of The American Hebrew. (87) Her linguistic passing, to use Wirth-Nesher's formulation, is thus twofold: She passes in English without reference to her Yiddish mother tongue while simultaneously passing in English as a former Russian speaker. (88) Finally, just as she removes any traces of the Yiddish letter from her prefatory statement, so too does she eliminate any overt Yiddish terms from the body of her text that might allude to her linguistic past and sully her reputation with the readers of The American Hebrew.
What's more, From Plotzk to Boston may be read as an attempt by Antin to identify herself as an English author in the making. Throughout the narrative, Antin makes no references to any of her Yiddish or Russian literary predecessors, yet she does speak in the terms of the English literary canon. While on the ship to America, Antin recounts the pleasure she took in sitting by herself and observing the sky and ocean. "After a while," writes Antin, "I could sit quietly and gaze far away. Then I would imagine myself all alone on the ocean"--once again, all attention is on Antin!--"and Robinson Crusoe was very real to me." (89) Antin did, in fact, read Robinson Crusoe in translation while a young girl in Polotsk. (90) However, she makes no mention of the literary allusion in her Yiddish letter; rather, this sentence projects backward a literary ideal that Antin had at the time of translating and/or revising the English version of her text. The titular reference serves as a cue, identifying Antin as a well-read young lady, at home in the English literary world. It also, to some extent, positions Antin as a Crusoe-like character--an independent seafarer sailing to a land unknown to her and writing in a confessional style. The reference also leads into one of the most poetic literary passages of the text, which begins, "The ocean spoke to me in other besides mournful or angry tones. I loved even the angry voice, but when it became soothing, I could hear a sweet, gentle accent that reached my soul rather than my ear." (91) The sentence introduces several paragraphs detailing Antin's adoration for the sea and the majesty of the body of water. Though in her Yiddish letter Antin also personifies the sea and has several lovely passages describing the water, she does not devote nearly the same amount of space to the task as she does in From Plotzk to Boston. The English text thereby presents Antin to her philanthropic support network as a fluent English speaker, as a participant in the English-language literary tradition, and as a budding talented writer who is able to talk the talk--in English.
Finally, we must also note that the highly constructed self-fashioning of Antin as a master of English letters stands in sharp contrast to the visibly less-educated author of the Yiddish letter. In the Yiddish letter, we find a young girl writing in the Yiddish dialect of her youth (now referred to as the Northeastern or Lithuanian Yiddish); for example, Antin renders what in standard Yiddish would be shoyn (lit. "already") as sheyn and oygen (lit. "eyes") as eygen. (92) Antin's dialectically inflected spelling is not a commentary on her Yiddish literacy; the effort to standardize Yiddish orthography would not begin for several decades. Rather, what is revealing in Antin's text is her spelling of Yiddish words of Hebraic origin. Although Yiddish is a phonetic language comprising mostly words of Germanic, Slavic, and Hebraic-Aramaic origin, the Hebrew and Aramaic words included in Yiddish are not spelled in accordance with how they would be pronounced. Rather, they are spelled as they appear in Hebrew or Aramaic liturgical, biblical, or exegetical texts. (93) For anyone familiar with the Hebrew texts, spelling these words would not necessarily prove challenging. Despite her brief accounts of Hebrew lessons in The Promised Land, (94) Antin reveals herself to be unfamiliar with standard Hebrew orthography and renders words of Hebraic origin words phonetically. For one of the more simple examples, what should appear as 110 (s.d.r) is rendered [??] (seyder). (95) Such a lack of Hebrew literacy would not be translatable to the English text. After having encountered the idiosyncrasies and misspellings of Antin's Yiddish letter, our attention is drawn to the fluid, grammatically correct prose of From Plotzk to Boston. The latter text is a polished, proofread piece rather than idiosyncratic familial correspondence. It is not a long letter to a beloved uncle written in a local idiom but an exemplar of Antin's facility with English.
FASHIONING PHILANTHROPIC DOUBLES
The message that Antin's migration history is of epic importance and that she, herself, is the precocious, book-loving, English-speaking, and English-writing heroine of that story rings loud and clear in From Plotzk to Boston. It is a message, moreover, in a work tailored for a Jewish-American reading audience and Jewish-American philanthropists. Miss Dillingham may have been the first English reader to receive Antin's tale in translation, but it was Lina Hecht who brought the young Antin to the attention of Philip Cowen; the readers of The American Hebrew, accordingly, were the first wide-scale audience for Antin's writing. These readers likely would have been predominantly middle class and would have had a strong enough Jewish affiliation to read the Zionist-leaning, New York-based magazine affiliated with the Conservative Movement. The Jewish support offered to Antin, both by philanthropists and by the world of Jewish publishing, were not to go unnoticed. A comparison of the Yiddish letter and its English revisions reveals Antin to be manipulating a motif that would have appealed to her supporters--that is to say, Jewish solidarity. According to Antin in From Plotzk to Boston, her migration might have been thwarted by Christian authorities, had Jewish philanthropists not interceded.
In both the Yiddish and English narrative, Antin's family faces a serious obstacle right before reaching the German border. While still in Russia, they are told by non-Jewish German gendarmes that the passports of third class passengers like themselves will no longer grant them entry into Germany; if they desire to continue the journey, they must exchange their tickets for second class tickets at the cost of two hundred rubles. (96) After witnessing the family's many tears, the German gendarme suggests they visit a man by the name of Schidorsky, who might be able to help them, as he and his brother have been known to do. The process of locating Schidorsky occupies several paragraphs in both the Yiddish and English version. In both texts, Antin's mother goes around the train station where they've been let out and asks for directions. In the Yiddish letter, Antin's mother approaches two Jewish drunkards. They quite rudely rebuff her, and she sarcastically calls them "Sons of Mercy." Then, she approaches a Christian woman (kristen) "who immediately showed her the way to S[c]hidorsky's." (97) Antin emphasizes the woman's Christian identity twice, lest the reader forget it, and lest, perhaps, her Jewish family in Russia not believe that such assistance had been offered. Following the Christian woman's instructions, Antin's mother makes her way to Schidorsky's home. Although the reader may take for granted that Schidorsky is a Jew by virtue of his willingness to help Antin, at no point does Antin identify him as such in the Yiddish text.
In the English text, the narrative is significantly different. First, in the train station, Antin's mother approaches "a man, very sour and grumbling--and he was Jew, a 'Son of Mercy." (98) He refuses to tell her where Schidorsky lives. Without any mention of the Christian woman, somehow Antin's mother "[finds] Schidorsky's home at last," and soon after Antin declares him "a Jew, a true 'Son of Mercy." (99) Absent is the Christian woman who showed Antin's mother kindness. Moreover, Antin positions Schidorsky as the double to the "sour and grumbling" Jew, and Schidorsky stands as the "Son of Mercy" whom the Jewish drunkards were only ironically. Accordingly, From Plotzk to Boston may be read along allegorical lines as a text advocating for Jewish philanthropy on behalf of the immigrant Jew. It is up to Jews to help other Jews, the text seems to say, to act like Schidorsky and not the sour and grumbling man in the train station. Christian help, in contrast, is neither to be expected nor highlighted.
As Werner Sollors has pointed out, Schidorsky's Jewish identity would also come to feature curiously in The Promised Land, in which Antin writes, "The Schidorsky brothers were Jews, but it is not on that account that their name has been lovingly remembered for fifteen years in my family." (100) Sollors notes that the "change of language went along with a change in orientation," that is to say, from a text intended for a Jewish audience to one aimed at a non-Jewish reading public. In both From Plotzk to Boston and The Promised Land, Antin manipulates the Jewish identity of the Schidorsky brothers to appeal to her target audience of the moment. Demonstrated is Antin's sense of her audience's receptivity to her narrative, and she is willing to change that narrative to fit her intended readership's expectations. Rather than interpret From Plotzk to Boston as Antin's public disavowal of her Jewish identity, as Antin's future work was to be read, we may read this early text as a public cry for Jewish communal support for the Jewish immigrant. And we may well assume that such a moral would have appealed to those Jewish individuals shepherding Antin into the public eye, such as the Hechts--the philanthropic doubles of the Schidorkys.
FASHIONING HERSELF AMERICAN
The Hechts, importantly, were not just Jewish philanthropists but Jewish American philanthropists. Cowen, moreover, was the editor of The American Hebrew. While Antin clearly appeals to them as Jewish benefactors, she also codes From Plotzk to Boston to respect both halves of the dual Jewish American identity. Specifically, Antin fashions herself a Jewish American patriot even before reaching Boston. In the prefatory statement, Antin qualifies that though the journey took her family far away from her "home" in Polotsk, it brought her family closer to America--the "longed-for haven of reunion; nearer, indeed, to everything that makes life beautiful and gives one an aim and an end--freedom, progress, knowledge, light and truth." (101) Again, by placing these lines in the text's preface, Antin couches the entire immigration narrative as a linear move toward liberty and as a patriotic journey to America.
According to Antin, this move toward America and freedom was of the highest value--even above Jewish ritual observance. The only moment in the text where Antin appears possibly to provoke her Jewish readership is when her immigration to America is contingent on dismissing a Jewish custom. After finally making their way to Hamburg, from which Antin and her family would set sail for America, the Antins are quarantined in one of the prison-like emigration centers run by the Hamburg-America shipping line. (102) They arrive there shortly before the eight-day holiday of Passover, and their departure date is set to correspond with the celebration of the holiday. During Passover, as Antin briefly references, her family would refrain from eating leavened products in accordance with the prescribed Jewish custom and instead would consume the cracker-like matzah for the duration of the holiday. When the call comes that the Antins are to leave the emigration hall, they leave in such a hurry that they forget to take along matzah for the journey. "With only a few minutes before we were to have missed the ship," writes Antin in the Yiddish, "we all remembered that we had not prepared matzah for the trip." (103) The difference between what follows in the Yiddish and English versions is telling. In the Yiddish, the Antins and their traveling mates are pushed by an unnamed, presumably non-Jewish escort employed by the ship company. He yells at the group, shouting, "Go already! The ship will not stay a single extra minute. You had enough time up to now to arrange for matzah. Now it's too late!" In response to him, Antin recounts in her letter, "all of us were frightened by his anger and his doubt that we would make it, so we began to run." (104) Later, a washerwoman from the emigration hall runs to them with the matzah. What is most important, though, is that the group is hurried along by their escort, who is uninterested in the ritual needs of the Jewish passengers.
From Plotzk to Boston presents a different version of the narrative. We learn that there is one elderly Jewish woman who is particularly disturbed by the group's lack of matzah. After the escort threatens that the boat will leave without her group, Antin writes:
We had to decide at once. We looked at the old woman. She said she wasn't going to start on a dangerous journey with such a sin on her soul. Then the children decided. They understood the matter. They cried and begged to follow the party. And we did. Just when we reached the shore, the cook came up panting hard. She brought us matzo. (105)
Rather than the apathetic escort, it is now the children who disregard the old woman and push the group forward. (106) The children take control of the situation and guide their parents' generation through the challenges of immigration. As Werner Sollors has identified, this trope of generational inversion is common to the immigrant narrative; it allows the children rather than the parents to serve as their families' leaders and cultural interpreters, particularly in the land to which the participants immigrate. (107) In From Plotzk to Boston, it is the children who encourage their parents' generation in the heat of the moment to shed Old World rituals--and they do so even before leaving Europe! What remains slightly ambiguous is whether Antin is part of the group of children or the group of adults. By her age, she would appear to be one of the children. Yet the use of the third person they to refer to the children may imply her separation from the group. However, as we have already seen, Antin's text relies on pronominal ambiguities to place herself at the center of the action. In the train car with the Gittelmans, Antin's I becomes she. We may interpret the shift similarly in this rushed scene of departure. Antin, herself a child, allows herself to be ambiguously implicated in the they of the children before returning to the we of the group. She reads herself backward into the heart of the action, assigning herself responsibility for her family's subsequent immigration.
It is possible that Antin's potential involvement in the shirking off of Passover observance may have disturbed the readers of The American Hebrew. Just pages before the scene, Antin informs the reader of the general concern among Jewish residents of the emigration hall in Hamburg as to whether they would be able to keep the dietary rules of Passover while in residence. "Would we be able," asks Antin rhetorically, "to keep [Passover] exactly according to the host of rules to be obeyed?" Antin then turns to the reader and states, "You who know all about the great holiday can understand what the answer meant to us." (108) Clearly, Antin is aware that the observance of Passover would have been a value shared by her readers. And we may well wonder whether her readers would have been impressed by Antin's ostensibly rational decision to forgo ritual observance in pursuit of immigration. We cannot know the answer to the question. However, what is critical is that the single instance in which Antin directly challenges the proclivities of her audience is when the observance of Jewish ritual would come at the cost of emigration. America, the text asserts, is to be valued above all.
Moreover, any analysis of these episodes, whether in the Yiddish or the English text, cannot ignore the clear mapping of Antin's own emigration narrative onto the biblical narrative of Exodus, the name by which Antin would come to label the edited chapter-length version of From Plotzk to Boston at the center of The Promised Land. In the biblical version, the Children of Israel are hurried out of Egypt without time to bake bread, which necessitates the baking of matzah. (109) Here, the Antin family is hurried along and does not even have time to acquire the unleavened substitute. Antin did in fact leave Hamburg on Passover in 1894, and she has clearly not invented the date for rhetorical purposes. Nevertheless, she manipulates her role in her family's Exodus narrative such that she and the other children--the new Children of Israel (in fact, Israel is the name of Antin's father! (110))--become the facilitators of their own and their fellow immigrants' redemption. Recall that in her prefatory remarks to From Plotzk to Boston, Antin couches the subsequent narrative as a journey to "the New World--from tyranny to democracy, from darkness to light, from bondage and persecution to freedom, justice and equality." (111) These words resonate not only with the biblical typologies of American historical and literary discourse but with the liturgy of the Passover Seder. Once again, if her Jewish American readers were to have been uncomfortable with Antin's decision to value immigration over ritual observance, Antin demonstrates to them that her actual journey was the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover injunction that every man must imagine himself as if he had gone forth out of Egypt. (112) Here, Egypt is Europe via Russia, and America is, as Antin would later name it, the Promised Land. Put somewhat differently, Antin remains true to the Exodus narrative at precisely the moment when she abandons Jewish ritual. Both in the Yiddish and the English versions, Antin's family does acquire matzah, but in From Plotzk to Boston the threat of that absence allows Antin to actualize her family's immigration as a modern-day Exodus and position herself and her peers as modern day Moseses.
FASHIONING HERSELF A SAVVY AMERICAN
Antin is decidedly attuned to both halves of the hyphenated identity of her Jewish American readership. We might note here, that in deference to the latter half, Antin also appeals to her audience by asserting her own mastery of the American social landscape. A comparison between the Yiddish letter and English text reveals Antin to have cleverly deleted various statements that point to her lack of familiarity with America. For example, toward the end of the Yiddish letter, Antin chides her uncle for having asked her the "impractical" (113) question "How do you like America?" (114) Antin shies away from passing judgment, for, as she replies, "When a person becomes acquainted with someone, he has no right to give his opinion of him until he gets to know him well.... While I have been in America for so short a time, and the most skillful and smartest person cannot give an opinion of her (America), how can we speak of my opinion?" (115) Antin is no stranger to grandiloquent rhetoric. Yet here she mobilizes that register to admit her own inability to answer her uncle's question. On the one hand, perhaps she means to imply that America is so great that she cannot reply with a simple answer. On the other hand, she could easily offer a few observations, which she refrains from doing.
By contrast, in From Plotzk to Boston, Antin places herself in a position of privilege from which to comment on America. She does this by admitting to how little she knew of America during her immigration process. Antin relates that while in the emigration hall in Hamburg, a young man arrived who had been to America. Antin writes, "He was looked up to by every person there as a superior.... He was wanted everywhere, and he made the best of his greatness by taking liberties and putting on great airs and, I afterwards found, imposing on our ignorance very much." (116) In this passage, Antin conveys her memory of the man through the prism of her experiences in America. Now, she writes as an individual living in America. She no longer believes what the young man told her several years earlier. Rather, as she implies to her American readers, she now knows what America is and what it is not. Not surprisingly, this reflection is absent from the Yiddish, which was written too close to the time of emigration to allow for such privileged reflection.
There is one final episode in the Yiddish letter that Antin omits from her English revision that deserves extended analysis. Once again, this is an episode that comments on Antin's lack of familiarity with America. In From Plotzk to Boston, the narrative concludes with an exclamatory "END" immediately after Antin steps off the ship and embraces her father in Boston." (7) In the Yiddish letter, the narrative continues as Antin's father hires a carriage and brings his family to their new home. While in the carriage, Antin observes her surroundings, as is by now her established habit. She deems only one sight worthy of extended description: "negroes." She writes:
But we observed the negroes (118) with wonder. These are tar black people. Others have a shine of blackness. Their noses are short and wide [extending] to their ears. Their lips are unusually thick and can't cover the two rows of large, yellow teeth. And the longer we wondered, we saw that no one paid attention to the negroes and thought of them as ordinary people when by us, people would pay money just to have one look at these strange creatures (119).
In this passage, Antin distinguishes herself and her fellow immigrants from the other Americans; her "us" is placed in contrast to the presumed "them" of native-born Americans. She also does not seem to understand that the Boston social landscape includes African Americans. She learns, however, that such "strange creatures" are part of the social landscape of Boston and, accordingly, go (un)noticed as they are "ordinary people." As Emily Miller Budick has succinctly stated, "for a significant number of African and Jewish American writers, the other group becomes a vehicle by which to think through their own ethnic identities." (120) Here, we might extend Budick's statement to declare that it is by observing how African Americans are not noticed in Boston that Antin comes to think through her own American identity in-the-making. (121) For my purposes, what is notable is Antin's overt declaration of difference between herself and the members of American society; she and her family "observed the negroes with wonder" while the others around her do not seem to take note. The episode is a rich moment in the formation of Antin's sense of what it means to be American, something she must learn. (122)
There are a variety of reasons why this incident may have been excluded from The American Hebrew, not the least of which might have been Antin's unflattering and racialized description of African Americans. (123) Yet I argue that Antin eliminates this section less out of racial sensitivity and more because it betrays her in a moment when she does not behave as other Bostonians do or, perhaps, when she reads the social signals incorrectly. In other words, was her initial observation about the Boston social landscape incorrect? Were those African Americans whom she saw really considered as "ordinary people," or were they purposefully unacknowledged? Would Antin have come to learn the nature of social discrimination by the time she translated From Plotzk to Boston? And would including the passage have betrayed her naivete rather than confirmed an ideal of America as a land of liberty and equality? The exclusion of this episode merely serves to reinforce the nature of Antin's translation process as one in which she rendered a vision of herself as an author deserving of the full respect and confidence of her readership. To admit material into her text that would disturb her authority as a writer unaware of American normative behavior or social codes would be counterproductive. Moreover, here is an episode that would not have added to Antin's appeal to her Jewish American philanthropic interlocutors.
CONCLUSION: FASHIONING HERSELF MERY ENTIN
The analysis of the shifts between Antin's 1894 Yiddish letter and her 1899 English booklet reveals Antin to be an adolescent on a quest to assert herself as a precocious booldover and as an author who speaks to Americans as an American and in the language of America--English. No longer is Antin an impoverished Russian Jewish youth. No longer does she rely on her siblings for narrative progression. No longer does she play down her authorial skill or her ability to judge her new American surroundings. Rather, the Mary Antin of From Plotzk to Boston is the bolder and more confident double of the young girl who wrote the Yiddish letter. The author of From Plotzk to Boston skillfully crafts a text that deploys her Jewish cultural background and her acquired American savoir to appeal to her literary midwives and philanthropic escorts. Even before The Promised Land, this essay demonstrates, Antin embarked on a series of autobiographical texts in which her persona was a malleable entity.
I wish to conclude here by taking note of a curious feature in this trajectory of Antin's textual self-fashioning that, unlike those features describe above, does not shift in the transformation from Yiddish letter to English booklet to extended autobiography. I refer here to Antin's byline: Mary Antin. In 1912, at the time of the publication of The Promised Land, Antin was a married woman formally known as Mrs. Amadeus W. Grabau. It was under that Germanic name that Theodore Roosevelt and others corresponded with Antin throughout the period. (124) However, her autobiographical best seller appeared with the Anglican byline "Mary Antin," as, in 1899, had From Plotzk to Boston. Recall here that this work was but a minor success. After all, the first three installments of Antin's text appeared in The American Hebrew with both her first name and the name of her hometown misspelled. Polotsk would remain Plotzk; but, beginning with the final installment of the text in The American Hebrew, "Marie" became forever known in English as "Mary Antin." We might surmise here that Antin had a stake in presenting herself to the world, both in 1899 and 1912, as an all-American "Mary." (125) Perhaps surprisingly, we find the same byline in Antin's 1894 Yiddish letter. "Stay healthy, dear family," writes Antin at the end of the text, "as your niece and cousin, I wish you a joyous, happy year. Meri Entin." (126) The signature is the transliteration of Antin's English name. Although writing to her uncle's family, Antin does not sign off using one of the Russian Yiddish appellations by which she had been known in her youth--Maryashe, Mashinke, or Mashke. (127) She distances herself from her former Russian Jewish alter ego and, rather, announces herself as the American Meri Entin.
This signature is important for two reasons. First, it confirms that Antin's byline is an active site of her American self-fashioning. Here, for example, Antin fashions herself American not by writing an extended English narrative but simply by signing her name in Yiddish in English. Second, the signature gestures to a feature of the Yiddish letter that deserves further scholarly attention: While From Plotzk to Boston lacks almost any references to Yiddish turns of phrase, the Yiddish letter includes a variety of English words and terms. In addition to her own name, Antin transliterates such words as babies, grocery store, and school into the Yiddish letter. (128) Sometimes, she does not even translate these English words, thereby asserting her linguistic difference from her Russian Jewish family. Antin's American self-fashioning does not, therefore, occur for the first time in the transition from Yiddish letter to English booklet. Rather, the aspiring English speaker peers out from her Yiddish letter and looks directly into the eyes--or, perhaps, over the heads--of her Yiddish-speaking family in Russia. To understand Antin's lifelong self-fashioning through literature, I would suggest, is to recover her Yiddish writing and to understand that, from the moment she begins to write in Massachusetts in 1894, she adopts an American ego, studs her writing with English phrases, and forces her Yiddish reader to pause at the mere mention of her name. These were to be Antin's authorial trademarks throughout her autobiographical literary career.
THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY
(1.) A number of people have contributed greatly to this project. My thanks to Professor Werner Sollors for bringing Antin's Yiddish writing to my attention and for sharing with me his vast knowledge of Antin's life and literature. My thanks to Professor Ruth Wisse for critiquing early drafts of this paper and providing insight into Northeastern Lithuanian Yiddish. I am grateful to my colleague Ofer Dynes, who worked through sticky passages in Antin's manuscript with me and pushed me to interrogate Antin's autobiographical tone. I also wish to thank Adam Stern for reading countless drafts of this paper and encouraging me to approach Antin's life and authorial choices with pleasure, curiosity, and precision. Finally, I thank the participants of Harvard's Modern Jewish Worlds Graduate Student Workshop for providing a forum to present this work-in-progress and constructive feedback to help me move forward.
(2.) Mary Antin, The Promised Land, North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1912). All subsequent references to The Promised Land, however, refer to the 1997 edition. See Mary Antin, The Promised Land, ed. Werner Sollors, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics (New York: Penguin Books, 1997).
(3.) Much of the discussion surrounding Antin's development in America as well as the features of the ethnic autobiography, in general, have been analyzed along the lines of conversion and rebirth. See, for example, James Craig Holte, "The Representative Voice: Autobiography and Ethnic Experience," Melus 9, no. 2 (1982): 33-35; Michael P. Kramer, "Assimilation in The Promised Land: Mary Antin and the Jewish Origins of the American Self," Prooftexts 18, no. 3 (1998): 137; Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 17, 31-33.
(4.) There were, however, those who expressed particular disdain for it. For example, the American intellectual Barrett Wendell resented Antin's confident self-description as an American. See M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Barrett Wendell and His Letters (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1924), 282. The autobiography was also adopted for the public school system. See Mary Antin, At School in the Promised Land, or The Story of a Little Immigrant, The Riverside Literature Series (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1928). For its history as an American best seller, see Alice Payne Hackett, 70 Years of Bestsellers, 1895-1965 (New York: R. R. Bowker Company, 1967), 108. 110.
(5.) "The Promised Land," The Journal of Education 76, no. 17 (Oct. 31, 1912): 464. This was echoed by the Boston Herald, which saw the involvement of charitable organizations in Antin's Boston youth as evidence that critics of such organizations as the Settlement House were clearly in error. See "The Polite Slummer," Boston Herald (Apr. 1, 1912), Evening edition.
(6.) "Medicine for Anti-Semitism," Life, Jan. 18, 1912, 167.
(7.) I have based this on the multiple clippings found in the collected reviews of and articles on The Promised Land to be found in the Boston Public Library (Ms.XP.11.241.1S Folio), however I have added in the unmarked date for The Evening Sun. For reviews lauding The Promised Land for providing insight into the experience of the immigrant, see The Boston Daily Globe (13 Apr. 1912) and "Books, Authors and Art," The Denver Republican (Apr. 21 1912); for reviews that use The Promised Land to demonstrate the immigrant to be worthy of America, see "The Immigrant's Portion," The Evening Sun (Apr. 1, 1912); and for reviews that use The Promised Land to bespeak a promising future for American, see the Springfield Daily Republican (Jan. 5, 1912).
(8.) For an account Roosevelt's interest, see Mary Antin, Selected Letters of Mary Antin, ed. Evelyn Salz (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000), 69. For correspondence between Roosevelt and Antin, see ibid., 72-73, 15, and 151-52.
(9.) Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (New York: The MacMilllan Company, 1913), 179.
(10.) Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 4.
(11.) See Keren McGinity, "The Real Mary Antin: Woman on a Mission in the Promised Land," American Jewish History 86, no. 3 (1998): 285.
(12.) Alvin H. Rosenfeld, "Inventing the Jew: Notes on Jewish Autobiography," Midstream: A Monthly Jewish Journal 21, no. 4 (Apr. 1975): 54-67. Rosenfeld identifies Antin along with Abraham Cahan as the two originators of the American Jewish autobiography, paying special attention to Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky (1917). Whereas Antin initiated the Jewish type of the liberated, secular intellectual, Cahan initiated the type of "the Jew as reacher, or man of influence" (ibid, 58). In thinking through this comparison, however, it would also be helpful to consider Antin's position as an ethnic writer in Boston as opposed to New York.
(13.) Cohen goes so far as to accuse Antin of performing a "religion-cultural striptease." See Sarah Blacher Cohen, "Mary Antin's The Promised Land: A Breach of Promise," Studies in American Jewish Literature 3, nos. 1-2 (1977): 32; Ludwig Lewisohn, "A Panorama of a Half-Century of American Jewish Literature," Jewish Book Annual 9 (1950-51): 3-4. One should also note here the influential essay by Michael Kramer, in which he argues that the model of assimilation demonstrated by Antin actually serves to "place her in the mainstream of Jewish-American literary history." Rather than reject her Jewishness, as Lewisohn and Blacher Cohen maintain, Antin relates to her Jewishness and fashions an assimilated self, just as did many other Jews of her era. Kramer, "Assimilation in The Promised Land," 124.
(14.) Linda Joyce Brown, The Literature of Immigration and Racial Formation: Becoming White, Becoming Other, Becoming American in the Late Progressive Era (New York: Routledge, 2004), (30).
(15.) Mary V. Dearborn, Pocahontas's Daughters: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Magdalena J. Zaborowska, How We Found America: Reading Gender Through East European Immigrant Narratives (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 44. Dearborn also emphasizes that Antin's gender in connection with her ethnicity contributed to the textual modes of self-presentation that attend her work, such as the mediating devices of a glossary; according to Dearborn, the voices of ethnic women writers, such as Antin, were also frequently mediated by teachers. See Dearborn, Pocahontas's Daughters, 33, 36. An additional intervention in the gendered self-fashioning of Antin can also be seen in the recent work of Betty Bergland, who has investigated the inclusion of photographs in the original publication of The Promised Land. Bergland notes the absence of a photograph of an adult Antin, noting also the general absence of female portraiture in both the photographs of Polotsk and of America. See Betty Bergland, "Rereading Photographs and Narratives in Ethnic Autobiography: Memory and Subjectivity in Mary Antin's 'The Promised Land,'" in Memory, Narrative, and Identity: New Essays in Ethnic American Literature, ed. Amritjit Singh, Joseph T. Skerett Jr., and Robert E. Hogan (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994), 75.
(16.) Hana Wirth-Nesher, Call It English: The Languages of Jewish American Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 57; Steven G. Kellman, The Translingual Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 73; x.
(17.) Wirth-Nesher, Call It English, 57.
(18.) Mary Antin, From Plotzk to Boston (Boston: W. B. Clarke & Co., 1899). Antin's hometown of Polotsk was misspelled in the title of From Plotzk to Boston.
(19.) Antin, The Promised Land, 130-42.
(20.) I have followed Antin's spelling of her uncle's name, which does not record his last name as "Weltmann," which might be expected. See Mary Antin, "Yiddish Letter: Precursor to From Plotzk (Sic) to Boston", 1894, I, Ms.Am. 178, Boston Public Library. All subsequent references to citations from this manuscript will appear as "Yiddish Letter, page #." Note that all page references refer to the original Yiddish manuscript.
(21.) I am indebted to the comparative methodology modeled by Jules Chametzky and Aviva Taubenfeld. Both Chametzky and Taubenfeld take as their subject an English-language version of a Yiddish text by the socialist Yiddish writer and editor Abraham Cahan. Both demonstrate that pressures to appeal to an American, English-language audience determined several of the translation choices and revisions that Cahan made in adapting his Yiddish work into English. See Jules Chametzky, From the Ghetto: The Fiction of Abraham Cahan (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977), chs. 2 and 4; Aviva Taubenfeld, "Only an L': Linguistic Borders and the Immigrant Author in Abraham Cahan's Yekl and Yankel Der Yankee," in Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 144-65.
(22.) The question of Mary's age at the time of immigration has received much attention. The confusion begins in the ship's manifest documenting Mary's arrival. Traveling on the SS Polynesia from Hamburg, Antin landed in Boston on May 9, 1894, accompanied by her mother, Esther, and three siblings. Curiously, the ship's manifest records the presence of two male children: Hirsch Anthin, age eleven, and a Mosche Anthin, age nine. It would seem that the manifest confused the ages of Mary and her brother, and also mistakenly recorded Mary (then called by the Russian "Maryashe" or "Marye," or its attending nicknames, "Mashinke" or "Mashke") as a young boy. Mary's age, however, becomes even more confused based on material included in an unpublished episode in the manuscript of The Promised Land that would later be fictionalized in Antin's 1913 short story "The Lie." In the anecdote removed from her autobiography, Antin recalls her father had registered her in the Boston public school system as two years younger than her actual age of thirteen so that she would have at least three years of compulsory education rather than just one. What's more, in the published version of The Promised Land Antin writes of her failed apprenticeship to a milliner: "This was during our last year in Russia, when I was between twelve and thirteen years of age." However, recently Allan Mazur has convincingly shown that Antin used the story of the lie as a literary trope beginning in 1910, only after having begun to work on The Promised Land. Mazur maintains that Antin was, in fact, born on June 13, 1883, and arrived in Boston at the age of eleven. For the ship's manifest, see "SS Polynesia (Ship Manifest)" (Boston, May 9, 1894), I, National Archive, http://www.immigrantships.net/v12/1800V12/polynesia18940509-01.html#9. For a description of Mary's multiple names and nicknames, see Antin, The Promised Land, 55, 149. For the episode of the lie in the manuscript of The Promised Land, see Mary Antin, "Manuscript of The Promised Land", 1910, 211-12., Ms.H.6.3, Boston Public Library. For Antin's short story, see Mary Antin, "The Lie," The Atlantic Monthly, Aug. 1913. For Mazur's conclusions, see Mlan Mazur, A Romance in Natural History: The Lives and Works of Amadeus Grabau and Mary Antin (Syracuse, NY: Garret, 2004), 139-43. For recollections in The Promised Land of her age, see Autin, The Promised Land, 119.
(23.) Antin, The Promised Land, 132-34.
(24.) Ibid., 132.
(25.) Although the manuscript concludes on page number 68, Antin skips pages 56 through 59, inclusive. As the narrative of her letter flows smoothly from the page numbered 55 to page 60, we may conclude that this was simply an error in numbering rather than a situation of missing pages. Mso, despite its length and the suggestion that the letter may have been one of a series of letters, the archival record suggests that Antin's epistle is a single, linear account of Antin's journey from Polotsk to Boston.
(26.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 24.
(27.) Ibid., 66-67.
(28.) Ibid., 48, 62.
(29.) Ibid., 1, 63.
(30.) Ibid., 67-68.
(31.) Ibid., v.
(32.) Antin's epistolary style, in fact, would be marked by excessively long letters. In a telling exchange with Israel Zangwill, Antin mentions Philip Cowen's frustration with the young girl's habit of writing very long letters; one of her letters to Cowen exceeded forty-eight pages. When her letter to Zangwill appears to be approaching that verbosity, Antin reflects, "But I must be aware of the forty-eight-page mark." See Mary Antin, "Letter to Israel Zangwill (21 Jan. 1900)," in Selected Letters of Mary Antin, ed. Evelyn Salz (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000), 22.
(33.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," II. The account is also reiterated in The Promised Land. See Antin, The Promised Land, 134.
(34.) I recognize that Antin may have introduced additional changes into this copy and thus that it is decidedly possible that this version is slightly different than the version Antin made that was ruined by the kerosene.
(35.) M. C. Sloss, "Mary Antin Letters to Other, 1899 (Letter from Mrs. M.C. Sloss to Mrs. Bender)" (San Francisco, May 5, 1995), Hou. 96M-49, Houghton Library. Antin states that she began the translation two years after the letter, which would have been in 1896. See Antin, "Yiddish Letter," ii.
(36.) Antin, The Promised Land, 134.
(37.) In The Promised Land, Antin writes that Miss Dillingham "became so dear as friend that I can hardly name her with the rest [of the teachers]." Antin, The Promised Land, 165. My emphasis.
(38.) Ibid., 167. For Antin's publication in Primary Education, see Mary Antin, "Snow," Primary Education 3, no. 3 (1895): 91. For Miss Dillingham's recommendation, see M. S. Dillingham, "Letter From a Teacher," Primary Education 3, no. 3 (1895): 91.
(39.) Antin, The Promised Land, 170.
(40.) Ibid., 196.
(41.) Ibid., 165.
(42.) Susan Ebert, "Community and Philanthropy," in The Jews of Boston, ed. Jonathan D. Sarna, Ellen Smith, and Scott-Martin Kosofsky (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press in Association with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, 1995), 223.
(43.) Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), a British-born Jewish playwright and author, is perhaps most famous for the 1909 play 7he Melting Pot: A Drama in Four Acts.
(44.) Sloss, "Mary Antin Letters to Other, 1899 (Letter from Mrs. M. C. Sloss to Mrs. Bender)."
(45.) Plotzk is a transliteration of the name of the Polish town of Hock. See subsequent note.
(46.) In the first three installments of Antin's work in The American Hebrew, Antin's name was misspelled as "Marie." In addition, the entire document was mis-titled From Plotzk to Boston, rather than From Polotsk to Boston, on account of a mistake whereby the Russian town of Polotsk was mistaken for the Polish town of Plotzk. The mistake was picked up by reviews of the book, which also spoke of a second edition of the text that would be produced with the proper spelling. A second edition was published later in 1899 but the spelling error in the title remained the same. See Marie (sic) Antin, "From Plotzk to Boston (part 1)," The American Hebrew, Jan. 13, 1899; Marie (sic) Antin, "From Plotzk to Boston (part 2)," The American Hebrew, Jan. 20, 1899; Marie (sic) Antin, "From Plotzk to Boston (part 3)," The American Hebrew, Jan. 27, 1899; Mary Antin, "From Plotzk to Boston (part 4)," The American Hebrew, Feb. 3, 1899. For recognition of the misspelled name, see Philip Cowen, Memories of an American Jew, The Modern Jewish Experience (New York: Arno Press, 1975), 511. For a review of the book aware of the mistake, see N.A., "From Russia to America," New York Times (New York, May 27, 1899), sec. Book Review.
(47.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," iii.
(48.) For Antin's correspondence with Zangwill, see Antin, Selected Letters of Mary Antin, 5-40.
(49.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, frontispiece, n.p.
(50.) Cowen, Memories of an American Jew, 352.
(51.) Nearly all the reviews that I have been able to locate mention Zangwill and his approval of the text. Many other reviews mention the involvement of the Jewish philanthropic network, in particular the help received by Antin from Lina Hecht of Boston and Philip Cowen of New York. For mentions of Zangwill, see Josephine Lazarus, "'From Plotzk to Boston,'" The Critic 34, no. 862 (Apr. 1899): 317; The Critic, "The Miracles of Antichrist," Current Literature 25, no. 6 (June 1899): 571; "In Boston," New York Times (Feb. 11, 1899); "The Life and Work of Thomas Dudley, the Second Governor of Massachusetts," The Independent 51 (June 1, 1899): 1502; "A Twelve-Year Old Author," New York Times (From The Boston Transcript) (New York, Feb. 18, 1899); George Hamlin Fitch, "Books," San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, Dec. 10, 1899). For mentions of Hecht, Cowen and/or additional outside help received by Antin, see "In Boston"; N.A., "Mary Antin, Zangwill's Prodigy Proteges," Current Literature 25, no. 5 (May 1899): 404; N.A., "From Russia to America"; Fitch, "Books"; "The Lounger," The Critic 34, no. 862 (Apr. 1899): 269.
(52.) Antin, "From Plotzk to Boston (part 4)," 511.
(53.) Israel Zangwill, "Foreword," in From Plotzk to Boston, by Mary Antin (Boston: W. B. Clarke & Co., 1899), 9.
(54.) See, for example, N.A., "From Russia to America"; Fitch, "Books."
(55.) Mary Antin, "Letter to Israel Zangwill (Feb. 5, 1899)," in Selected Letters of Mary Antin, ed. Evelyn Salz (Syracuse, N. Syracuse University Press, 2000), 7. It is clear from this letter that Antin's "friends" refer to Zangwill (Antin signs the letter to him, "your sincere friend"), Lina Hecht ("But the truth," writes Antin, "is that we could not be closer friends"), and the wealthy-Jewish patron and author Josephine Lazarus ("I earnestly hope," writes Antin, "to win her friendship, as she already has mine"). Lazarus would go on to encourage Antin to write her full-length autobiography, The Promised Land. For Lazarus's encouragement, see "Mary Antin and Her Tale of an Immigrant," New York Sun (May 4, 1912).
(56.) He features multiple times in the Yiddish letter. See Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 1, 24, 63, 66.
(57.) Josephine Lazarus reports that Antin wrote the preface having completed the English translation. Lazarus, "'From Plotzk to Boston,'" 317.
(58.) Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trails. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 2.37.
(59.) Ibid., 197. Italics in original.
(60.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, II.
(61.) Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975); Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, esp. 40-65.
(62.) An article from the New York Times dated Aug. 7, 1894, describes the creation of disinfection stations on the Russian-German border by the Hamburg-American Line and the North German Lloyd Steamship company. One station was to be erected in Eydtkuhnen. The Antins experienced what we may assume to be the precursor to these formal, publicized stations. See N.A., "Foreign Steerage Passengers: Their Examination Will Take Place Before They Sail," New York Times (Aug. 7, 1894), 8.
(63.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 22.
(64.) Ibid., 23.
(65.) It is interesting to note here that it is just this pronominal shift that appears of great consequence in The Promised Land. In Aotin's introduction, she described the feeling of having been reborn in American and to "have been made over." She explains, "physically continuity with my earlier self is no disadvantage. I could speak in the third person and not feel that I was masquerading. I can analyze my subject, I can reveal everything; for she and not I, is my real heroine" (italics in original). In From Plotzk to Boston, we begin to see the origin of this shift. Here, however, it is used to assert Antin's centrality in the text rather than her dual identity of a once-Russian but now American individual. Antin, The Promised Land, I.
(66.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 36.
(67.) Ibid., 38.
(68.) Antin similarly reduces Fenye's presence in the story at various points in the text. For example, at their family's first stop in the town of Verzbolovo (now, Virbalis, Lithuania; the spelling here reflects Aaatin's transliteration of the town's name from Yiddish to English), Antin describes how her mother bought the children tea and Antin, along with her siblings, looked around at the train station excitedly. "Fenye, Harry, Ida and I," she writes, "happily looked around the well-kept train station and the large crowd" (Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 5-6.). Presumably Antin's family in Russia would have been interested in the hearing about all the Antin children. In the English, Antin does nor mention her mother feeding them or identify her siblings by name. Rather, Antin looks on jealously from afar at the bustling food counters and writes, "there was such an activity and bustle about everything that I wished I could join in it, it seemed hard to sit still. I had to content myself with looking on with the others (Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, zz.) At this point, the identity of "the others" is obscured; "the others" could refer to her siblings, her family's newly acquired travelling companion, or simply fellow travelers in the station in a similar state of bewilderment. The small switch from named siblings to "the others" once again allows Antin to take center stage in her story and to obscure any additional perspective of her siblings, The erasure of the mother's purchase of food further increases the pathos available for the young, presumably hungry Antin who looks on at the dining passengers in envy.
(69.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 21.
(70). Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 36.
(71) For such reviews, see Ibid. See also "In Boston"; "The Life and Work of Thomas Dudley, the Second Governor of Massachusetts"; "A Twelve-Year-Old Author."
(72.) Zangwill, "Foreword," 8.
(73.) Ibid., 8.
(74.) See, for example, Barbara Miller Solomon, Pioneers in Service: The History of the Associated Jewish Philanthropies of Boston (Boston: Associated Jewish Philanthropies, Inc., 1956), 51.
(75.) Schindler was the author of multiple essays and books concerning such disparate topics as messianism and the ideal history curriculum for the American public school. He also wrote a sequel to Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward and translated Bellamy's text into German. For Schindler's work, see: Edward Bellamy, Ein Ruckblick, trans. Solomon Schindler (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1889); Solomon Schindler, Dissolving Views in the History of Judaism (Boston: Lee and Shepard, I888); Solomon Schindler, Messianic Expectations and Modern Judaism (Boston: S. E. Cassino, 1886); Solomon Schindler, The Study of History in the Public Schools (Boston: Citizens' Public School Union, 1890); Solomon Schindler, Young West; a Sequel to Edward Bellamy's Celebrated Novel, Looking Backward (Boston: Arena Publishing Company, 1894). Unlike the Hechts, Antin also does not appear in Schindler's 1899 Israelites in Boston. See Solomon Schindler, Israelites in Boston: a Tale Describing 7be Development of Judaism in Boston: Preceded by the Jewish Calendar for the Next Decade, Harvard College Library Preservation Digitization Program (C. J. Peters, 1899). For more on Schindler, see Arthur Mann, "Solomon Schindler: Boston Radical," The New England Quarterly 23, no. 4 (1950): 453-76.
(76.) Sloss, "Mary Antin Letters to Other, 1899 (Letter from Mrs. M. C. Sloss to Mrs. Bender)."
(77.) For such reviews, see Tiae Critic, "The Miracles of Antichrist"; Fitch, "Books"; Lazarus, "'From Plotzk to Boston'"; N.A., "From Russia to America"; N.A., "Mary Antin, Zangwill's Prodigy Proteges"; "In Boston"; "Tile Life and Work of Thomas Dudley, the Second Governor of Massachusetts"; "A Twelve-Year-Old Author."
(78.) Mary Antin, "The History of a Snow Crystal", Sept. 12, 1895, 1-2, Ms.Am.197, Boston Public Library.
(79.) Antin, Selected Letters of Mary Antin, 5-18.
(80.) Mary Antin, "My Cuttyhunk Journal, 1899 May 26-30", 1899, The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.
(81.) Cowen, Memories of an American Jew, 351.
(82.) Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, 9.
(83.) Naomi Rebecca Brenner, Authorial Authorial Fictions: Literary and Public Personas in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature. PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley. (Ann Arbor: ProQuest/UMI, 2008). (Publication No. AAT3331524), 15.
(84.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 19. The word droskies, according to the OED, first appeared in English print in 1809. See "Droshky, Drosky," OED Online (Oxford University Press, n.d.), http://www.oed.com.ezp-prodl.hul.harvard.edu/view/Entry/ 579rs?redirectedFrom=drosky. This serves to suggest that the term may not have been perceived as particularly foreign to the readers.
(85.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 18, 20. The transliteration and spacing ("Nemetzk ayah") follows Antin's spelling. Moreover, no version of "isvostchiky" even appears in the Yiddish original; the English text thereby marks her as "Russian," using a word that does not feature in her earlier Yiddish letter. The location "Hospitalnayah Ulitza" also appears to be a Russian phrase that has been modified as to be legible to an English reader ("Hospitalnayah" rather than "Gospitalnayah").
(86.) For references to currency, see ibid., 18, 26, 31, and 50. For reference to the "mujik," see ibid., 23.
(87.) See for example "Minneapolis, Minn.," The American Hebrew 59, no. 5 (June 5, 1896): 142; "Philadelphia Notes," The American Hebrew 49, no. 17 (Aug. 28, 1896): 426.
(88.) For a discussion of Antin's linguistic passing in The Promised Land, see Wirth-Nesher, Call It English, 53.
(89.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 71.
(90). Antin, in fact, makes mention of having read the Defoe text while still a child in Russia. However, she does not reference it in her Yiddish letter, presumably as it would not add to her cultural capital. For reference to Antin's childhood reading material, see Antin, The Promised Land, 124. The Yiddish Robinson Crusoe has received much scholarly attention, due at once to its popularity, its curious Judaization, and its promulgation of maskilic values through translation choices. For a comparison of Yoysef Vitlin's 1820 entitled Robinson digeshikhte fun Alter-Leyb with Defoe's original as well as Joachim Campe's I779/80 reworking of the Defoe, Robinson der Jungere, on which Vitlin's text is based, see Leah Garrett, "The Jewish Robinson Crusoe," Comparative Literature 54, no. 3 (2002): 215-28. Garrett builds on the work of David Roskies. See David G. Roskies, "The Genres of Yiddish Popular Literature 1790-1860," Working Papers in Yiddish and East European Jewish Studies, no. 8 (n.d.): 19-22. For additional work on the Yiddish translation of Robinson Crusoe, see M[eir] Viner, "'Robinzon Af Yidish,'" in Tsu Der Geshikhte Fun Der Yidisher Literatur in 19-tn Yorhundert: Etyudn Un Materialn, 2 vols. (New York: Ikuf Farlag, 1945), x:264-70.
(91.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 71.
(92.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 1, 2. The manifestation of her accent is particularly interesting when we consider a line from The Promised Land that has received extended scholarly attention. I refer here to the passage that begins, "I learned at least to think in English without an accent." Hana Wirth-Nesher has identified this passage as well as Antin's decision to write in a standard Yiddish as demonstrating Antin's attempts at linguistic passing, whereby she would be accepted as an English-speaking American. For the purposes of this exegetical exercise, it is interesting that her Yiddish letter not only reveals Antin's Yiddish past but one that is decidedly inflected by her regional accent. Ibid., 11, 3. For information on this vowel shift in Lithuanian Yiddish, particularly in its appearance in writing, see Max Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language, Vol. 2, ed. Paul Glasser, trans. Shlomo Noble (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press in Cooperation with YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 2008), 368.
(93.) Neil G. Jacobs, Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 48.
(94.) Antin quite disparagingly recounts the educational system that dominated in Polotsk, in which boys were sent to school and "a girl's real schoolroom was her mother's kitchen." As Antin explains, "for a girl it was enough if she could read her prayers in Hebrew, and follow the meaning by the Yiddish translation at the bottom of the page." Yet, as Antin recalls, her father became an advocate for education and sent Antin and her older sister to a local rabbi for lessons. "We were taught," recalls Antin, "to translate as well as read Hebrew, and we had a secular teacher besides. My sister and I were very diligent pupils." Antin, The Promised Land, 29, 62.
(95.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 39.
(96.) Ibid., 8.
(97.) Ibid., 10.
(98.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, (29).
(99.) Ibid., 33.
(100). Antin, The Promised Land, 136; Werner Sollors, "Introduction," in The Promised Land, by Mary Antin (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), xx. Antin, The Promised Land, 136; Werner Sollors, "Introduction," in The Promised Land, by Mary Antin (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), xx.
(101.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 15.
(102). For a contemporaneous account of the emigration halls in Hamburg of Antin's era, see WP Dillingham and United States. Immigration Commission (1907-10), Emigration conditions in Europe, Open Collections Program at Harvard University. Emigration and Immigration. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), 99-102.
(103). Antin, "Yiddish Letter," (42).
(105.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 61-62.
(106.) My emphasis.
(107.) In addition to being a major theme in ethnic American writing, Sollors shows that this motif of generational inversion is evident in Antin's The Promised Land. See W Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, 153, 231.
(108). Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 57.
(109.) Exodus 12:39.
(110.) The precise name of Antin's father, like all of Antin's siblings' names, warrants some investigation. In The Promised Land, Antin narrates the life history of her father, whom she calls Pinchus. The ship record of Mary Antin's journey, however, states that she (here called "Mosche Anthin") is "going to: Smuel Anthin," whom her mother identifies as "my husband, Smuel Anthin." However, the 1910 census identifies the Antin patriarch as "Israel," and it has been the scholarly convention to call him such and to assert that Antin's father changed his name, either to Israel or Israel Pinchus, after immigration--that is to say, Mary becomes a literal daughter of Israel-the-person not simply Israel-the-nation only after coming to America. For just one reference to Pinchus, see Antin, The Promised Land, 38. For references to "Smuel Anthin," see "Manifest of the SS Polynesia." For reference to Antin's entry in the 1910 census, see "United States Census, 1910," index and images, FamilySearch (https:l/familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.11/M223-P8X, accessed 26 Apr. 2012).
(111). Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 12.
(112). My paraphrase. The Hebrew injunction reads: "Be-khol dor va-dor hayav adam lir'ot et 'atsmo ke-ilu hu yatsa mi-mitsrayim [In every generation one is required to see oneself as if he had gone out of Egypt." For just one instantiation of the Hebrew text and accompanying English translation, see Joseph Tabory, JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduciton, Translation and Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), 100.
(113.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 67.
(114.) Ibid., 66.
(115.) Ibid., 67.
(116.) Antin, From Plotzk to Boston, 55-56.
(117.) Ibid., 80. This is likely the precursor to the "bold 'Finis'" with which Antin proposes to conclude The Promised Land, which does not appear in the published version. Antin, The Promised Land, 3.
(118.) The term used by Antin could be translated as either "negroes" or its more pejorative double. The difference is a function of the second letter of Antin's term, either a yud or an 'ayin. However, Antin frequently uses these letters interchangeably. Therefore, in spite of the fact that she uses a yud, which might suggest the racial slur, I am unable to say authoritatively which term she is using.
(119.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 66.
(120.) Emily Miller Budick, Blacks and Jews in Literary Conversation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), I.
(121.) For a cultural and literary history of the categorization of Jews along racial lines in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, see Emily Miller Budick, Blacks and Jews in Literary Conversation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), I. See also Matthew Frye Jacobsen, Whiteness of a Different Color." European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
(122.) The subject of Antin's general depiction of African-Americans has recently been featured in the work of Werner Sollors, who comments on an episode in The Promised Land that features an African-American at its center. He points readers to that episode in Antin's youth when a "great, hulky colored boy" is arrested, brought to court, and sentenced to one night in jail after, in Antin's own words, "treating me roughly." For Antin, the episode is a firsthand experience of "the way in which justice was actually administered in the United States." As Sollors writes, "It is remarkable that Antin did not stop here to imagine any possible analogies between the role of Jews in the Pale and of blacks in turn-of-the-century America." However, as Antin's comments in her Yiddish letter perhaps suggest, such a comparison may not have existed in her mind. For Antin, it is precisely the nonrecognition of racial difference that she understands to constitute American behavior. I do not mean to suggest that Antin did not participate in racially determined social structures or discourse--her Cuttyhunk Journal of 1899 demonstrates that she did just that. Rather, l mean to highlight that Antin's first lesson on what it meant to be an American was mediated by the perception of African-American racial difference as inconsequential to their status as Americans. For the episode in The Promised Land, see Hasia Diner, In the Almost Promised Land, Contributions in American History 59 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, I977), esp. ch. I. For Sollors's comments on the episode, see Sollors, "Introduction," xxx xxxi. See also Werner Sollors, Ethnic Modernism, 1st ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 71. For Anrin's comments on Native Americans in her Cuttyhunk Journal, see Antin, "My Cuttyhunk Journal, 1899 May 26-30," 21-22, 24, 30. The journal contains an intriguing account of Antin's encounter with a Native American Christian man who asks after Mary's religion and, in her opinion, tries to convert her to Christianity.
(123.) On the other hand, we might posit that including the episode could have offered Antin a chance to position herself as white, something scholars have noted that she does in The Promised Land and something of concern in Antin's 1899 My Cuttyhunk Journal, where she differentiates herself from Native Americans. See n14 above. See also ibid., 21-22, 24.
(124.) For just one example, see Theodore Roosevelt, "Letter to Mrs. Grabau (Apr. 29, 1913)," in Selected Letters of Mary Antin, ed. Evelyn Salz (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000), 151.
(125.) The name was the most popular name for baby girls born in America throughout the 1890s and 1910s. See "Top Names of the 1890s," The Official Website of the U.S. Social Security Administration, n.d., http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/ names1890s.html; "Top Names of the 1910S," The Official Website of the U.S. Social Security Administration, n.d., http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/ names1910s.html. Note that Antin originally wished for a more "strange-sounding American name," as she notes in The Promised Land; however, I argue here that it is precisely the normative attribute of the name (no less than its Christological resonances) that serve to identify Antin squarely as American. See Antin, The Promised Land, 150.
(126.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 68.
(127.) Antin, The Promised Land, 249.
(128.) Antin, "Yiddish Letter," 49, 66, 67.
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|Publication:||Studies in American Jewish Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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