EMMA LAZARUS IN HER WORLD by Bette Roth Young

EMMA LAZARUS IN HER WORLD

Life and Letters
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A short biographical corrective regarding the Jewish- American folk hero, and some previously unpublished correspondence, both disappointingly slight. In the first third of this volume, Ohio-based critic Young attempts to revise the myth of Emma Lazarus (18491887), who penned ``The New Colossus'' in celebration of the Statue of Liberty. The author claims that Lazarus was not introverted and somber, as her sister Josephine described her soon after her death, but in fact a vibrant and social woman. Young successfully discredits some of Lazarus's previous biographers, including the one who in 1938 wrote that while passing the Statue of Liberty during her final illness Lazarus was ``too weak'' to notice the plaque on which her poem was inscribed--the plaque was not placed there until 1903, 16 years after the poet's death. The author is also convincing when she portrays Lazarus as a conflicted personality: a defender of the Jews who derided European Jewry; a 19th-century woman who insisted, ``I am not & improbable as it sounds, I don't want to be [engaged].'' The text, however, does not satisfactorily address these conflicts, and Young's interpretations of Lazarus's work are plodding. Lazarus's letters, which comprise the bulk of the book, are more interesting, though they too raise more questions than they answer. Correspondents include Helena deKay Gilder, wife of Century editor Richard Watson Gilder; Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop; E.R.A. Seligman, son of the prominent Jewish banker Joseph Seligman; and Henry James. Unfortunately, all the correspondence is one-sided (from Lazarus to her friends, except in the case of James), which makes it difficult to gauge the relationships in full. Instructive, but by no means the final word on the subject.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8276-0516-1
Page count: 384pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995