LOVE IN THE PROMISED LAND: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey by Mary V. Dearborn

LOVE IN THE PROMISED LAND: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey

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An engaging account of arrange-but-true love between two early 20th-century American literary lights. Dearborn (Pocohantas's Daughters: Gender and Ethnicity in American Culture, 1985) of Columbia Univ. brings strong narrative instincts and a delicate feminist touch to this profile of the short but smoldering affair between Polish immigrant-turned-novelist Yezierska and renowned educator/philosopher Dewey. The two met in 1917 when Yezierska, struggling to escape N.Y.'s Lower East Side ghetto, approached Dewey about gaining a teaching position. The 58-year-old husband, father, and distinguished radical reformer was immediately smitten. ""The ice of his New England heart,"" as Yezierska put it, melted at the plight of the fiery Russian Jewess whose stories about industrial life convinced him to encourage her literary career. It also unlocked his own pent-up emotionalism, which poured forth into a series of love poems (published in 1977). Through these, and Yezierska's own autobiographical novels, Dearborn acutely reads the psychological roots and effects of their affair. The ""promised land"" of the title was Dewey's own poetic phrase for what both lovers saw as an important symbolic union between immigrant and native sensibilities--a union that collapsed when Dewey succumbed to what Dearborn critically calls ""tragic emotional cowardice."" Embittered, Yezierska left for Hollywood and later caricatured her former lover in her novels; Dewey returned to his ""pragmatic"" philosophy and the safety of married life. Ironically, notes Dearborn, the once-obscure Yezierska has undergone a critical revival of late, while Dewey is presently under attack by conservatives for his educational doctrines. All the more reason this fascinating book is well worth the reading.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1988
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan