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Emma Lazarus (Jewish Encounters Series) Hardcover – September 5, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Emma Lazarus's reputation rests on one poem, "The New Colossus," affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus (1849–1887), however, was a much heralded artist in her day, and, as this new entry in the Jewish Encounters series shows, Lazarus was a formidable woman of passion and integrity. Poet Schor (a professor of English at Princeton) reveals Lazarus as a prodigy who briefly became the protégé of Ralph Waldo Emerson and later corresponded with Henry James and Robert Browning; a champion of Russian Jewish refugees, despite being a member of the highly assimilated Sephardic aristocracy ; and a Zionist before Zionism existed. In Schor's handling, Lazarus comes across more as a strong-willed, philanthropic woman who could write than as an artist driven to activism. Schor's text is marred by a couple of anachronisms, such as a reference to Google, and her prose can turn purple (she describes the morning of Lazarus's death as "sunless, strung with cloudy pearls"). For all that, while readers may not embrace Lazarus's poetry—it bears all the ponderous, orotund tendencies of its time—they will come to agree with Schor's assessment that Lazarus was a woman we might have liked to know. (Sept. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Writing with great enthusiasm, Schor confirms that the author of "The New Colossus," the sonnet ensconced in the base of the Statue of Liberty, was no one-hit wonder. Until the 1930s, "The Banner of the Jew," a rallying song for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was her best-known composition. Lazarus (1849-87) was also controversially famous for the prose "Epistle to the Hebrews," expounding her ideas about Jewish identity as well as Palestine. Spurred by the crisis of the pogroms following Czar Alexander II's 1881 assassination, Lazarus set aside the gentility of her wealthy upbringing to advocate for the thousands of Jews whose flight for life left them destitute in New York. Her encounters with shtetl refugees and her trust in American freedom confirmed her belief that Judaism should be secular and universal, committed to justice, freedom, and revolution. She anticipated Zionism and, as a radical who didn't embrace socialism, much of non-Marxist Jewish politics. Moreover, Schor argues with engrossing persuasiveness, she "invented the role of the American Jewish writer." Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; First Edition edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242164
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With the words of the title of this review, Esther Schor introduces the reader to Emma Lazarus (1849 -1887)in her newly-published biography of this late-nineteenth Century American poet, essayist, novelist, critic, and social activist for newly-arrived immigrants. Schor is Professor of English at Princeton University, a poet in her own right, and the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Her biography of Emma Lazarus is part of a series of books called "Jewish Encounters" edited by Jonathan Rosen and "devoted to the promotion of Jewish literature, culture, and ideas."

Emma Lazarus is known to most readers only as the author of the sonnet "The New Colossus" which ultimately achieved iconic status with its inscription on the Statue of Liberty. But there is much more to Emma Lazarus than this great poem, as Schor convincingly demonstrates.Schor writes in an accessible, colloquial style that shows great affection and understanding for Lazarus. Although Schor's book includes a substantial amount of analysis of Lazarus's literary work, the focus of the book lies in bringing Emma Lazarus herself to life. Schor's biography, while not constituting the last word on Emma Lazarus, fulfills its goal of showing why Lazarus is worth knowing. Even with this book, and other studies of Emma Lazarus, she remains a complex and elusive figure.

Lazarus was born to an assimilated family of wealthy New York Jews who had lived in the United States for at least four generations. Lazarus received an outstanding private education and became known as a prodigy when her first volume of poems, written between the ages of 14 and 16 was published by her father.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Edward on October 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A worthwhile biography by a scholar who blends critical insight with sheer enthusiasm in a very appealing manner. By the late 1870s and 1880s, Browning, Whitman, Henry James, Emerson (the latter two among her many ardent correspondents) and many others had all praised Emma Lazarus's groundbreaking translations of Heine as well as her own verse that appeared in Lippincott's and the Century. But she was fated to be memorialized exclusively for "The New Colossus," her great paean to American largesse, and by Jewish Americans for the few years of poetry, essays and political activity dedicated to their cause. Representative of this trend, Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) would celebrate her as "the most distinguished literary figure produced by American Jewry and possibly the most eminent poet among Jews since Heine and Judah Loeb Gordon." Certainly as far as Jewish women of Szold's generation are concerned, Lazarus demonstrated previously unimagined ways of intervening in American public culture. Nevertheless, her achievements have been largely forgotten; among late twentieth century scholars, Lazarus's contribution to Jewish-American history has been condescendingly noted at best. Though Lazarus played a significant proto-Zionist role, she is even ignored in major studies of American Zionism. And yet to fully understand the unusual literary and polemical pedigree of American Zionism, one must begin with a careful consideration of Lazarus's assimilationist strategies--and an acknowledgement of her cultural force.Read more ›
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John P Bernat on October 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Esther Schor has done us all a great favor by her exploration of a "forgotten" figure in American history.

We all know the poem at the Statue of Liberty - certainly the last lines of it. And yet very few people know who wrote it, or what its historical context was. As is the case with many deeply ingrained elements of culture, this poem is assumed to emerged whole from a member of our citizen community.

We learn here that Emma was a very, very remarkable woman. Long before women in American had anything approaching "equal rights," she asserted herself into many political dialogues and won recognition for the intellectual strength of women in America.

Her life is instructive to us all - I learned a lot from this book, which is engagingly written and a real exploration of a vital element of our national culture. It's especially poignant in the current political debate about restricting immigration from Mexico...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Emma Lazarus has now become my newest heroine, thanks to this book. Worth reading and contemplating the marvelous person, Emma Lazarus.

Cheryl Rives
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