Friday, June 30, 2017

Marcia Freedman papers

The Marcia Freedman papers represent a fascinating addition to the growing Jewish Feminist Collections at Brandeis University. Recently acquired, processed, and now available in the University’s Special Collections, the collection consists of approximately 2.75 linear feet of materials pertaining to Freedman’s life and work as an American-Israeli activist and feminist. While the collection materials range in date from 1968 to 2016, the bulk of the materials relate to Freedman’s time spent in Israel during the 1970s, as well as her return there in the late 1990s.

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1938, Freedman earned a BA from Bennington College and an MA from the City College of New York.(1) In 1967, while pursuing a PhD in philosophy, she moved with her family to Israel, just after the Six-Day War. In the early 1970s, Freedman taught philosophy at Haifa University and a course on women in western philosophy at Oranim College. After a brief return to the United States in 1971, she brought her burgeoning interest in and experience with American feminism to Israel.(2)

As one of the leaders of the feminist movement in Israel, and as the first openly gay person elected to the Knesset (Israel’s national legislature), Freedman fought many uphill battles advocating for women’s rights at a time when men in the Knesset did not take women or women’s issues seriously. During her tenure in the Knesset from 1973 to 1977, Freedman worked tirelessly to bring feminist consciousness to the forefront of Israel’s parliament. Among her many accomplishments, she worked to reform Israel’s restrictive abortion laws, she opened the first battered women’s shelter in Israel, and she co-founded the (now-defunct) Women’s Party. In 1981, Freedman returned to the United States where she continued to raise awareness of Israel and feminist issues. Between 1997 to 2002, she embarked on another series of extended stays in Israel, after which she became the founding president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the American Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. This collection follows these different stages of the life and work of an important figure in Jewish feminist history. A wide range of materials is represented in her papers, including newspaper clippings, lecture notes, research files, correspondence, writings by Freedman (of personal, scholarly, and activist nature), and several incomplete (yet intriguing!) manuscripts and typescripts.

Among the many highlights of this amazing collection are the numerous notes, letters, and telegrams Freedman received upon her election to the Knesset in 1973 as a member of the nascent Citizens’ Rights Movement--words of praise and congratulations for her breaking of the gender barrier in Israel’s historically patriarchal government body. As well, there is a series of newspaper clippings related to Freedman’s involvement in the founding of the Jewish feminist movement in Israel, her work as a member of the Knesset, and her role as a co-founder of the Women’s Party (1977) in Israel. Also included in this collection are myriad reviews of her memoir Exile in the Promised Land – these are well worth a read as the book seems to have had quite the impact on its readers.

In addition, the collection contains Freedman’s thoughtfully organized typewritten email correspondence about the political climate and women’s peace movement in Israel from 1997 to 2002; her personal journal with commentaries on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jewish feminism; and more than 20 years of transcribed conversations with her support/discussion group for aging women, the Wandering Menstruals. In reading through the many articles and papers Freedman wrote on sexism, feminism, Israel, philosophy, and other topics, researchers can easily gain a better understanding of the evolution and development of Freedman’s feminist and activist ideology, from its earliest stages through her active political career and beyond.

Among some of the other interesting materials in this collection is an incomplete typescript of a play Freedman was developing called “Cybele”, which seems to have been written with a contemporary, humorous feminist perspective on the topic of Cybele, the Anatolian mother of the Gods. Included as well are incomplete manuscripts Freedman wrote on various topics, including a book about her time in Israel from 1997 to 2002; a book entitled The Lady of the Wild Things: A Study in Religion, Sex and Power; and one entitled “Shiva,” which includes notes and comments by Esther Broner. Though these are incomplete, their contents nevertheless shed light on the roles that Judaism, feminism, peace, and Israel have played in Freedman’s life and work.

There are, of course, many other materials in the Marcia Freedman papers which are not mentioned in detail here, including research files from her many speaking engagements in the early 2000s, information about the organization for which she served as founding president, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and numerous audiovisual and born-digital materials. Needless to say, this collection is but a small testament to the trailblazing life and career of an American-Isreaeli Jewish feminist and activist named Marcia Freedman.
Come to Brandeis University’s Department of Archives & Special Collections to learn more about Marcia Freedman and our growing Jewish Feminist Collections.


For more details, the collection finding aid can be accessed here.

description by Jeff Hayes, MLIS candidate at the University of Alabama and Archives & Special Collections intern.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trimalchio (or, The Great Gatsby)

In June 1922, F Scott Fitzgerald sent a brief letter to his editor: “When I send on this last bunch of stories I may start my novel. . .Its locale will be the middle west and New York of 1885 I think. It will concern less superlative beauties than I run to usually + will be centered on a smaller period of time. It will have a catholic element. I am not quite sure whether I’m ready to start it quite yet or not. I’ll write next week + tell you more definite plans.” Though perhaps not recognizable as such at this early stage of development, this is the first mention by Fitzgerald of his plan for the novel that would become his magnum opus [or take this phrase out altogether] The Great Gatsby.

In the canon of American Literature, The Great Gatsby often holds the honor of being considered the front contender for the title of the “Great American Novel.” Interestingly enough, however, this praise took decades to earn, and was something Fitzgerald himself sought tirelessly and unsuccessfully throughout the last two decades of his life. Among the rare book holdings of Brandeis’s Special Collections is a numbered facsimile of the first galley proofs of this book--known at the moment of its printing as “Trimalchio.” Though the originals sold at auction in 1971, in reality they are priceless because they comprise the only extant pre-publication version of the novel.

Sadly, aside from a hastily scribbled-over title change, there are no editorial notes on the pages. However, the layout and characterizations of Trimalchio differ greatly from the final novel, and therefore provide insight into one of the great, if not the greatest, American novels. This version of the book, from its early title to its preliminary layout (which differs quite a bit from the now-beloved published version) offers researchers a special view into Fitzgerald’s original intentions for the novel, and reflects his well-documented anxieties regarding its development and publication.

At its heart, the novel is about the rebound effects of the American Dream; a cynical, if not satirical, portrait of America at the height of the roaring 20’s. The protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is a self-made millionaire fighting to earn a place not only beside his debutante love Daisy Buchanan, but also alongside the upper-crust members of early 20th-century high society.

Though few critics would dare to call The Great Gatsby directly autobiographical, it is clear that it is perhaps one of the most meaningful to the author in terms of direct personal engagement, and was intended to be the culmination of semi-autobiographical themes he had explored in numerous previously published short stories and novels. The novel that Trimalchio became seems to mirror several of Fitzgerald’s struggles: to prove himself worthy of a wealthy woman, his lifelong effort to make something of himself, and his anxieties of failing to accomplish his dreams. Similarly, the Trimalchio proof seems to reflect the particular tensions and pressures Fitzgerald faced at the time of its writing: though he began the novel in the summer of 1923, he set it aside following the failure of his play The Vegetable in order to pay off his debts by quickly publishing a number of short stories. Furthermore, the relationship of Daisy and Gatsby can be said to parallel the path of Fitzgerald’s own marriage. In fact, snippets of Daisy’s dialogue are directly from Zelda. Daisy’s oft-quoted hope that her daughter would be a “beautiful little fool--that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world” were words spoken by Zelda in an anesthesia haze after giving birth to their only child – a daughter.

The most obvious and interesting difference between this proof and the final published work is the title. Fitzgerald cycled through several titles, including “Under the Red, White, and Blue,” “Among the Ash-Heaps and Millionaires,” “Gold-Hatted Gatsby,” and “Trimalchio in West Egg.” Often, he would set aside one title at the encouragement of friends and peers, just to return to it again later. It is important to note, however, that Fitzgerald seems to have favored some iteration on “Trimalchio” in most drafts, and with good reason.

Trimalchio, known well to Classics scholars, is a character from the work of Latin satirist Petronius. This text, Satyricon, follows the fictional journey of a traveling rhetoric teacher and his companion Giton. Satyricon is considered to be one of the earliest works of deliberate fiction, and is studied as a chronicle of attitudes and perceptions toward lower-class citizens of the Roman Empire. One of the work’s most famous sections describes the mishaps of a gaudy and crude party thrown by a former slave named Trimalchio, a man who embodies the “new money” archetype in every way. Trimalchio is boorish and rude, brightly gilded but lacking manners, substance, or even polity. Every aspect of his new existence is carefully chosen to reinforce his new status, and suggest an air of desperation to prove his place in proper society. His full name—Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus—implies a link to both Pompey and Maecenas, famous figures in the late years of the Roman Republic, and while no one seems to be sure precisely how he made his vast and sudden wealth, they know at the very least it was in dishonest or distasteful ways.

Trimalchio is introduced as the host of a party in his villa, where he provides his guests a lavish but debauched experience. The revelers, largely fellow freedmen, marvel at his luxurious home and possessions and enjoy rich food, drink, and entertainment, all the while descending into increased drunkenness. Throughout the celebration Trimalchio attempts to impress his guests with symbols of his status and ubiquitous wealth, including repeated references to his lavish plans for his tomb. Indeed, the party culminates when Trimalchio’s obnoxious showiness prompts him to act out his own mock funeral for the amusement of his guests and his own reassurance.

The connection of title character Jay Gatsby to Trimalchio is clear. Gatsby is a former nobody who can suddenly claim great wealth by uncertain means, a figure of gossip and speculation trusted by no one, whose wealth is taken advantage of by everyone. Much like Trimalchio’s miscalculated fete, and despite, or perhaps because of, his best intentions, Gatsby’s parties do not represent wealth and status so much as corruption and excess. The nouveau riche and corrupted old money alike consume these parties decadently, partaking in the free-flowing drink, food, and jazz music. Their excessiveness suggests an underlying crudeness lacking in those securely born into wealth and status - a theme that underwrites the main tension of the novel.

Fitzgerald seems to have greatly enjoyed the “Trimalchio” title, and felt that it represented best the ideology and paradoxical “innocent corruption” the character of Gatsby was meant to embody. Unfortunately, the “Trimalchio”-based titles were ultimately forced into rejection by his publishers based on their belief that the American public could neither pronounce the name nor understand the reference.

Among the other changes from the Trimalchio proof to the published Gatsby is a less complete failure of Gatsby’s dream: his relationship with his father appears more friendly and communicative, and is associate Meyer Wolfsheim appears to have a genuine fondness for Gatsby and regret over his death, rather than the character serving as a mere shadow figure who used Gatsby as a tool and scavenged his estate for profit. As well, his argument with his rival Tom Buchanan is more even and less awkward for Gatsby, and the chain of events leading to the pivotal death of Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson is far more ambiguous in terms of who was responsible for the accident. In general, careful readers will find subtle shifts in the dialogue and plot which provide new perspectives and insight into well-tread events and familiar characters.

Sadly, even after settling on a title and plot, The Great Gatsby proved to be a nagging anxiety for Fitzgerald and was accompanied by unrest in both his personal and professional life. Fitzgerald’s moderate literary success, for example, proved a stress in his marriage. His wife Zelda, from a wealthy and influential family, had married him on condition that he could support her and her lifestyle. On a writer’s income, this proved near impossible. Much of the positive reviews of Gatsby at the time of its publication came from personal communications from writer and critics friends to whom he had he sent copies, seeking legitimate praise and approval. Yet, even with their encouraging remarks, he never seemed quite satisfied. At the time of its publication, the novel was deemed an overwrought mess, irrelevant, and gaudy. Many critics panned it, and it was considered a mediocre commercial success at best. The value of the novel was proven only after it could be read objectively in separation from the age which produced it, by which point the Great Depression and the Second World War had sobered America and the country felt a paradoxical coexistence of nostalgia and disdain for Gatsby’s era.

Within the past two years, Cambridge University Press has released an edited copy of this proof, titled Trimalchio: An Early Version of the Great Gatsby. Though this mass-produced version is far easier on the eyes to read, Fitzgerald fans, biographers, and literary critics and scholars might find that the opportunity to see the text as Fitzgerald and his publishers would have read it, crooked, with ink block smudges and typos rampant, holds a unique charm. In addition, this limited release contains an afterword by literary scholar and professor, Matthew J. Bruccoli, which provides a wealth of insight into the creative process and agonies of writing The Great Gatsby, as well as the biographical events of Fitzgerald’s life and death which helped shaped the beloved novel as it is known today. Though Brandeis’ galley proofs are clean copy (they do not have any handwritten edits), they nonetheless contain interesting information and, when compared to the final form of the Gatsby so cherished today, lift the veil on the publishing and editorial process of a novel that has inspired generations of writers, filmmakers, and dreamers.

description by Katie Graff, MA student in Classical Studies and Archives & Special Collections assistant.