American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century

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Overview

In the early twentieth century, an exuberant brand of gifted men and women moved to New York City, not to get rich but to participate in a cultural revolution. For them, the city's immigrant neighborhoods--home to art, poetry, cafes, and cabarets in the European tradition--provided a place where the fancies and forms of a new America could be tested. Some called themselves Bohemians, some members of the avant-garde, but all took pleasure in the exotic, new, and forbidden.

In American Moderns, Christine Stansell tells the story of the most famous of these neighborhoods, Greenwich Village, which--thanks to cultural icons such as Eugene O'Neill, Isadora Duncan, and Emma Goldman--became a symbol of social and intellectual freedom. Stansell eloquently explains how the mixing of old and new worlds, politics and art, and radicalism and commerce so characteristic of New York shaped the modern American urban scene. American Moderns is both an examination and a celebration of a way of life that's been nearly forgotten.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
Stansell frames her book around three activities: talking, writing and loving. She compels readers to appreciate what was shockingly new in each activity—no small feat, since we now take (nearly) for granted the unfettered speech, print and sex that these early radicals found so daring.
— Patricia Cline Cohen
Nation
[American Moderns] is about the creation of a new life in early-twentieth-century New York. . . . Stansell's book is a triumph.
— Eunice Lipton
Village Voice
[Stansell's] history of Greenwich Village between 1890 and 1920 never forgets that people who defy political convention and people who defy artistic convention gravitate toward each other whatever their differences.
American Studies Today
Stansell's book will certainly appeal to all those wishing to know more about radical politics in America, and its relationship with art and domestic life.
— Richard Martin
New York Times - Patricia Cline Cohen
Stansell frames her book around three activities: talking, writing and loving. She compels readers to appreciate what was shockingly new in each activity—no small feat, since we now take (nearly) for granted the unfettered speech, print and sex that these early radicals found so daring.
Nation - Eunice Lipton
[American Moderns] is about the creation of a new life in early-twentieth-century New York. . . . Stansell's book is a triumph.
American Studies Today - Richard Martin
Stansell's book will certainly appeal to all those wishing to know more about radical politics in America, and its relationship with art and domestic life.
From the Publisher

"Stansell frames her book around three activities: talking, writing and loving. She compels readers to appreciate what was shockingly new in each activity--no small feat, since we now take (nearly) for granted the unfettered speech, print and sex that these early radicals found so daring."--Patricia Cline Cohen, New York Times

"[American Moderns] is about the creation of a new life in early-twentieth-century New York. . . . Stansell's book is a triumph."--Eunice Lipton, Nation

"[Stansell's] history of Greenwich Village between 1890 and 1920 never forgets that people who defy political convention and people who defy artistic convention gravitate toward each other whatever their differences."--Village Voice

"Stansell's book will certainly appeal to all those wishing to know more about radical politics in America, and its relationship with art and domestic life."--Richard Martin, American Studies Today

New York Times
Stansell frames her book around three activities: talking, writing and loving. She compels readers to appreciate what was shockingly new in each activity—no small feat, since we now take (nearly) for granted the unfettered speech, print and sex that these early radicals found so daring.
— Patricia Cline Cohen
Nation
[American Moderns] is about the creation of a new life in early-twentieth-century New York. . . . Stansell's book is a triumph.
— Eunice Lipton
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
They were novelists, artists' models, secretaries and chess whizzes; their ranks included Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Margaret Sanger and John Reed. A few were wealthy, many were poor, and they gathered in shabby saloons to argue about free love and Nietzsche as they plowed through mounds of spaghetti, brisket and bratwurst. In her latest book, Princeton historian Stansell (City of Women) examines the politics and cultural impact of the turn-of-the-20th-century American "bohemia." Combining newly imported European political awareness (Stansell says refugees from the 1905-1907 Russian Revolution arrived with "their saber wounds still festering") with institutionally guaranteed free speech, these New York radicals were much more open to the inclusion of Jews and women than their Old World counterparts. And even though they generally ignored black aspirations, Stansell argues that the bohemians created "the first full-bodied alternative to an established cultural elite," which undermined "the smug faith that culture was the domain of the well-born and tasteful" and dug "channels between high and low culture, outsiders and insiders." By so doing--despite their racial blinders--they made possible the cultural course of much of the 20th century: pioneering feminist ideas, helping to make New York the cultural capital of the nation and laying the groundwork for the African-American crossover that took place during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. If Stansell's grasshopperish prose occasionally jumps from one topic to another, it's only because her thorough and engaging study abounds with the superabundant energy it describes. B&w photos. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
A Princeton historian on how Greenwich Village became Greenwich Village. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Linfield
In American Moderns, Christine Stansell beautifully and lucidly introduces us to the moral, political and artistic capaciousness of the New York bohemians...a lively, lyrical new book...
The New York Observer
The New Yorker
What Villagers did, mostly, was talk; Stansell captures the tone and texture of their conversation—so exuberant that its traces can be felt to this day.
Eunice Lipton
Stansell's book is a triumph. It is fun to read. It entirely remaps familiar terrain because of her feminism and sincere appreciation of difference.
The Nation
Robert Taylor
Stansell's vibrant cultural history…has captured the audacity of those who made New York the capital of modernity.
The Boston Globe
Cohen
It sparkles with keen insights on nearly every page. It strives to ascend to the literary heights of its subjects and for the most part it succeeds...an artfully fashioned book, by turns elegant and breezy...'American Moderns is a pleasure to read
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142838
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/16/2009
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Christine Stansell is the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in United States History at the University of Chicago. She is also the author of "City of Women: Sex and Class in New York City, 1789-1860", and her essays and reviews appear regularly in the "New Republic".
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Table of Contents

Preface to the 2009 Edition ix

Prologue 1

I Bohemia

1 Bohemian Beginnings in the 1890s 11

2 Journeys to Bohemia 40

II Talking

3 Intellectuals, Conversational Politics, and Free Speech 73

4 Emma Goldman and the Modern Public 120

III Writing

5 Art and Life: Modernity and Literary Sensibilities 147

6 Writer Friends: Literary Friendships and the Romance of Partisanship 178

IV The Human Sex

7 Sexual Modernism 225

8 Talking about Sex 273

V Former People

9 Loving America with Open Eyes 311

Notes 339

Acknowledgment 405

Index 407

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