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Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

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by Esther Schor

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Part of the Jewish Encounter series

Emma Lazarus’s most famous poem gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty, but her remarkable life has remained a mystery until now. She was a woman so far ahead of her time that we are still scrambling to catch up with her–a feminist, a Zionist, and an internationally famous Jewish American writer before


Part of the Jewish Encounter series

Emma Lazarus’s most famous poem gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty, but her remarkable life has remained a mystery until now. She was a woman so far ahead of her time that we are still scrambling to catch up with her–a feminist, a Zionist, and an internationally famous Jewish American writer before thse categories even existed.

Drawing upon a cache of personal letters undiscovered until the 1980, Esther Schor brings this vital woman to life in all her complexity. Born into a wealthy Sephardic family in 1849, Lazarus published her first volume of verse at seventeen and gained entrée into New York’s elite literary circles. Although she once referred to her family as “outlaw” Jews, she felt a deep attachment to Jewish history and peoplehood. Her compassion for the downtrodden Jews of Eastern Europe–refugees whose lives had little in common with her own–helped redefine the meaning of America itself.

In this groundbreaking biography, Schor argues persuasively for Lazarus’s place in history as a poet, an activist, and a prophet of the world we all inhabit today–a world that she helped to invent.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Schor brings to life the complicated, passionate woman who left us our proudest national image. A work of great empathy an meticulous historical research.”
–Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley

“In this luminous, enthralling biography, Esther Schor recovers one of the outstanding women of nineteenth-century letters, who while inventing her life as an American Jewish writer discovered a larger poetic mission for the entire nation.”
–Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

“Esther Schor, herself a poet of authentic distinction, has composed a very moving and highly useful biographical critique of Emma Lazarus, a permanent poet in American and in Jewish tradition.”
–Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

“It is a rare book indeed that so skillfully melds biography, literary analysis, and cultural history. In describing Emma Lazarus and her circle, Schor tells the story of American Jewry in the nineteenth century, paints a portrait of literary New York in one of its heydays, explicates many beautiful and long-neglected poems, and instills in us a canny affection for a subject who is forceful and sometimes overbearing but also brilliant and compassionate. Schor’s prose is as lyrical and rich in images as the poetry she describes in this intimate, often touching volume.”
–Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

Caleb Crain
Drawing on letters not discovered until 1980 and not published until 1995, Esther Schor, a poet and professor of English at Princeton, has written a sympathetic and balanced life of Lazarus.
— The New York Times
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 prot g 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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Schor's (English, Princeton) biography of 19th-century Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus (1849-87) is the fifth book in Schocken's "Jewish Encounters" series. Lazarus is best known for her sonnet "New Colossus," which appears on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty and includes such famous lines as "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Schor follows Lazarus through her sometimes awkward formative years as a teenage poet and into her relationships with family members and literary notables like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Browning, and Henry James. She gives special attention to Lazarus's unique place in American literature, her activism for Jewish immigrants' rights, and her struggle to create an identity both American and Jewish. The appendix includes the full text of several poems and a chronology that combines significant dates in history with those of Lazarus's life. This biography will be of interest to students and readers of women's studies, literature, ethnic and American studies, and Jewish history. Recommended for larger academic and public libraries.-Stacy Shotsberger Russo, California State Univ. Lib., Fullerton Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Jewish Encounters Series
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Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.91(h) x 1.22(d)

Meet the Author

Esther Schor, a poet and professor of English at Princeton University, is the author of The Hills of Holland: Poems and Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, and the Forward. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emma Lazarus has become a remote name remembered by her powerful words supporting the Statue of Liberty, the sign post for our freedom. Esther Schor, captures Emma's full humanity, enormous intellectual capacity and ardent passion for the plight of immigrants in the late 19th century with an elequoent and very personal style that brings a remote historical figure into focus in our current age. We enjoy the closeness of her relationships to prominent intellectual figures of her day, her independent spirit, her juxtaposition in New York's Gilded age as an elite Jewish social figure not fully accepeted by the christian world in which she lived. Fascinating reading and a beautiflly written biography.