Reading 1911: Librarians explore the centennial, part 2

This was originally multiple posts over the academic year 2011-2012, to celebrate the LMU Centennial. These posts have been combined here for easier readability. Read the first set of reviews here.

What were we reading in 1911?

Each month of the Centennial year we are looking at a notable book published during 1911, to give you a glimpse of what people were reading while Loyola Marymount University was just getting started.

Our next review in the series comes from Associate Professor Angela James.

The Quest of The Silver Fleece, by W.E.B. Du Bois

DuBoisAmong the works that formulate the “canon” in African American Studies, The Souls of Black Folk surely tops the list. One reason that particular book has been so central, as one among many groundbreaking books written by the author, is the manner in which it crosses disciplinary boundaries to provide a economic, historical, and philosophical understanding of the meaning of being black. Souls of Black Folk demonstrates a detailed and nuanced understanding of race and blackness in American society that remains unparalleled. As one who uses The Souls of Black Folk as a foundational text for nearly every class I teach, as well as for my own thinking about African Americans, I found The Quest for the Silver Fleece to be immensely interesting as a novelistic extension of that work. In this book, DuBois uses the conventions of the novel to explore, often in greater detail, how race is ‘lived’ by African Americans.  He gives nuance to his famous insights about “the veil”, as well as examines with precision the economic and political interests served by race and racism in the period of post-emancipation and post-reconstruction America.  I must admit that, though I did not expect to enjoy the novel as a “good read”, I did!  DuBois’ use of the romance of Bles Alwyn and Zora to illuminate many of the central concerns of black people then and now was masterful.  Further, the way in which he uses the vehicle of fiction to explore the complex psychological and economic issues related to race on both sides of the veil is compelling. DuBois is able to effectively communicate that there is at once an inner and outer reality of race, and that both must be acknowledged in order to chart a collective way forward.

To briefly summarize the plot, The Quest for the Silver Fleece is set largely in Tooms County, Alabama, but references and in fact, visits the world beyond.  In particular, the story takes the reader to both New York and Washington DC, and the trips are well worth taking to explore the manner in which the pursuit of material and political gains warps the character of the Black middle-class.  It is a story of how race is used to exploit labor.  It is a story of how racial betrayal is motivated by individual aspirations and the willingness to put one’s self ahead of group concerns.  It is a story of how racism perverts the aspirations and motivation of blacks and of whites.  It is also the story of how gendered oppression makes difficult black male-female relationships, and how the healthy resolution of such is the key to community survival.

The story begins with a young man, Bles, whom is committed to formal education, and unwavering in his commitment to the individual and collective struggle for dignity and freedom.  The heroine of the story is Zora, “child of the swamp”.  While Bles represents the earnestness of the struggle, Zora represents soul and sprit of Black people unschooled.  Her development, then, represents the possibilities of higher learning without losing the essence of those original strengths.  Through her attainment of sophistication and formal knowledge (earned through her employment with a somewhat enlightened white woman), Zora is able to devise a plan to outsmart the southern aristocracy and create something of value for the community.  The young romantics are initially drawn together by a shared vision of what they can together create (the silver fleece, a crop of beautiful and bountiful cotton).  They are torn apart, however by the awful limitations on the dignity of Black men in the context of the plantation south.  Our beautiful heroine, is forced to admit her “impure” past as a result of her unwilling use, and Bles explodes in displaced anger against her:

“You—-you told me—–you were pure….”

“But Bles—you said —-willingly—-if she knew—“

He thundered back in livid anger:

“Knew! All women know!”(169-70).

However, all women do not know.  The burdens of race and gender are such that even the painfulness of a black woman’s own past, is sometimes usurped as simply an expression of racial domination which is an affront to black male masculinity.

The central problematic of the novel becomes the story of how these star-crossed lovers find their way to each other again through the morass of gender and racial oppression.  Along the way, DuBois has lots to say about the inner workings of the racial bargains struck by northern industrialists and the southern aristocracy, as well as the trick which racism plays on white workers allowing their greater exploitation.  In the end, the book is satisfying in its use of subplots to illuminate larger economic and social concerns, which are more nuanced then a more prosaic, academic delivery would allow.  In particular, I found the idea which lies at the center of the novel, that finding a way through the difficult terrain of gender and race as a necessary precursor to community well-being, to be as relevant and intriguing in 2012 as I am sure it was in 1911.

(Want to read this book? LMU has copies available here and here. Or you can get a copy of the e-book here.)


Our sixth review in the series comes from Associate Professor of Theater Arts Kevin Wetmore. 

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Wandering Stars
by Sholem Aleichem (Yiddish: Blonzhende Stern) was first serialized in a Yiddish newspaper in Warsaw, Poland from 1909 to 1911.  Shalom Aleichem was the nom de plume of Sholem Rabinovich (1859-1916), a Yiddish Ukrainian novelist and playwright best known in the United States for his “Tevye the Dairyman” stories, the basis for the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Born near Kiev, at the age of 15 Aleichem read Robinson Crusoe and adapted it as a Jewish novel.  Although he initially wrote in Russian and Hebrew, from 1883 on he wrote exclusively in Yiddish.  In 1905 Aleichem immigrated to New York City, moving to the Lower East Side in 1914.  Aleichem’s son had tuberculosis and was not allowed to enter the United States and returned to Geneva, where he died in 1915.  Aleichem followed a year later and was buried in Queens.  Over one hundred thousand people attended his funeral. He wrote eight novels, over a dozen plays and hundreds of short stories and essays.

Wandering Stars is a love letter to the Yiddish theatre as well as a series of snapshots of this history of Yiddish theatre as its center moved from Eastern Europe to the United States.  It is also a personal history of the Jewish diaspora.  Yiddish theatre originated in Purimspiel in the Jewish communities of Medieval Europe.  In 1838 Isaac Shoyshpiler (Issac the Actor) wrote and performed a play about Moses at a time other than Purim.  He was succeeded by Avram Goldfaden, “The Father of Yiddish Theatre” who founded a professional company in Romania in 1876.  Theatre companies began touring, moving from Jewish community to Jewish community presenting plays in Yiddish.  Increasing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe resulted in mass emigration of Jewish communities to the United States, and by 1910 New York City had become the center of the Yiddish Theatre world.  As Jewish theatre became more mainstream and more performers began working in English Yiddish drama began to decline.  As Eddie, a second-generation Jewish-American character in Herb Gardner’s Conversations with My Father states in 1936, “When’s the last time you saw somebody in a Yiddish theatre under a hundred who wasn’t dragged there by his Zayde (grandfather)?”

In Wandering Stars, Aleichem begins in a small Polish town in which Leibel, the son of a wealthy merchant family and Reizel, the cantor’s daughter fall in love with each other and a visiting Purimspiel company.  They are inadvertently separated, but both grown to become stars of the Yiddish theatre in their own rights under the names Leo Rafalesco and Rosa Spivak, performing first in Eastern Europe, then London, and finally reuniting in New York City.  As they rise as stars and as they travel through the world, their journey shows the history of Yiddish theatre, from small shtetls to New York and eventual assimilation into mainstream American performance.

The title comes from a reassurance spoken to Reizel by Leibel as they prepare to leave Holeneshti, their home: “Every star is a person’s soul.  Wherever the soul goes, the person goes.  That is why we imagine the stars are falling.  But stars don’t fall – they wander” (71).  Leibel’s romantic notion embodies one of the themes of the novel, that every person is a wandering star, their soul lighting their way through life.  The title is also, however, an obvious play on the idea that as actors they have no home – because of the traveling nature of Yiddish theatre, the “stars” of the show continually wander from place to place, performing and moving on.

Aleichem also shows the conflicting attitudes towards the United States as both safe home for the Jewish people and site of assimilation and the potential loss of Yiddish, if not Jewish identity.  Leo’s friend and former lover Breyne Cherniak emigrates first to New York and writes him in London, inviting him to New York, saying, “America is truly the Land of Yiddish Theater” (245).  Yet when he does arrive he realizes what Aleichem calls “The Gentile Temptation”:  “Great and mighty is the Gentile temptation everywhere and especially for those on the Jewish stage.  Rare is the Jewish star who does not dream of one day finding a place in the non-Jewish firmament” (331).   From the beginning of their careers, as Leibel becomes “Leo” and Reizel becomes “Rosa”, this transformation of identity in exchange for success in the theatre becomes another major theme of the novel.  Aleichem captures New York in the first decade of the twentieth century is a series of haunting and rapid word pictures, but it is New York as seen through the eyes of an immigrant.

Aleichem’s gift, however, is his ability to capture the human moments of life in brief chapters.  He also celebrates conflicting impulses: the desire to please one’s parents but pursue one’s dreams, the doubt that can strike in the midst of faith and, paradoxically the faith found by doubting.  For humor, both broad and subtle, Aleichem is second to none.  His characters love life.  Aleichem’s gift to the reader, however, is his insight into Yiddish theatre written only as one involved in it could write.  Wandering Stars is simply a great novel of the theatre, from the poor theatre of the Purimspielers that open it to the Broadway triumphs of Leo and Rosa that close it.

The novel has been translated into English twice.  The first is an abridged version from 1952 with a different ending, but I must recommend the 2009 unabridged translation by Aliza Shevrin.  Shevrin’s translation is not only eminently readable but captures the warmth, the fun, the violence and the magic of both theatre and Aleichem’s work.  Whereas Fiddler on the Roof was Yiddish culture for a gentile Broadway audience, Wandering Stars is a history of Yiddish theatre as love letter that allows the reader direct access to Aleichem’s brilliance, passion and humor.


Our seventh review in the series comes from Ani N. Shabazian, Clinical Professor in the School of Education and Director of the Loyola Marymount University Children’s Center. 

A Practitioner’s Perspective: A Review of the Book The Montessori Method

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Decades before Maria Montessori (pictured, with one of her students) became a household name, she published her first book in 1909, which details the theory behind her original educational practices.  Her work, translated into English in 1912, received international recognition.  Entitled The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in “The Children’s Houses”, the book explores the often-overlooked piece of educating very young children and illustrates how approaches to early childhood education have evolved over time.  Topics addressed in this book include the decline of freedom in the classrooms, the idea of children guiding their own learning, the resurgence of training teachers, and the origins of today’s highly specific Montessori methodology.

Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was always ahead of her time.  She attended a boy’s technical school as a teenager and was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree.  She later studied the fields of psychiatry, education, and anthropology, which greatly influenced her pedagogy.  In the late 1890s, she was an assistant doctor at a psychiatric clinic at the University of Rome.  In her work at the clinic, she became familiar with the work of Edward Seguin, a teacher and physician, who was one of the first to believe that children with mental retardation could learn and, thus, be taught.  Maria Montessori began her work with children with special needs; after successfully developing her methodology, she expanded her lens to include working with typically developing children.  Informed by her life experiences, the cornerstone of her methodology is rooted in the scientific method of observation.

Maria Montessori opens this piece with defining the purpose of education by stating, “Education is to guide activity not repress it” (p. 25).  She believes that children are born as unique individuals and it is the teacher’s responsibility to reveal their potential.  Subsequently, her image of the child is one of strength and competence; she believes that children are self-motivated, active, and naturally curious learners.  Her method is especially unique and extraordinary because it was created by a “feminine mind and hand” (p. xviii), unlike other educational approaches.  Her ideas were viewed as not only progressive during her time, but are still so today over one hundred years later.

In this book, Maria Montessori reveals her strong critique of the traditional education system for young school age children; concerns which hold just as firmly today in consideration of the traditional elementary education system.  She writes at length regarding her concern about the “slavery” pervading the school systems; she refers to the restrictive chairs and desks, and the “suffocation” of the children’s growth because of their inability to be “free.”  Through her methodology she proposes to protect the children’s right to be active learners by creating environments for children that allow them to explore the space on their own.  She advocates for the modification of the furniture in the classrooms, adjusting the table size and shape, enabling children to move them around as they please as well as work together at the same table.  Maria Montessori considers it important that children be able to choose where they want to sit as well as find a comfortable position to sit in.  She states that “freedom is not only a sign of liberty but a means of education” (p. 84), and this freedom for children begins with the environment in which they are placed.  The children’s daily schedule also allows for flexibility, as Maria Montessori firmly states, “we have never followed [it] entirely” (p. 121).  Although the schedule calls for some teacher-directed instruction, there is also a point at which the teachers move on to “free teaching”, which she describes as the teacher limiting herself to “correcting the disordered movements” (p. 123).  Her belief that children are self-directed learners is evident in her role for teachers in the classroom.

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There is also an amusing chapter on nutrition, which is one of the only areas in which this book seems to be a bit dated.  Maria Montessori writes that children’s diet should be rich in fats and sugars with recommendations such as, “the morning breakfast for the rich might be milk and chocolate” (p. 135).  This chapter outlines the details of how to prepare broths for children as Maria Montessori asserts that the children’s diet under the age of three and half years should largely consist of fluids, endorsing soups, purees and meatballs, as they are not able to chew their food properly.  Maria Montessori concludes the chapter by stating that children should learn to eat with “cleanliness, both with respect to themselves and with respect to their surroundings” (p. 136).

Although at times overly detailed, this is a wonderful book that provides deep insight into the education of young children.  It is a must read book for anyone in education, including adult education.  Maria Montessori exhibited originality and insight into the mind of young learners, experimenting with a different type of instruction that continues to be an innovative approach to education.  As such, this book warrants careful reading, for Maria Montessori’s ideas are as relevant to teaching today as they were when she first proposed them.

You can find a print copy of the Montessori method here, or read the e-book by clicking here.

Image credits: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html


Our eighth review in the series comes from Christina L. Hennessey, Cataloging Librarian. 

Sierra_covers

You may be familiar with the name John Muir as the founder of the environmental organization Sierra Club, or by “John Muir Day” in California (April 21 each year), from the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, or from the 211-mile John Muir hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. But in the summer of 1869, he was a 31-year-old Scotland-born man spending only his second year in California. Muir was asked by a friend to work as a shepherd in the Yosemite area from June through August 1869. With the help of a shepherd, a cook, a St. Bernard, and a few others, Muir led a pack of over 2000 sheep through the wildernesses of Yosemite, moving the pack to higher elevations to feed as the snow melted. Muir was not in charge of the operation and was permitted to hike, write and sketch during the day, although he did often help out gathering or discovering groups of lost sheep. Muir’s sketches are included throughout the book to illustrate the flora and fauna he discovers.

The book reads like a diary from June to August 1869, and as diaries go, the length and frequency of entries fluctuate depending on Muir’s downtime, if he is well-fed, or if he has a gripe or something particularly spectacular to write about. He is a spiritual man and often thanks God for the sights he is seeing. Some of the entries are beautifully poetic, and some of them are quite scientific.

As Muir follows the sheep up into the mountains, he passes through many places which will be familiar to the Yosemite hikers of today: Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak, Mono Trail, and Lake Tenaya. Also familiar to Yosemite hikers: the threat of bears. Muir records the constant battle of protecting their food and the sheep against bear attacks. Even today in Yosemite, hikers need special containers for keeping food away from bears. And even though 1869 California seems so wild and very long ago, Muir did encounter groups of tourists on the Yosemite trails, even back then. It is striking how many of the passages and descriptions of Yosemite in this book could have been written the same way in 2012.

The parts of the book that do not hold up very well since 1911 are Muir’s views of Native Americans. Muir is crossing over Native American lands, yet he often seems annoyed that Native Americans are walking through his camp and he does not understand them and their ways. He writes about how dirty and savage they are. He does acknowledge, “Perhaps if I knew them better, I should like them better” (p. 304). But his views of Native Americans do not hold up so well in 2012 and are the one part of the book that is tough to read.

Muir also writes about his companions on the trip. There are the expected squabbles amongst the group; on August 12, two of the group disagree about methods of herding and “after some dispute…[Billy left] for the plains” (p. 276). Mr. Delaney, the sheep owner, comes and goes throughout the summer, checking on the group and the sheep. A professor friend of Muir’s is visiting Yosemite nearby at a hotel so Muir must clean himself up for a few days and return to civilization in late July before returning to the camp. But Muir’s best affection is for Carlo, the St. Bernard that accompanies him on the trip. He borrowed the dog from a friend before the trip and he and the dog became fast friends. Carlo goes missing near the end of the trip and Muir is very sad until he returns.

Hiking the Yosemite area continues to be a popular pastime in 2012. The Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663 mile walking trail that reaches from the Mexican border of California to the Canadian border of Washington, goes through the area described in this book. Books are continually published about hiking this area, including a best-selling book and Oprah’s Book Club pick in June 2012, Wild by Cheryl Strayed (New York: Knopf, 2012) (LMU’s copy).

As this is a book in the public domain, the entire text can be found on the Sierra Club website for free athttp://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/my_first_summer_in_the_sierra/.  Or, if you prefer to read it as they did back in 1911, you can read LMU’s copy, or request a copy through LINK+.)


Our last review in the series comes from Tony Amodeo, Reference Librarian. 

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In 1911, Gilbert Keith Chesterton published The Innocence of Father Brown, the first in a series of collected short stories about a short, unimpressive, rumpled, round-faced priest, who manages to solve a number of crimes – and non-criminal mysteries – through a combination of observation, logic, instinct, and deep insight into the moral morass of men’s souls.  I first encountered these and, in fact, all of the Father Brown stories in my youthful omnivorous reading days, when I chanced upon the Father Brown Omnibus, a fat collection of all five volumes of Chesterton’s anthologized stories about this puzzling, endearing priest. I was quite impressed with the range of situations and people, including Flambeau, the sometime master criminal who joins Father Brown in many of his adventures.

According to one account, while he was visiting at a friend’s house for a few days, Chesterton looked around for a good mystery. Finding none he liked, he decided he could do better himself, and wrote one, basing Father Brown on his own good friend Fr. John O’Connor, a man of high intellect, with a much more impressive physical presence than the undistinguished look of the bland, blinking Father Brown. That first story and those that followed were published in magazines starting in 1910, and first anthologized in the 1911 volume we highlight here.

Chesterton was well aware of Sherlock Holmes, but he didn’t like the direction detective fiction had taken. The Father Brown stories have a different perspective than other mysteries of the day (and certainly of today’s variety, even of derivatives like ‘Columbo’), as the dumpy, squinting, unlikely hero does not solve crimes in order to capture criminals, indeed sometimes letting the guilty go free; his aim is always to understand, change their behavior, and to save their souls. Chesterton thought that mystery stories should be somewhat fantastical rather than realistic, more in the vein of a good joke; I guess that is why I find them a lot less disturbing than much of the ‘realistic’ (to the point of gruesome and depressing) detective fiction of these latter years.

Many know G. K. Chesterton as a prolific author, speaker, illustrator and essayist (Hannon library holds some 200 titles authored by him), and especially as a Catholic apologist and the author of Orthodoxy; but he wrote both Orthodoxy  and most of the Father Brown stories well before he had any idea of becoming a Catholic. He was stalwart in defending religious values against some of the brightest irreligious lights of the day, like George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. At the same time, the sometimes startling low opinions of certain religions and nationalities he expresses now and again in his stories, either in character descriptions or, sometimes, placed into Father Brown’s mouth, jump out at the modern reader. Most of these were mainstream English (and, sadly, white European) cultural prejudices of his (and, still more sadly, our) day rather than conscious personal racism; but still, his automatic attribution of negative stereotypes to pretty much any group – Chinese, Indian, Jewish, Calvinist, American — other than his own is a bit disturbing. Yet, he dedicated this first volume of Father Brown stories to his longtime and dear friends Waldo, who was Jewish, and Waldo’s wife Mildred.

Though he dropped out of school to study art, Chesterton’s forte during his youth was debate, which shaped his approach to things; a lot of his writing includes defending stances and opposing popular ideas or a popular opinionist’s writings or speeches, usually with carefully built logic based upon a fundamental set of principles, often derived from Thomistic philosophy.

But back to our selection:  the stories themselves are often intriguing, with sometimes grisly and sometimes humorous aspects – often, both. As with most detective fiction, both the settings and endings can be surprising, often more than a bit far-fetched or fantastic; but, given what passes for detective fiction these days, as Martin Gardner, the editor of the Annotated Innocence of Father Brown states, Chesterton’s stories are more probable, and far more human.

I like discovery; I prefer to see movies and read novels knowing very little about them ahead of time. So I have not profiled any of the individual stories here, as I wouldn’t want to water down anyone’s initial readings and enjoyment of Father Brown. In fact, if you get hold of The Annotated Innocence…, it would be best to skip the initial notes for each story, which give away far too much. If you’d like to see a copy of the 1911 edition, make an appointment with Archives & Special Collections. If you’re curious, but more into media than reading, and it’s unlikely you’ll read the stories themselves, the Hannon Library has DVDs of the series of 13 British television adaptations of Father Brown stories (here and here), starring the renowned Kenneth More (“The Admirable Crichton,” “The Forsyte Saga,” “A Night to Remember”) as the good father, and including a few of the stories (“The Hammer of God,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Eye of Apollo,” “The Three Tools of Death”) from this first, 1911, collection of Father Brown tales.