Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

Basic HTML Version

49
LUDWIG LEWISOHN
LEVY
affection and real love an amalgam of both. Carnal love by itself
was mere lust. At this juncture, he also wrote for
The Nation
a
number of splendid reviews of contemporary German books, in
which he demonstrated his excellent judgment and catholic taste.
His “free love” theme, shocking to the Puritans and perhaps
even the general public in the first decade of this century, is
exploited in his first full-length novel,
The Broken Snare
, published
in 1908 by B. W. Dodge and Company, at the recommendation of
Dreiser, editor of
The Delineator.
Lewisohn’s circle at that time
constituted the literary
avant garde
who were eager that America
should create her own literature and break away from conventional
writing on conventional themes. Life was not as namby pamby
as the novels of the day pictured it: there were passions, infidelities
and other facets of life that demanded realistic treatment. Amer-
ican life had its rude and raw side, and society, on whatever level
we examined it, was all too often grossly “ immoral.” I t was the
writer’s duty to depict life as it was. As we shall see, Lewisohn
used the same situation over and over again. His novel, however,
despite its then unusual theme and the high encomiums it received
from important literary pundits, miscarried; and its failure was
a heartbreak to its author and another score to be settled with the
hostile world. Lewisohn was, therefore, glad to accept an instruc-
torship in German at the University of Wisconsin, which William
Ellery Leonard of
The Locomotive God
fame was instrumental in
getting for him in 1908. The school was liberal, as befitted the La
Follette tradition which it symbolized and championed. While at
Madison, Lewisohn translated into English the little classic,
Dietetik der Seele
of Ernest von Feuchtersleben, and produced a
textbook on German style. Both of these tasks were excellently
carried out.
He spent the next six more or less unhappy years at Ohio State
University. He would not, or could not, conform to its academic
“mores.” In his autobiography he gives his own version of why
he did not find what he sought, but there is another side to the
tale. This, however, does not interest us and it is mentioned only
to present as true a picture of the man as we can. In 1915
The
Modern Drama
appeared, and was aptly named. In many ways,
this is a masterful work. I t contrasts the classic drama of the
Greeks and of Shakespeare with the plays of Lewisohn’s contem-
poraries — Ibsen, Galsworthy, Schnitzler, Becque and others —־
showing that the absolute moral judgment of the older generation
has given way to the relativity of the moderns. Modern man is
unsure, insecure in a world he does not understand, and in which
he finds it difficult to be at home. (This describes Lewisohn him-
self and not necessarily to his detriment.) Because of this new