Page 218 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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The next few years Marie has characterized as a lonely and
unhappy time for herself and her father as they dismantled
their home and took up lodgings in the apartment o f some
“ kindly impoverished ladies.” Nothing, however, deflected
Nachman Syrkin from his work — and he lost himself in it.
It is hardly surprising that she now sums up the following sum­
mer when her father sent her for vacation to the Atlantic Hotel
in Belmar, New Jersey, as “ that fabulous summer o f my six­
teenth year.” 7 Owned by a friend o f Nachman Syrkin, the hotel
was frequented by the Jewish intelligentsia; and although there
was a distinct difference between Syrkin’s theoretical views in
favor o f the freedom o f women and his own over-bearing, Vic­
torian over-protective attempt to control his daughter’s social
life, he nonetheless calmly sent her o f f for the summer.
But the mere delight o f a summer vacation away from the
hot city is not the true reason for Marie Syrkin’s nostalgia for
that “ fabulous summer.” This, it appears, was the precise mo­
ment when Nachman Syrkin’s daughter was to act on the mixed
message that her father had communicated: on the one hand
was his general message o f independence and equality for the
sexes; on the other, was his personal effort to maintain strict
control over Marie’s activities. She was to decide in favor o f
asserting her own independence — whatever the consequences;
and this would be a lifelong characteristic. It was during this
very summer that she fell headlong in love. A young man o f
twenty named Maurice Samuel came to the Atlantic Hotel to
visit a friend, and at once he captured the heart o f the sixteen
year old Marie Syrkin. She recalls that not only was he hand­
some, and by her standards at that time, an “older man,” but
every poem she loved, he could quote by heart — and, further,
he introduced her to the poetry o f Francis Thompson which,
not surprisingly, was to be the subject o f her master’s thesis
at Cornell a few years later. The intensity o f this youthful ro­
mance, which is reflected in her verse, culminated in an elope­
ment in 1917 when Marie was barely eighteen. Maurice was
then twenty-two; he had enlisted in the Army and was about
to leave for France. Nachman Syrkin, however, instantly an­
nulled the marriage because o f his daughter’s age — this time
he successfully exercised his will, but it resulted in a resentment
7. Reported in an unpublished interview with the writer.