The turn of the 20th century brought sweeping political, social, and cultural change for many, as is illustrated by three important editions offered in our Mid-Summer Gallery Auction. Though the paths of Boris Pasternak, Emma Goldman, and Sinclair Lewis never crossed, their individual experience and engagement with this new 20th century offers perspectives on how political ideals and dramatic economic change affected the social and cultural reality for ordinary people.
Boris Pasternak's life was a tightrope of a relationship with the Soviet establishment. He came of age during the lead-up to the Russian Revolution, and his views of socialism and communism follow the trajectory of a young man's loss of innocence. Unlike most of the Russian intelligentsia, Pasternak did not flee during the revolution, and initially admired Lenin and the Bolsheviks. But as he witnessed the harsh implementation of the socialist state, he was disenchanted with its violence and suppression of artists and intellectuals. His highly influential book of poems, My Sister - Life, a limited edition of which, with original etchings by artist Yuri Kuper, is being offered in our Mid-Summer Gallery Auction, was initially distributed by hand and in literary cafes, because it was almost impossible to publish freely after the revolution. Pasternak's most famous novel, Dr. Zhivago, wasn't published until 1956, though he wrote parts of it in the 1910's and 20's. No Russian would publish it because of its anti-Soviet message, but it was ultimately published worldwide with the help of the American CIA, which also waged a propaganda campaign that factored in Pasternak's being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958. Pasternak was forced to refuse the prize during his lifetime for fear of Soviet retribution, but his descendants accepted it posthumously on his behalf in 1989.
Emma Goldman was a controversial activist and speaker very much of her time who fought battles that remain relevant today. Goldman had a painful childhood in Kovno, in the Russian Empire, now Lithuania. Her father was abusive and discouraged her education. She eventually managed to emigrate to the United States to live with her sisters in 1885 by threatening to throw herself into the Neva River if her father tried to stop her. Once in America, after a dramatic early marriage and divorce, Goldman made her way to New York. On her first night in the city she fatefully met the anarchist writer Alexander Berkman, who would become her life-long lover. Goldman had first been drawn to anarchist philosophy when she was 17, following the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, in which laborers demonstrating for an 8-hour work day were killed by police. In 1892, Goldman and Berkman plotted the assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, after strikers were killed in a riot at a factory Frick managed in Pennsylvania. Berkman went to jail for the attempted murder, and Goldman became a famous orator and instigator.
Goldman was jailed several times over the course of her life as she fought for women's rights, worker's rights, racial equality, and more. In 1901 she was indicated, wrongly, in the assassination of President William McKinley, and in 1920 she was finally deported to Russia, in the midst of that country's revolution. Like Pasternak, Goldman was initially drawn to the Bolshevik cause for its rejection of the establishment. But she, too, was finally repelled by the Bolshevik's brutal suppression of the individual. Goldman was eventually able to move to Canada, where her autobiography, Living My Life, of which we have a first edition in our Mid-Summer Gallery Auction, was bankrolled by a group of high-profile, admiring Americans, including Theodor Dreiser, Peggy Guggenheim, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Though she became involved with the Spanish anarchists during that country's civil war in the 1930's, Goldman eventually died in Canada, cut off from the social and political fray to which she was so strongly drawn.
Sinclair Lewis was the first writer from the United States ever awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an honor he earned by turning a critical gaze on the American culture of capitalism and consumerism between the world wars. Lewis was raised in Minnesota, and had a fairly normal youth. By the time he was in college, however, he had begun to explore alternatives to mainstream life - he delayed his graduation from Yale to work as a janitor in Upton Sinclair's cooperative community, Helicon Home Colony, for the short few months it existed. Lewis's first successful novel was Main Street, the story of a housewife in a small town in Minnesota who struggled against the town's provincial, conservative mindset. He followed this success with Babbitt, which made an archetype of its main character - a ladder-climbing businessman who sees the error of his ways. With Babbitt, Lewis managed to simultaneously denounce middle-aged conformity to American capitalist ideals and their rejection through rote Bohemianism. Lewis wrote eleven more books after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930. An advance copy of one of which, Mantrap, we are pleased to offer in our Mid-Summer Auction.