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Roth, Henry


Subject Literature » American Literature, Twentieth Century and Contemporary Literature

Key-Topics city, modernism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405192446.2011.x


Henry Roth was a pioneering figure in American Jewish literature. Despite initial neglect, his first novel, Call it Sleep (1934), was eventually recognized as a classic of immigrant fiction, a brilliant adaptation of Joycean and Freudian techniques to American urban experience, and a harbinger of the flowering of American Jewish culture after World War II. After a legendary hiatus of several decades, Roth recovered his literary ambitions, producing in the final decade of his long life a massive cycle of autobiographical fiction. Two volumes were carved out of it and published before his death at the age of 89, two appeared posthumously, and approximately 1,000 manuscript pages remained unpublished. Roth was born in 1906 in Tysmenitz, a town in Galicia, in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now in Ukraine. When he was 18 months old, he and his mother journeyed across the Atlantic to join his father, who had already emigrated to New York City. The family initially settled in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn but in 1910 moved to the Lower East Side, the densely populated immigrant neighborhood in Manhattan. In 1914, they moved to Harlem, settling in a largely Irish and Italian area. While attending City College, Roth became the protégé and lover of Eda Lou Walton, a poet and instructor at New York University. While living with Walton in her Greenwich Village ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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