Now featuring *Amanda Knox*
“Here comes my sister! She’s an American girl.”
Randolph Miller in Henry James, Daisy Miller, 1878.
The American girl is different. Daisy Miller horrified European America and much of Europe with her cheerful boldness, so Henry James killed her with a villainous miasma. Why?
There are two stories in Daisy Miller. First, the comedy of manners: an heiress goes to Europe and shocks American-European high society with her free-and-easy, potentially lewd American ways. Second, the public-health story: an heiress goes to Europe and dies of malaria. James mushes these two not-very-gripping stories together: if heiress A is the same person as heiress B, the feeling of meaning emerges. (more…)
Sometime later I will publish my definitive study of the works of David George Plotkin / Kin, a forgotten minor author whose last book was published sometime between 1958 and 1968. His two most famous works were forgeries, and two or three of the others were scurrilous smears. Not a very good writer, really, but he did succeed in mixing it up and keeping things interesting.
Key words: poetry, American Jews, Brownsville, Elias Lieberman, Thomas Seltzer, Otto Soglow, The Great Depression, cartoons, Pascal Covici, The Fall of Singapore, World War Two, Friedrich Nietzsche, forgery, Samuel Roth, Burton K. Wheeler, Philip Roth, scurrilous smear job, Communists, Maxwell Bodenheim, Greenwich Village, lesbians,
Merrill’s Marauders, maxims, proverbs, pornography.
The Works of David Plotkin / Kin
David George Plotkin (introduction by Elias Lieberman) , Ghetto Gutters, Thomas Seltzer, 1926. (Poetry: A Magazine of Verse review of Ghetto Gutters /Braithwaite, Anthology of Magazine Verse, review of Ghetto Gutters / Poetry: A Magazine of Verse mentions Plotkin / a poem by Lieberman / Thomas Seltzer, publisher / Albert and Charles Boni, Seltzer’s nephews who revived his publishing company).
David George Kin, Rage in Singapore, Wisdom House, 1942.
Pseudo-Friedrich Nietzsche (forged by David George Kin), My Sister and I, Boar’s Head Books, 1951. (Kin’s confession / Samuel Roth, publisher / Some still take My Sister and I at face value / Dennis Dutton on My Sister and I / Hollingsdale review / Disputed Nietzsche I II III / Kathleen Winiger, “The Disputed Nietzsche: My Sister and I, by Friedrich Nietzsche”: Telos: A Quarterly Journal of Critical Thought. No. 91. Spring, 1992, pp. 185-189.)
David George Kin, The Plot Against America, John E. Kennedy Publishers, 1946. (Commissioned as a smear on Sen. Burton K. Wheeler / Kin’s book was investigated by Congress / Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America)
David Kin (preface by J. Donald Adams), Dictionary of American Maxims, Philosophical Library, 1955.
David Kin (preface by Mark Van Doren), Dictionary of American Proverbs, Philosophical Library, 1955.
David George Plotkin, Women Without Men: True Stories about Lesbian Love in Greenwich Village, Brookwood Publishing Company, 1958. (This may be the same book under the pseudonym Noel O’Hara. Similar misogynist, homophobic books from Manhattan: Loathsome Women / Why Men Rule )
The most important dumb Swede in American history was Chief Justice Earl Warren. In film, Sonja Henie was dumb, Greta Garbo was less dumb, and Ingrid Bergman was not dumb.
In general, Swedes are either madmen or dumb. Madness trumps dumbness — if a Swede is a madman, his dumbness is moot. Gaear Grimsrud was probably both, but who knows?
Knowledge of other nations and peoples is so limited that wherever I have traveled in America the majority of Yankees have as a matter of course called all Scandinavians Swedes. If you live among them for a time, you discover readily, that as soon as you are called a Swede, it is in a pejorative sense, as if you really ought to beg their pardon for being a Swede. …
Knut Hamsun, The Cultural Life of Modern America
They reckoned they were mighty slick,
Them two tinhorns from Idaho;
That poor dumb Swede could swing a pick,
but that was all he’d ever know.
Robert Service, Dumb Swede
“What? You won’t drink with me, you little dude! I’ll make you then! I’ll make you!” The Swede had grasped the gambler frenziedly at the throat, and was dragging him from his chair. The other men sprang up. The barkeeper dashed around the corner of his bar. There was a great tumult, and then was seen a long blade in the hand of the gambler. It shot forward, and a human body, this citadel of virtue, wisdom, power, was pierced as easily as if it had been a melon. The Swede fell with a cry of supreme astonishment.
“Yes, indeedy,” added Kink. “We ain’t in no charity business a-disgorgin’ free an’ generous to Swedes an’ white men.”
“Ay tank ve haf another drink,” hiccoughed Ans Handerson, craftily changing the subject against a more propitious time.
The mouth of that mine goes right into the face of a cliff, and they used to put us in a bucket and run us over on a trolley and shoot us into the shaft. The bucket traveled across a box canyon about three hundred feet deep and about a third full of water. Two Swedes had fell out of the bucket once, and hit the water, feet down. If you’ll believe it, they went to work the next day. You can’t kill a Swede.
“I didn’t understand your home was North Dakota,” said Mr. Thompson. “I thought you said Georgia.”
“I’ve got a married sister in North Dakota,” said Hatch “married to a Swede, but a white man if I ever saw one.”
Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine
“I’ll tell you,” Max said. “We’re going to kill a Swede. Do you know a big Swede named Ole Andreson?”
He nodded. He felt as if everyone in the place knew him and were watching him, perhaps laughing behind his back, and thinking that all he could get for a dance was a dumb Swede pig.
“The Swedes are overrunning the whole country. I bet there are more Swedes in the town of East Jolloppi than there are in the rest of the country….Stanley doesn’t know the Swedes like we do… There’s no way of stopping a Swede from doing what he sets his head to doing.”
Erskine Caldwell, “A Country Full of Swedes”
Marry a Jew or a Chinaman or a Swede, it’s all fine if you’re prompted by any motive, including money, save that of guilt.
William Styron, Lie Down in Darkness
Dumb Swedes in real life
Vladimir Illych Lenin:
“You know, I could travel with the passport of a dumb Swede “.
[Zanuck] found, for example, Sonja Henie on the ice-rink at the time when she was the world champion amateur skater. He signed her up without even giving her a screen test and subsequently discovered, as he put it later, that “she was the original dumb Swede”.
Greta (Gustafsson) Garbo:
Cortez believed that Torrent was HIS film and he resented Greta from the beginning. He felt himself a great star who must work with this ‘dumb’ Swede. On the set or off, he gave Garbo not the slightest notice. He decided that Garbo was a nonentity and treated her as such.
“She wants to buy whatever state that has no people in it and turn it into a wheat farm and raise wheat and children,” John Gilbert later complained in an interview before he drank himself to death. “She keeps saying ‘You’re in love with Garbo the actress’. And I say ‘You’re damn right. I don’t want to marry some dumb Swede and raise wheat and kids miles from civilization.”
Ingrid Bergman denies she’s a dumb Swede.
Justice Earl Warren:
Thomas Dewey calls Earl Warren “That big dumb Swede”.
Richard D. Beards, “Stereotyping in Modern American Fiction: Some Solitary Swedish Madmen.” Moderna Sprak, 63 (1969): 329-37.
Unavailable on the net, to my knowledge. It’s a damn shame.
Roger McKnight, “Those Swedish Madmen Again: The Image of the Swede in Swedish-American Literature”, Scandinavian Studies, 56 #2, 1984, pp. 114-139.
Response to Beards. Because Swedes, like most 19th-century Americans, were Northern European white Protestants, ”the Swede might stand out to the American as a quaint, strong, baffling, or alienated cousin”. (This is like the uncanny valley phenomenon, when robotic simulations of human beings are good enough to be unnerving, but not good enough to feel “right”). Discusses Swedish characterizations of Swedish character and compares them to the American stereotypes, and discusses Swedish-American authors’ responses to the stereotype. It turns out that Swedes do not think of themselves as dumb or as solitary madmen. (Unfortunately, many key citations in this paper are in Swedish.)
Stanley Wertheim, “Unravelling the Humanist: Stephen Crane and Ethnic Minorities”, American Literary Realism, 30.3 (1998), 65-75.
About Crane’s negative attitude toward foreigners generally. Swedes are mentioned briefly in footnote #1, which cites Beards.
“Axel and his dog” was a popular Minnesota children’s show featuring Axel Torgeson, a dumb but lovable Swede, in the sense of “Norwegian”.
NOTE: Outside American literature, the phrase “Swedish madman” usually means the Swedish king Karl XII, but sometimes the dramatist August Strindberg or the scientist and visionary Emanuel Swedenborg. At least one Swedish madman is referred to in Henning Mankell’s Daniel, written in Swedish, and the Swede originally accused of murdering Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was often referred to as a solitary madman.
“Marry a Jew or a Chinaman or a Swede, it’s all fine if you’re prompted by any motive, including money, save that of guilt.” (Milton Loftis on p. 74 of William Styron’s “Lie Down in Darkness”.)
I entirely agree. May none of you ever marry a Swede from motives of guilt.
1. When William Styron has Peyton Loftis say of her relationship to her father Milton “I think we have a Freudian attachment”, is Styron a.) telegraphing his punch, b.) belaboring the obvious, or c.) going postmodern and meta ahead of the rest?
2. When Styron keeps talking about Peyton’s hips, isn’t the interest he’s taking in his fictional character’s ass as unhealthy, in its way, as Milton Loftis’s Oedipal fixation on his daughter — pretty much regardless of how lovely Peyton’s fictional ass really was?
3. They seem to be finally making a movie out of the book. In her prime, wouldn’t Brooke Shields have made a great Peyton Loftis?
4. Helen Peyton Loftis thought that her daughter Peyton Loftis was irredeemably evil by nature, whereas William Styron thinks that it was Helen who was irredeemably evil. Might not the entire Peyton line have been an evil spawn cursed by God, so that both were right?
Wooster and Jeeves represent which two social types?
a. Jeeves represents the working class; Wooster represents the idle rentier class.
b. Wooster represents the parasitical aristocracy; Jeeves represents their also-parasitical lackeys.
c. Wooster represents the powerless and silly Mikado or Caliph whose power is purely symbolic; Jeeves represents the businesslike Shogun or Sultan who holds all real power.
d. The ignorant Wooster represents the dominant property-owning moiety of the dominant class; the well-read Jeeves represents the dominated moiety; Wodehouse’s portrait of the relationship is the wishful projection of the dominated intelligentsia.
She rained tears and made prostrations day and night without ceasing. Three days later, during her worship, she saw an image of the Buddha, who announced to her “Your bridegroom’s lifespan is coming to an end. You need only continue your ardent practice without harboring sorrowful thoughts.” The next day her bridegroom was gored to death by an ox.
Lives of the Nuns, tr. Katherine Ann Tsai (Hawai’i, 1994), pp. 49-50; cited by Mark Edward Lewis on p. 193 of China Between Empires (Harvard, 2009).
For a realistic picture of the life of the centaur you can’t beat the sequence “Hercule et les Centaures” in Heredia’s Les trophées. He gets down to the nitty-gritty — the seating arrangements for the various sorts of inlaws at centaur weddings, for example, or the stresses put on the centaur marriage by husbands who are continually sneaking off to score blonde chicks, and by wives in heat galloping off to run with the thoroughbreds.
The American politician Fiorello La Guardia was the U.S. consul for Trieste and neighboring areas from 1901 to 1906. James Joyce moved to Trieste in 1904 and stayed for 16 years. La Guardia was partly of Hungarian Jewish descent. Leopold Bloom was partly of Hungarian Jewish descent.
La Guardia was born in Greenwich Village to an Italian lapsed-Catholic father, Achille La Guardia, from Cerignola, and a Triestine mother of Jewish Hungarian origin, Irene Coen Luzzato; he was raised an Episcopalian, despite being confirmed as a Jew by the Halakha, which decides who is a Jew or not. His middle name “Enrico” was changed to “Henry” (the English form of Enrico) when he was a child. He lived in Trieste, his mother’s hometown, after his father was discharged from his bandmaster position in the U.S. Army in 1898.La Guardia served in U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Rijeka (1901–1906). Fiorello returned to the U.S. to continue his education at New York University. During this time, he worked for New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children as an interpreter for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration at the Ellis Island immigrant station (1907–1910).