Academic journal article Post Script

My Mamie Rose: The Story of My Regeneration as New York Narrative

Academic journal article Post Script

My Mamie Rose: The Story of My Regeneration as New York Narrative

Article excerpt

Nueva York de cieno, Nueva York de alambre y de muerte. Que dngel llevas oculto en la mejilla? (1) "Oda a Walt Whitman," Federico Garcia-Lorca, 1929

My Mamie Rose: The Story of My Regeneration (1903) was a popular autobiographical memoir written by Irish street "tough" Owen Kildare (1864-1911) that was re-conceived first as Walter Hackett's My Mamie Rose (1908), a quasi-naturalist, socially progressive melodrama, and later as three distinct film adaptations, of which only Raoul Walsh's Regeneration (1915) survives. (2) In the My Mamie Rose/Regeneration narratives, Owen Kildare, the wild Irish Catholic boy of the streets, functions as a marker of transformative urban male identity. He is a New York, historicized type. Although the dramatic and visual stress in placed on Kildare's gangster-ism in the post-autobiographical hypertexts, in reality, Owen Kildare is less of a gangster and potential alcoholic than he is a variety of rough male, an urban Homunculus, to be processed by civilizing forces, in the form of romantic love and most importantly, literacy.

The My Mamie Rose/Regeneration narratives are New York chronicles of local causalities, of romantic and criminal experiences, all focused on the acquisition of literacy, involving the native born yet unassimilated urban ethnic. These are informing myths of the Bowery: its culture, customs, and people. However much Owen was prone to drinking or sparring, and represented as a seminal gangster-type and semi-alcoholic, there remains the equally compelling issue of literacy emerging from his memoir, the melodrama, and the film adaptation.

Late nineteenth century "hard-hitting" Owen Kildare's autobiography, My Mamie Rose: The Story of My Regeneration (1903), chronicles an orphaned, poor, and volatile male Irish-American's life in the infamous area in New York City known as the Bowery. (3) According to historian Leo Hershkowitz, from the mid-to-late nineteenth century in New York City, the crises encountered by the Irish, both immigrants and native born, were manifold; "Trapped in the city's worst slums, toiling at its worst jobs, struggling to maintain fragile families, many Irish slipped into alcoholism, insanity, chronic welfare dependency, or crime." (4) Along with the infamous Five Points area in lower Manhattan, the Bowery was a focal point of urban life and misery for local denizens, regardless of race or gender, but especially for the Irish Catholics. As Kildare states in his memoir: "The Bowery was famed from Atlantic to Pacific for what it offered. Every day a new consignment of lambs unloaded itself on this highway of the foolish and miserable, to be devoured by the expectant wolves." (5) As if utilizing imagery from a naturalist novel, Kildare's animal and predatory images of violence and inescapability have a distinct historical, urban context: life on the Bowery streets.

These recurring naturalist tropes of a near-visceral, brutish behavior are not limited to urban environments; for example, Upton Sinclair's King Coal (1917) is a fictionalized account of the historical, violent labor strike, largely conducted by immigrant Irish and Welsh coal miners in the Ludlow, Colorado mines (1913-1914) against an ownership that regards them as expendable detritus. When Hal Warner, the normative American model of liberal tolerance, goes slumming in the coal camp to see how the other half, mostly poor and Catholic, live, he concludes: "the babies swarmed like maggots ... it was so the children of the cave men must have played," and he later notes, "when one understands the lives of men, one came to pity instead of despising. Here was a separate race of creatures, subterranean gnomes pent up by society for purposes of its own." (6) After Hal initiates a friendship with the Irish immigrant Mary, upon meeting her chronically drunk, miner-father, she states: "he's ugly when he's like that," (7) but her father is like that most of the time. Whether employed, unemployed, on strike, or at rest, the indigent, immigrant working class, specifically the Irish and other Catholics, are frequently contextualized as naturalist tropes of primitive otherness from the master group. …

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