Academic journal article Shofar

Lies Her Mother Told Us: Louise Levitas Henriksen's Critique of Anzia Yezierska's Autobiography

Academic journal article Shofar

Lies Her Mother Told Us: Louise Levitas Henriksen's Critique of Anzia Yezierska's Autobiography

Article excerpt

Anzia Yezierska's autobiography. Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950), was the subject of a transition in reader reception from its publication in 1950 to the 1970s and 1980s. First received as the story of Yezierska's life, it was later perceived as fiction, in part because of significant differences between it and the facts of Yezierska's life. One of these was the omission of her daughter Louise from Red Ribbon. In this paper, I use Louis Levitas Henriksens autobiography of her mother, Anzia Yezierska, A Writer's Life (1988), and her comments on Red Ribbon to shed light on these issues. I claim that Henriksens biography of Yezierska is largely an attempt to rewrite her mother's life, and that her need to carry out this project is connected with her need to tell her own story. Rewriting her mother's life story allows her to write her own story, and in doing so she reinserts herself into the biography of the mother who omitted her from her autobiography.

All biographies like all autobiographies like all narratives tell one story in place of another.1

The real mystery is oneself.2

Anzia Yezierska's autobiography, Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950), was the subject of a transition in reader reception from the time it was published in 1950 to its resurrection by feminist scholars in the 1970s and 1980s. First received as the story of Yezierska's life, it later came to be perceived as a work of fiction, in part because of a number of significant differences between it and the facts of Yezierska's life. One of these differences consisted of the omission of the fact of her daughter Louise Levitas Henriksen's existence from Red Ribbon. Louise's absence from the one text that Yezierska presented as her autobiography raises questions not only about authorial intentions, but also about the issue of this text's truth value. These questions are particularly interesting in light of the fact that the bulk of Yezierskas fictional works are largely read as autobiographical, and that her novel Bread Givers has been genetically categorized in contemporary works on women's autobiography as an autobiography.

In this paper, I use Henriksen's autobiography of her mother, Anzia Yezierska: A Writer's Life (1988), and her comments on Red Ribbon on a White Horse to shed light on these issues. Of particular interest is the way in which Henriksen deals with the fact of her own glaring absence from her mother's autobiography. My claim is that Henriksen's biography of her mother is in large part an attempt to rewrite her mother s life and that her need to carry out this project is connected with her need to tell her own story while reinscribing herself into her mother s life story. Writing her mother's biography allows her to write her own story, and in doing so she reinserts herself into the biography of the mother who omitted her from her autobiography.

The question of the truth-value of Yezierskas Red Ribbon on a White Horse, her professed autobiography, was a matter of interest not only to her critics, who often approached her works from a socio-historical perspective and thus focused on the issue of factuality, but also to her daughter, Louise Levitas Henriksen. Henriksen's motivations for researching her mother's life differed from those of the critics and stemmed from her own personal story, specifically from the fact that she spent most of her childhood in her father's custody, enjoying only short periods of time with her mother. In this paper, I examine Henriksen's commentary on and exploration of her mother s life story as Yezierska presents it in her writing. For this purpose, I use both Henriksen's comments on Red Ribbon on a White Horse and her biography of her mother, Anzia Yezierska: A Writer's Life. I pay particular attention to the way in which Henriksen relates to the issue of truth, specifically the way in which she deals with the fact of her own absence from her mother's autobiography. I will attempt to shed light on the relationship between what Yezierska presents as the truth of her life story and the truth of her mothers life story as Henriksen sees it. …

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