Academic journal article Shofar

Honest to One's Self: Censorship and Variants in American Editions of Meyer Levin's in Search

Academic journal article Shofar

Honest to One's Self: Censorship and Variants in American Editions of Meyer Levin's in Search

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

What do bowdlerized printings of Meyer Levin's first autobiography, In Search (1950), reveal about his concessions to censorship? And how might Levin's later restoration of the original text to one of the paperback reprints of In Search respond to the suppression-as orchestrated by Lillian Hellman and Otto Frank-of Levin's staging of the Anne Frank diary? This study reveals disparities between the first French (though published in English) and American editions of In Search and suggests that the changes provide insight into the politics and biases of the publishing worlds of the 1950s, into Levin's sometime propensity toward self-censorship, and-by virtue of his eventual restoration of original text to a 1973 paperback printing of In Search-into his growing resolve to be honest to one's self through freedom of expression.

Novelist and playwright Meyer Levin (1905-1981), known chiefly for The Old Bunch (1937) and his best-seller, Compulsion (1956), was among the first war correspondents to enter liberated concentration camps and report on Nazi atrocities. Levin is also remembered for The Obsession (1973), the second of his autobiographies, which details his anguish and the lawsuit over his thwarted staging of the Diary of Anne Frank. Otto Frank, Anne's father, blocked Levin's script from production, eventually turning to the husband-and-wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich to adapt the Diary for theater. Levin believed that the Hacketts, beyond plagiarizing segments of his dramatization of the Diary, had deflected attention from the root cause of the Holocaust by emphasizing universal injustice rather than antisemitism, per se, thereby diminishing Anne Frank's Jewish identity and suffering.1 Levin's first autobiography, In Search (1950), anticipates those concerns through its own account of Levin's personal struggle to embrace his Jewish identity. Recent attention to these concerns includes two dramatizations of Levin's quarrel with Otto Frank, and the suggestion that In Search, for five decades, has influenced the symbolism, narrative artistry, and psychological realism of Philip Roth.2

The current study discloses previously overlooked variants between the first French (that is, self-published in France, though written and typeset in English) and American (based on the self-published edition) editions of In Search. Most of those changes, incorporated into a 1961 paperback edition of the autobiography, may have resulted from previously unknown or undocumented editorial prompting and censorship. Levin, however, in a 1973 paperback edition of In Search, silently reinstated nearly all the de- leted passages. I propose that those restorations invite inquiry into Levin's response to censorship both before and after his ordeal with the staging of the Diary of Anne Frank. To that end, I introduce my discussion of the variant texts of In Search with a review of that autobiography's central themes, particularly as those pertain to Jewish identity and to issues that appear to have shaped Levin's later outrage over the purposeful suppression of Anne Frank's Jewish identity by Otto Frank both in the published Diary and in its theatrical adaptation. As Otto Frank wrote Levin, "it is not a Jewish Book. ... So do not make a Jewish play of it."3

Otto Frank's suppression of Levin's staging of the Diary could well have figured in Levin's decision in 1973-significantly, the same year he published The Obsession-to restore, to the final paperback reprint of In Search, elided passages from the first French edition. Germane to that decision, I suggest, is a sentence in the opening pages of In Search that sets the tone for the autobiography, also foreshadowing concerns central to Levin's later outrage over the de-Judaized Broadway production of the Diary: "My dominant childhood memory is of fear and shame at being ajew."4 For some 500 pages following that remark, Levin deals with various challenges and suppressions involved in being an American Jew and overcoming "the child's guilt at being secretly ashamed of his people" (Horizon Press, 19). …

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