Remembering Irving Howe

Remembering Irving Howe

What was the source of Irving’s distinctive prose style? The lyricism that you find in World of Our Fathers, the tender and quizzical humor in that book, the immigrant pathos that manages to remain light, and the lightness that manages to be sorrowful—where did those peculiar and appealing qualities come from? In the days after Irving died, some of his friends, in a slightly testy mood, fell to arguing with one another, and the origin of his lyrical prose was a main issue of contention. I found myself insisting that a feeling of solidarity with downtrodden people—socialism, in short—was the inspiration for Irving’s style. But a friend replied, a little curtly: no, you fool, his lyricism was of the pure Yiddish variety, and Jewishness was his inspiration.

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Lima