Elaine Feinstein, a British poet, novelist and biographer whose writing was inspired by her Jewish heritage, died Sept. 23 in London. She was 88.
Ms. Feinstein published more than a dozen poetry collections and 15 novels. She also translated the Russian poet Marine Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), whose work she found particularly inspiring, and which influenced her own.
She often explored the relationship between being Jewish and being English. Ever present with her was the knowledge that had her ancestors settled in Germany rather than England, her life might have been very different. “My Jewish upbringing was a source of strength,” she told The Guardian in 1988.
Harold Bloom, an American literary critic and the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, died Oct. 14 in New Haven, CT. He was 89. He taught his last class at Yale three days prior to his death.
Following the publication of his first book in 1959, Bloom wrote more than 40 books, including 20 books of literary criticism, several books discussing religion, and a novel. During his lifetime, he edited hundreds of anthologies concerning numerous literary and philosophical figures for the Chelsea House publishing firm. Bloom’s books have been translated into more than 40 languages.
Bloom was a defender of the Western canon (Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, etc.) at a time when literary departments were focusing on what he called the “literature of resentment” (multiculturalists, feminists, Marxists, neoconservatives and others). Armed with a photographic memory, Professor Bloom could recite the whole of Shakespeare, Milton’s Paradise Lost, all of William Blake, the Hebraic Bible, and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.
He was born into an Orthodox Jewish household, the youngest of five children. The first book he read was an anthology of Yiddish poetry. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, and was educated at Yale University, the University of Cambridge, and Cornell University.
Martin Bernheimer, a classical music critic noted for witty, withering writing that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1982, died Oct. 29 at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.
“Historically,” Mr. Bernheimer wrote in the Financial Times in 2008, “the best critics have guarded standards, stimulated debate and, in the complex process, reinforced the importance of art in society. They have been tastemakers, taskmasters and possibly ticket-sellers. Some have even written well.”
Mr. Bernheimer certainly did. He described Luciano Pavarotti as “the over-hype tenor of the century.” Of Lorin Maazel, he wrote, “He knows how to capitalize on his limitations.” Mr. Bernheimer joined The Los Angeles Times after spells at The New York Post, The Musical Courier and Saturday Review. He twice won the prestigious ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for writing about music, in 1974 and 1978, and served on the faculties of the University of Southern California, the University of California/Los Angeles, and other nearby colleges. He appeared regularly on the Metropolitan Opera’s national radio broadcasts.
Sol Stein, a prolific novelist and playwright, publisher, and editor who helped fashion a collection of essays by James Baldwin, a former high school classmate, into a literary classic titled Notes of a Native Son, died Sept. 19 at his home in Tarrytown, NY. He was 92.
As editor in chief of Stein and Day, a publishing house established by Stein and his then-wife, he worked with Elia Kazan; also Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling, his former professors at Columbia; David Frost, Budd Schulberg and Dylan Thomas.
Mr. Stein’s lifelong association with Mr. Baldwin began when both were editors of The Magpie, the literary magazine at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. It was perhaps an unlikely bond: As Mr. Stein would say, he was white, Jewish and attracted to women while Mr. Baldwin was black, the stepson of a Pentecostal minister, and attracted to men.
He was the author of more than a dozen books, including how-to guides for novelists. In Stein on Writing (1995), he offered this advice to writers: “Be sure you don’t stop the story while describing. You are a storyteller, not an interior decorator. Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
[Editor’s note: Every year, a new crop of how-to-write books is published, and I have read or at least perused most of them. Not one is as clear and helpful as Stein on Writing. I recommend it to my classes of memoir writers every term. SB]
Diet Eman died on Sept. 3 at her home in Grand Rapids, MI. She was 99. Her death was confirmed by John Evans, as family spokesman, who directed the film The Reckoning (2007), which documents her experience as a member of the Dutch resistance during WWII.
When Nazi harassment of Dutch Jews escalated in 1942 to persecution and transport to the Westerbork camp in the northeast Netherlands, she and her resistance group stole food and gas ration cards, forged identity papers, and sheltered hundreds of fugitive Jews. She delivered supplies and moral support to one apartment in The Hague that in late 1942 housed 27 Jews in hiding. Pursued by the Nazis, she was captured in 1944 and imprisoned, but was released three months later, and she immediately rejoined the resistance.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan hailed Ms. Eman in a letter for risking her safety “to adhere to a higher law of decency and morality.” In 1998, Yad Vashem granted her the title of Righteous Among the Nations, given to non-Jews for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. In 2015, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, lauded Ms. Eman as “one of our national heroes.”