|In Dreams Begin
"The world is a marriage of convenience," said Laura drunkenly, "the
world is a shot-gun marriage. The world is a sordid match for money.
The world is a misalliance. Every birthday is a funeral and every
funeral is a great relief." "
Reviewed by Melissa Lee
How does a child or
a community of immigrants, parents seeking new lives for their
children, searching for the promise that would heal future generations;
how does a son move toward life in another nation? By 1913, the year
that Schwartz was born, the Jewish community in New York was beginning
to thrive. Its children suffered the burden of having to find new ways
to adapt to their changing environment, to get a foothold in the
economy, to marry, to provide, to retain their heritage, their
religion, and yet embrace American civilization and the New
In Dreams begin Responsibilities
takes us on a surging journey through eight accounts of life in America
during and after the World Wars. The title story was written when
Schwartz was only twenty four and after publication in the new Partisan Review the
story sent shockwaves through literary circles as it became regarded as
a masterpiece by his peers and contemporaries. The very fact that
Schwartz had set out writing in an attempt to create a masterpiece, to
work with the passion of a clergyman, or a scientist; to spread the
word, to extrapolate the very device from society which was suffocating
his generation, his own esteem, sets this collection up as an account
of boisterous and monstrous ambition.
This edition aims
to rediscover Schwartz’s unmistakable voice for new
generations. I had never heard of either the
writer or the book but troubled over each page with a sense of
acute dread and longing, with pangs of enormous satisfaction. The prose
is neat but edgy. Smart and realist but with Kafka-esque undertones.
Each of the main characters embarks on a complex inner study of
alienation, grief, disappointment, in a world of stark reality and
dreamscapes which quickly elucidate to become nightmares.
chooses to participate as an omniscient spectator or self-mythologized
participant in his own stories. In the story America, America! a
tale set during the Depression, a vulnerable and awkward young man,
Shenandoah Fish, suffers inertia as an American citizen and sets
himself the challenge of becoming a writer. And again and again we see
the same character emerge, to different parents, perhaps, but with the
same condition. Samuel Hart in The Child is the Meaning of this
Life, suffers the tragic loss of his brother whilst
incurring the effects of a lifetime of a co-dependent relationship with
Freud looms large
in the complex psychologies of these trapped and anxious characters. In
both In Dreams
Begin Responsibilities and later in The Track Meet, we
meet two passive and harrowed characters who bear witness to their own
worst dreams. The sense of conflict which pervades the text as a whole,
comes to an incredible climax in The World is a Wedding,
a tale of a group of young would-be intellectuals and friends who meet
to discuss art, literature and politics and become dependant, insular
and envious, and threaten to destroy either one another or themselves.
In each story, Schwartz cleverly builds to an unbearably slow, drawn
out and dramatic climax, where a single line can often stop the reader
in their tracks and force them to re-deliberate the writer’s
intentions. Often, by the end of a page I was left with the silent
mental equivalent of choking, of gasping for breath.
Melissa Lee is a Northern UK writer of poetry,
drama and fiction, and a member of The Fiction Workhouse.
Address: 43 Great
Russell Street, Bloomsbury
London, WC1B 3LU
Yes (first published in 1937)
bio: Delmore Schwartz
(1913- 1966) was a dramatist, poet and fiction writer. An American
Jewish immigrant of the 1930’s, Schwartz became highly
in New York after his first book, In Dreams begin Responsibilities
was published in 1937. He died destitute in a
New York Hotel in 1966.
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