Heirs of Yesterday
Barbara Cantalupo, Lori Harrison-Kahan
Originally published in 1900 and set in fin-de-siècle California, Heirs of Yesterday by Emma Wolf (1865–1932) uses a love story to explore topics such as familial loyalty, the conflict between American individualism and ethno-religious heritage, and anti-Semitism in the United States. The introduction, co-authored by Barbara Cantalupo and Lori Harrison-Kahan, includes biographical background on Wolf based on new research and explores key literary, historical, and religious contexts for Heirs of Yesterday. It incorporates background on the rise of Reform Judaism and the late nineteenth-century Jewish community in San Francisco, while also considering Wolf’s relationship to the broader literary movement of realism and to other writers of her time. As Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan demonstrate, the publication history and reception of Heirs of Yesterday illuminate competing notions of Jewish American identity at the turn of the twentieth century. Compared to the familiar ghetto tales penned by Yiddish-speaking, Eastern European immigrant writers, Heirs of Yesterday offers a very different narrative about turn-of-the-twentieth-century Jewish life in the United States. The novel’s central characters, physician Philip May and pianist Jean Willard, are not striving immigrants in the process of learning English and becoming American. Instead, they are native-born citizens who live in the middle-class community of San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, where they interact socially and professionally with their gentile peers. Tailored for students, scholars, and readers of women’s studies, Jewish studies, and American literature and history, this new edition of Heirs of Yesterday highlights the art, historical value, and controversial nature of Wolf’s work.