Homberger, Eric (Ross) 1942-

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HOMBERGER, Eric (Ross) 1942-

PERSONAL:

Born May 30, 1942, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Alexander and Marilyn (Glick) Homberger; married Judy Jones, June 2, 1967; children: Martin Joshua, Margaret Alissa, Charles Michael. Education:University of California—Berkeley, B.A., 1964; University of Chicago, M.A., 1965; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1972. Politics: Socialist.

ADDRESSES:

Home—74 Clarendon Rd., Norwich NR2 2PW, England. Office—School of English & American Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, England. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

University of Exeter, England, temporary lecturer in American literature, 1969-70; University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, lecturer, 1970-88, reader in American literature, 1988—. University of Minnesota, visiting member of faculty, 1977-78; University of New Hampshire, visiting professor of American literature, 1991-92.

MEMBER:

British Association for American Studies.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Leverhulme fellowship in European studies, 1978-79.

WRITINGS:

A Chronological Checklist of the Periodical Publications of Sylvia Plath, University of Exeter (Exeter, England), 1970.

(Editor, with William Janeway and Simon Schama) The Cambridge Mind: Ninety Years of the "Cambridge Review," 1879-1969, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1970.

(Compiler) Ezra Pound: The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1972.

The Art of the Real: Poetry in England and America since 1939, Rowman & Littlefield (Totowa, NJ), 1977.

(Editor, with Holger Klein and John Flower) The Second World War in Fiction, Salem House (Boston, MA), 1984.

John le Carré, Methuen (New York, NY), 1986.

American Writers and Radical Politics, 1900-1939: Equivocal Commitments, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor, with John Charmley) The Troubled Face of Biography, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1988.

John Reed, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1990, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.

(Editor, with John Biggart) John Reed and the Russian Revolution: Uncollected Articles, Letters and Speeches in Russia, 1917-1920, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.

(With cartographic consultant Alice Hudson) The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City's History, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.

Scenes from the Life of a City: Corruption and Conscience in Old New York, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1994.

The Penguin Historical Atlas of North America, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2002.

New York City: A Cultural and Literary Companion, Interlink Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Times Literary Supplement, Nation, Economist, Guardian, and Journal of American Studies. Has also contributed to the anthologies Modernism 1890-1930, edited by Malcolm Bradbury and James Macfarlane (Penguin Books, 1976), The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics, edited by Rachel Blau du Plessis and Peter Quartermain (University of California Press, 1999), and The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing, edited by Lorna Sage (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

SIDELIGHTS:

Though Eric Homberger is an experienced writer on topics ranging from photography to espionage to American-Jewish writing, his works of later years have focused on the thriving metropolis that holds both fear and wonder for Americans and foreigners alike: New York City. In The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City's History, Homberger pays tribute to his urban obsession with colorful pictures, detailed maps, and informative text highlighting some of the city's most important historical periods and attributes. Homberger also includes short biographies of some prominent figures associated with the city. Some reviewers, however, felt that Homberger's coverage of such a large topic was not expansive enough to warrant the book a true atlas. A Booklist reviewer called the book "an informative and visually attractive introduction to the history of the city," but pointed out that it "is quite selective in its coverage and has limited value compared with more comprehensive guides to the city." The same reviewer listed several sites and figures that were excluded from the book. In a review published on the New York Accommodation Web site, however, Stephanie Gold expressed an opposing opinion, stating that "Eric Homberger's The Historical Atlas of New York City shows what can be achieved within a very narrow frame of discussion." Gold went on to commend the author's "rich variety of details" and inclusion of "the small stuff… such as the political and cultural role of New York's taverns in the late 1700s."

Homberger's next New York-based undertaking, Scenes from the Life of a City: Corruption and Conscience in Old New York, consigns good against evil in nineteenth-century New York City. After a thorough historical background, Homberger delves into the lives of four prominent New York figures: Dr. Stephen Smith, Frederick Law Olmstead, Richard "Slippery Dick" Connolly, and the infamous Madame Restell. Smith was the founder of the Metropolitan Health Board and almost solely responsible for establishing a health code to rid the city of its filthy infestations and disease-ridden conditions. Equally commendable was Olmstead, the forthright creator of Central Park, who achieved what was thought to be impossible on limited funds—without stealing a cent. The most formidable figure in this work is Connolly, the city's most notoriously corrupt comptroller who fled to Europe with almost six million dollars of New York citizens' money. Madame Restell is the most tragic figure of the book. Madame Restell committed suicide after serving a jail sentence for running an illegal abortion clinic for the elite out of her upper-East-side mansion. August Heckscher wrote in the New Leader that Homberger "has the virtue of never treating anything black and white," but pointed out that "this leaves everything gray," and that "in elaborating his theme, he winds back and forth." Heckscher did conclude, however, that "the reader who perseveres… will enjoy a rich, if subdued, tapestry and a number of fresh perceptions and illuminating ideas." Brian Masters wrote in Spectator that Homberger "does a credible job" with the book. "He demonstrates that there have been few long-term victories in the eternal battle for New York City's soul, that greed, hypocrisy, and corruption are always with us," Masters continued. "But then there is also the occasional Olmstead, the surprising Smith, the recurrent saviors, offering just enough hope to make the struggle interesting."

In Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age, Homberger digs deeper into the hypocrisy of New York's historical aristocracy to unearth its central figure from the late-1800s to the early 1900s: Mrs. Astor. Homberger presents this social figure, without bias, as the epitome of refined and cultured people of this time. But in doing so, the author reveals some of the dredges of social refinement that are not often discussed in the historical novels that have so familiarized today's readers with this time period. Homberger provides the details of the young New York's social milieu, playing it against the poverty of the rest of the city and its valiant struggle to establish itself as a metropolis. He presents each rung of the social ladder as laden with sharp and treacherous objects that the young ladies of this time perilously stepped on to move toward social acceptance and away from poverty and social rejection. Money did not guarantee a ticket into Mrs. Astor's exclusive society, for one had to behave properly as well, conforming to every nuance of social grace and acceptability, many of which were often painful and degrading. Homberger shows readers how those who traversed this course and made it through were reveled in the same light as modern-day celebrities, and those who did not were not thought of again.

Critics praised Homberger's Mrs. Astor's New York. "This history is a rare find," wrote Library Journal contributor Bonnie Collier, stating that Mrs. Astor's New York is "solidly researched" and "a book of sophisticated scholarship that also makes for entertaining reading." In a review of this work for Spectator, Masters wrote, "[this] is a serious and valuable social history, drawing upon worthy sources to build a detailed portrait of the elite and their way of life." Homberger's next work, New York City: A Cultural and Literary Companion, again focuses on New York City, this time honing in on different neighborhoods and their literature.

Homberger once told CA: "Living in England since 1965 has enabled me to confront the historical experience of my family (as emigrants, within living memory, from Europe) and of America itself. It has been hard to wave the flag; and I haven't really tried to do so. In partial consequence, I have become interested in fugitive areas of experience, of alienated sensibilities, whether ethnic or political, whose experience may in some way stand for the larger tendency of a society and a way of life."

"I would like to write the kind of literary criticism which is on the brink of becoming history, with its confident and unthinking grasp of the real. Criticism now has almost wholly surrendered that ambition, to its impoverishment, I think; it has the willingness to address a nonspecialist reading public. In England fifteen years ago critics still hoped to speak to such an audience. But that has mostly gone and has been replaced by a more vigorous hunger for theorization. The end result: critics only able to speak to each other, inmates, really, in a crumbling and neglected ward, trying to persuade each other that the discipline advances. I want to write a stronger, more political sort of thing. Maybe the form ought to be different. In Scenes from the Life of a City: Corruption and Conscience in Old New York I have tried to combine biography, social history, and some techniques of literary criticism in studies of figures, largely forgotten, who were in their day—nineteenth century—scandalous. I can imagine writing, quite consciously, to reach a wider audience, or at least a different one; the only problem is that the audience I would like to address may no longer exist."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, April, 1996, review of Scenes from the Life of a City: Corruption and Conscience in Old New York, p. 563.

American History, June, 1995, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City's History, p. 27.

American Reference Books Annual, 1996, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City, p. 196.

Atlantic Monthly, November, 2002, Benjamin Schwarz, review of Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age, p. 1100.

Booklist, February 1, 1995, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City, pp. 1027-1028; December 15, 1995, The Penguin Historical Atlas of North America, p. 725.

Choice, April, 1995, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City, p. 1366; May, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 1513.

History: Review of New Books, fall, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 8.

Journal of American History, September, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 731.

Journal of American Studies, December, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 500.

Journal of Urban History, July, 1999, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 725.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, March, 1996, review of The Penguin Historical Atlas of North America, p. 33.

Library Journal, April 1, 1995, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City, p. 108; November 15, 2002, Bonnie Collier, review of Mrs. Astor's New York, p. 85.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 10, 1995, review of The Penguin Historical Atlas of North America, p. 15.

New Leader, December 19, 1994, August Heckscher, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, pp. 36-37.

New York Times Book Review, January 1, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, September 23, 1996, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 73.

Smithsonian, October, 1995, Donald Dale Jackson, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, pp. 156-158.

Spectator, October 5, 2002, Brian Masters, "Climbing among the Skyscrapers," review of Mrs. Astor's New York, p. 46.

Times Literary Supplement, February 24, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 12.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1995, review of Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 81.

Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1995, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City, p. 80.

ONLINE

New York Accommodation Web site,http://www.new-york-accomodation.com/ (February 5, 2004), Stephanie Gold, review of The Historical Atlas of New York City.

University of East Anglia Web site,http://www.uea.ac.uk/ (February 5, 2004), "Eric Homberger: Professor of American Studies" and "Eric Homberger's Publications List."

Yale University Press Web site, http://www.yale.edu/books/ (April 16, 2003), description of Mrs. Astor's New York.*