Wallant, Edward Lewis

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WALLANT, Edward Lewis

Nationality: American. Born: New Haven, Connecticut, 19 October 1926. Education: Pratt Institute, 1947-50; New School for Social Research, 1954-55. Military Service: United States Navy, 1944-46. Family: Married Joyce Fromkin in 1948; one son and two daughters. Career: Graphic artist for various advertising agencies, 1950-61. Awards: Bread Loaf Writers' Conference fellow, 1960; Jewish Book Council of America Harry and Ethel Daroff Memorial fiction award, 1961, for The Human Season; Guggenheim fellow, 1962; National Book Award nomination, 1962, for The Pawnbroker.Died: 5 December 1962.



The Human Season. 1958.

The Pawnbroker. 1961.

The Tenants of Moonbloom. 1963.

The Children at the Gate. 1964.


Film Adaptation:

The Pawnbroker, 1964.

Critical Studies:

"The Secular Heart: The Achievement of Edward Lewis Wallant" by Nicholas Ayo, in Critique, 12(2), 1970, pp. 86-94; "The Sudden Hunger: An Essay on the Novels of Edward Lewis Wallant" by Charles A. Hoyt, in Minor American Novelists, edited by Hoyt and Harry T. Moore, 1971; "The Renewal of Dialogical Immediacy in Edward Lewis Wallant" by William V. Davis, and "The Hung-up Heroes of Edward Lewis Wallant" by Robert W. Lewis, both in Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature, 24, 1972, pp. 59-84; Edward Lewis Wallant by David Galloway, 1979; "From Buchenwald to Harlem: The Holocaust Universe of The Pawnbroker" by Lillian S. Kremer, in Literature, the Arts, and the Holocaust, edited by Sanford Pinsker and Jack Fischel, 1987; "The Mistral of Sol Nazerman: Nature Imagery in Wallant's The Pawnbroker " by Arnold L. Goldsmith, in his The Modern American Urban Novel, 1991; "Hollywood and the Holocaust: Remembering The Pawnbroker " by Leonard J. Leff, in American Jewish History, 84(4), December 1996, pp. 353-76.

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Known primarily as the author of The Pawnbroker, his only work to directly address the Holocaust, Edward Lewis Wallant wrote four novels before his untimely death at age 36 in 1962. David Galloway, in Edward Lewis Wallant, claims Wallant may have been inspired to address the trauma of the Holocaust after meeting a Jewish refugee who had survived the death camps when both were students and adds that visits to a relative's pawnshop in Harlem informed the novel's setting. Wallant's writing concerns Jewish American protagonists who struggle with mourning, guilt, ethics, and ethnic identity. Jewishness becomes juxtaposed to other American ethnicities, offering a sociological inscription of attitudes and problems found in urban and suburban New York City at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. His narratives particularize the tensions between Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, and WASP inhabitants of microcosmic enclaves ruled more often by relationships of commerce, exchange, and daily circumstance than they are by intimacy. Distance and disaffection rule even familial interactions, and the past shadows the present, giving the novels a psychoanalytic dimension, most often without the aid of therapeutic listeners. If Wallant's racial and ethnic portrayals may be accused of reproducing stereotypes and his symbolism of being too obvious, his novels tellingly evoke their historical moment.

Beginning with The Human Season (1958), Wallant uses a flashback structure to link a postwar U.S. environment to that of European Jewry before immigration. Each of the 18 chapters begins with incidents in the1950s linked to dreams of events in the past, giving the novel a frame that bears witness to Wallant's concern with form. His approach to temporal segmentation may be seen from the outset as strikingly cinematic, a comparison that the film adaptation of The Pawnbroker will later confirm. The dreams in The Human Season recall incidents focusing on the protagonist's relationship to his father and contrast the epochal changes across a single generation, as displacement undercuts rituals seen as anchoring previous generations to a sustaining heritage.

With the publication and acclaim of The Pawnbroker (1961) Wallant, who had graduated in commercial art from Pratt Institute to become an advertising art director, was able to devote himself entirely to writing, sustained by a relationship with publisher Harcourt, Brace & World and a Guggenheim grant. After Wallant's fatal stroke in December of 1962, his last two novels were published posthumously.

Wallant's The Tenants of Moonbloom (1963) examines the daily life of a rental agent, Norman Moonbloom, who, in effect, is the front man for his brother, a lower Manhattan slumlord. As in The Pawnbroker, the history of urban migration serves as the novel's backdrop, as an anachronistic ritual of face-to-face rent collection forces the protagonist to visit tenants who complain about the many malfunctioning and decrepit aspects of their dwellings. They either try to con the collector out of their debt or enlist his attention to display their sex fantasies, their anger at the world, or their diseases. Dark comedy changes to a poignant vision of the economically oppressed. His final novel, The Children at the Gate (1964), juxtaposes a Jewish hospital orderly, Sammy, betrayed by an acquaintance, Angelo DeMarco, who comes later to regret his accusations. Throughout Wallant's work the reader listens to conversations and hears of invasive, troubling dreams, placed in the position of an analyst helpless to intervene. The novels each end with a coupling of sacrificial and redemptive actions, though the transformation willed as symbolic closure lingers less in memory than the dystopian vision of the body of these works.

—Maureen Turim

See the essay on The Pawnbroker.