The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein

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9780810125186: The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein

Finalist for 2008 Pulitzer Prize

Lincoln Kirstein was a tireless champion of the arts in America. Working behind the scenes to provide artists with money, space, audiences, and, at times, emotional support, he helped found such landmark cultural institutions as the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, New York’s Lincoln Center and Stratford's American Shakespeare Festival.   Duberman's biography sheds light on this lamentably neglected cultural figure. Though best known as a benefactor of the arts, Kirstein was also an adept critic, poet and novelist who published some fifteen books in his lifetime. From his undergraduate years at Harvard, where he established the influential literary magazine Hound and Horn, as well as the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art (precursor to the Modern Museum of Art), to his complex and historically significant relationship with George Balanchine, Kirstein's contributions were indespensible to the development of the arts in America.   Authoritative and elegant, Duberman's biography utilizes previously unavailable documents, including Kirstein's diaries, to reveal the keen eye, incessant self-doubt, and enormous ambition that drove Kirstein's relentless advocacy. The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein brings attention to an important, but until-now unappreciated figure whose individual contribution to the arts was one of the greatest of the twentieth century.

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About the Author:

Martin Duberman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the City University of New York. He is the author of some twenty books, including Charles Francis Adams (winner of the Bancroft Prize); James Russell Lowell (finalist for the National Book Award); Paul Robeson (winner of the George Freedley Memorial Award); Left Out: The Politics of Exclusion, Essays 1964-2002; Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community; and Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey. His recent novel Haymarket has been published in several languages. Duberman’s play In White America won the Drama Desk Award. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Growing Up (1917–1926)

When Rose Stein told her family in the summer of 1893 that she wished to marry Louis Kirstein, she met with instant and strenuous opposition. The Steins, after all, were among Rochester’s most prominent Jewish families, partners in the flourishing Stein-Bloch men’s clothing company, pillars of the community—even if, but one generation back, their mother had been a wet nurse in Posen, Germany.[1]

Who was this Louis Kirstein? A nobody in their view, a large, coarse-looking man with limited education and income—and even more limited prospects. He did currently hold down a salesman’s job for an optical firm, but though admittedly bright, congenial, and ambitious, he hadn’t found work that genuinely engaged him or offered promise of a secure future. Nor did his history inspire confidence that he ever would.

Alarming tales had reached the stodgy Stein clan: Kirstein, it seemed, had only a grammar-school education, had left home at sixteen, ridden the rails as a hobo, worked as a janitor in a St. Louis brothel, and once been held in jail overnight for trying to peddle a worthless patent medicine. He had, though still in his late twenties, already gone bankrupt three times—once as part owner, player, and manager of a bush-league baseball team.

The words “sporting type,” “maverick,” and “outsider” clung to his name: he was said to like fine Cuban cigars (Corona Coronas) and well-tailored clothes, was a habitual (and lucky) poker player—and wasn’t an observant Jew. Not that the Steins were, either, but somehow Louis should have been, given his otherwise unorthodox ways. No, Rose was told, the match was entirely unsuitable.

But Rose refused to yield. She felt certain that the man she’d fallen for couldn’t be summarized by his hard-luck past, nor could his earlier missteps be taken as an accurate gauge of his character. The Louis Kirstein she knew was a charismatic man of integrity and generosity, a man of shrewd intelligence, unflagging optimism, and a tremendous appetite for life. Far from being a “sporting type,” he believed strongly in the ideal of “service”—in using one’s gifts and good fortune in behalf of those less fortunate. And, far from being a “fancy man,” he adhered to standard middle-class values of hard work, civic-mindedness, and devotion to family. No, she would not give him up. (Nor would she be at all surprised when, within a decade, Louis would begin a rapid ascent to wealth and influence.)

Rose’s obstinacy was not an entire surprise to her family. Though she’d grown up a conventional enough child, and was now seemingly content with the decorous confines of well-to-do womanhood—a keen interest in fashion, embroidery and lace, museumgoing, the arts and concerts—her six siblings had been warned at an early age, so one of them later remembered, “never to cross Rosie because she might have one of her crazy tantrums.” Her daughter Mina would later write of her, “She was not given to revealing her feelings, only exploding when they were injured.”

Ultimately Rose’s parents gave their reluctant consent to an engagement. But they stipulated that marriage could not take place for three years, during which time they confidently expected their daughter to change her mind. She didn’t. When the three-year waiting period was up, in January 1896, she and Louis quietly wed—and promptly moved to Boston. This further aggravated family disapproval. Rose’s parents didn’t cut her off, but when she gave birth to her first child, Mina, a year later, it was not her own mother who came down from Rochester to stand by but rather Louis’s widowed mother.

Once settled in a modest rented apartment, Louis went to work for the well-established opticians Andrew J. Lloyd & Company, and began to spend considerable time on the road selling eyeglasses. His own father, Edward, had been a lens grinder in Jena, near Leipzig, a city that for a time had been a center of liberal thought and home to Fichte, Hegel, and Schiller. Edward and his wife, Jeanette, had been adherents of the revolutionary uprising of 1848, and in the wake of its failure, had fled Germany, along with hordes of like-minded social radicals, for the United States. There Edward had found work with the Bausch and Lomb optical company in Rochester, the same city where, some dozen years later, Rose’s father, Nathan Stein, became a wealthy man—thanks to contracts he secured during the Civil War to make uniforms for the Union army (uniforms, it was widely rumored, that were cut from shoddy material).



The Steins’ ongoing condescension to Louis dissipated somewhat with the birth of Mina, in 1897; to them it apparently signified seriousness and permanence. The renegade couple was invited to return to Rochester, and Louis offered employment with the family company, Stein-Bloch. He took his time accepting: the Steins had treated him as unworthy, and Louis had a settled sense of self-regard.

Still, he missed his mother, who’d remained in Rochester, living modestly in a small gray frame house in a decaying section of the city. Kindhearted, politically liberal, courageous (she was crippled with arthritis but never complained), and cultivated—her special passions were Goethe and Heine—Grandma Kirstein was the only religious member of the family; she read the Old Testament in German, prayer books in Hebrew, and insisted that Louis attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Despite her limited means, Grandma Kirstein (who died in 1914) would treat visitors to a spread of marzipan, pretzels, Apfelstrudel, and licorice sticks. Should Louis be in town, his favorite preserve, quince jelly, would be served, and should Mina accompany him, Grandma made her favorite— Küchelchen, little drops of sponge cake dipped in fat.

An additional reason for returning to Rochester was that Rose also missed her family, and especially two of her sisters, Molly and Jane. (She felt less close to her other siblings, and downright distant from her two difficult, somewhat showy bachelor brothers, one of whom summered in a palatial “cottage” and the other notoriously “not nice” to his female help.)



In 1901 the Kirsteins finally decided to return to Rochester, and Louis accepted a job with Stein-Bloch as a traveling salesman. They moved into a modest-size house on Portsmouth Terrace, around the corner from Rochester’s most elegant street, East Avenue, which boasted the pillared mansion of George Eastman, inventor of the box Kodak camera. Louis had once worked for Eastman and became a personal acquaintance; it was rumored that he’d rejected Eastman’s offer to join the Kodak firm, convinced that the new “toy” was a passing fad.

The Kirsteins’ house was securely nestled within a cluster of Stein homes. Rose’s widowed sister, Molly, lived next door with her daughter; sister Jane lived two houses down the street with her husband, Martin Wolff, owner of Rochester’s prestigious Lyceum Theatre, and their two children. Young Mina Kirstein soon decided that her favorite neighbors were not her relatives but the firemen who lived around the corner, fed her pears from the tree, and lifted her up to pat the heads of their beautiful white horses.

Rose managed to give the interior of their home some distinction through a generous sprinkling of potted palms, large ferns, and a number of marble statues—a near life-size Fisher Boy, the bust of a Gypsy atop a twisted green marble pillar, and in the sitting room, a small Cupid and Psyche. She bought a big Morris chair for Louis, stocked the bookshelves (Rose was herself a devoted reader), and provided Mina, who’d early been labeled “precocious”—at seven she was reading Shaw’s You Never Can Tell—with piano lessons, dancing school, a governess who spoke both French and German, and clothes imported from the fashionable New York stores Best and Peter Thompson.

Both of Rose’s bachelor brothers, and a brother-in-law as well, worked in the Stein-Bloch business. Nathan Stein, the quick-tempered family patriarch, required (until his death in 1908) that all family members attend him daily at lunch in his impressive Gibbs Street brick mansion, with its ornate mirrors, cut-glass vases filled with fresh American Beauty roses, superb Belter rosewood chairs—and two servants on duty behind his chair to prevent his ever being kept waiting. After lunch the men would retire for a game of billiards—which Nathan somehow always won. Though a considerable despot, he had a soft spot for his grandchildren, and Mina seems to have been a favorite. As an adult she would remember him as having been “very kind” to her, sending her off every Saturday for a shampoo and manicure with a Mrs. Davenport (whom Mina, later in life, suspected had been Grandpa Stein’s “special friend”).



Rose Kirstein gave birth to a second child, a boy, on May 4, 1907, and Louis (who was forty-one at the time of his son’s birth) named the baby Lincoln in honor of his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Ten-year-old Mina’s reaction was less benign. “He looks like a lobster!” she screamed on first seeing him—and Rose promptly ordered her from the bedroom, into the arms of her comforting father. The two loved each other deeply, and Louis reassured Mina that her special place in his heart was inviolable. The essential family alliances, never rigid, had been formed: father and daughter, mother and son.

Mina quickly came round about the new baby, however and on the nurse’s day off, took to wheeling the infant, whom she now declared “ravishingly beautiful,” along the street...

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Book Description Northwestern University Press, United States, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 2, from an Out.. 229 x 152 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Finalist, 2008 Pulitzer Prize Lincoln Kirstein was a tireless champion of the arts in America. Working behind the scenes to provide artists with money, space, audiences, and, at times, emotional support, he helped found such landmark cultural institutions as the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, New York s Lincoln Center and Stratford s American Shakespeare Festival.Duberman s biography sheds light on this lamentably neglected cultural figure. Though best known as a benefactor of the arts, Kirstein was also an adept critic, poet and novelist who published some fifteen books in his lifetime. From his undergraduate years at Harvard, where he established the influential literary magazine Hound and Horn, as well as the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art (precursor to the Modern Museum of Art), to his complex and historically significant relationship with George Balanchine, Kirstein s contributions were indespensible to the development of the arts in America.Authoritative and elegant, Duberman s biography utilizes previously unavailable documents, including Kirstein s diaries, to reveal the keen eye, incessant self-doubt, and enormous ambition that drove Kirstein s relentless advocacy. The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein brings attention to an important, but until-now unappreciated figure whose individual contribution to the arts was one of the greatest of the twentieth century. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780810125186

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