|Rachel Sampson||Hobson, Laura Z.: Gentleman's Agreement|
|Assignment 1: Bibliographic Description|
|1. First Edition Publication Information||Hobson, Laura Z. Gentleman's Agreement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1947.
Copyright Statement: 1946, 1947 by Laura Z. Hobson
Parallel First Edition: In the United States-New York: Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., 1947-This edition was made available to the Armed Forces of the United States through an arrangement with Simon and Schuster.
|2. First Edition in Cloth, Paper, or Both?||The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding.|
|4. Pagination||146 leaves,  pp. 1-275 |
|5. Edited and/or Introduced?||The book includes a publisher advertisement for books by Laura Z. Hobson, namely The Trespassers and Gentleman's Agreement. There is also a dedication from the author "For Mike and Chris". Otherwise, there is no introductory material.|
|6. Illustrated?||The book has no illustrations aside from the emblem of Simon and Schuster centered on the recto side of the second leaf.|
|8. General Appearance||Size of Page: 8x5.4 in.
Size of Text: 6x4 in.
Size of Type: 90R
The text is well presented and preserved. The print is still crisp and the paper is of good quality and does not show much wear. It is only the binding that feels soft. The readability is easy. The margins are wide and the font size is that of a standard 12 point on a computer, so there are not too many words to a page, which makes for a less cluttered appearance on the whole.
The text, the chapter headings, and the Titling Letter all have links and serifs. The body of the titling letter is larger than that of the text. Chapter headings are capitalized and their bodies have a larger point size than the text but smaller than the Titling Letter. All pages are numbered, centered below the text in the same point size as the text.
|10. Description of Paper||The paper has an even, rough texture compared with modern book paper. The edges of the paper appear to have a frill-they were left rough (uncut). The thickness of an individual leaf provides good durability. There are no tears. The paper was off-white to begin with and is now yellowed, but uniformly so.
|11. Description of Binding||The material of the binding is cloth, namely Embossed Linen Grain. The color is light yellowish-olive. The cover simply shows the title and the author's name in green cursive writing, with one gold decorative chain running between these two things. The gold is engraved by making a blind impression and then laying in the gold leaf. There is green stamping on the spine where the author and title are contained in gold engraving. There is no dust jacket. There is one leaf of end paper of the same plain yellowish appearance, only of thicker quality.
Front Cover: Gentleman's Agreement | [chain link 135mm] | Laura Z. Hobson
Spine: Gentleman's | Agreement | [chain link 30mm] | LAURA Z. | HOBSON | SIMON AND | SCHUSTER
|12. Title Page Transcription||Recto: Gentleman's | Agreement | A NOVEL BY | Laura Z. Hobson | [Publisher's emblem of a man in a marching stance] | Simon and Schuster, New York | 1947
Verso: ALL RIGHTS RESERVED | INCLUDING THE RIGHT OF REPRODUCTION | IN WHOLE OR IN PART IN ANY FORM | COPYRIGHT, 1946, 1947 BY LAURA Z. HOBSON | PUBLSISHED BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC. | ROCKEFELLER CENTER, 1230 SIXTH AVENUE | NEW YORK 20, N.Y. | MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA | AMERICAN BOOK-STRATFORD PRESS, INC., N.Y.
|14. Manuscript Holdings||Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Butler Library, New York, NY 10027|
|15. Other||Laura Hobson has signed this first edition on the front leaf, writing "Dear Dale-Here it is at last-with affection and gratitude for all the books you've sent me. Laura -Feb. 4, 1947
Also, the donator's book plate is on the back of the front cover containing the latin "Hic Fructus Virtutis" and the donator's name, Clifton Waller Barrett.
|Assignment 2: Publication History|
|1. Other Editions:||Simon and Schuster, the original publisher, issued a Book Club Edition in 1947.
|4. First Edition printings or impressions?||Initial information in Publishers Weekly: First and Second Printings totaling 42,000 copies ordered-with paper for a third printing of 15,000 on order.
An advertisement from Simon and Schuster in the New York Times Book Review on June 15, 1947 contained the following information:
The first printing of the book yielded 30,000 copies. This was on February 27, 1947. Three days after publication the copies were exhausted. As of the advertisement (June 15, 1947), average number of weekly copies sold was 5,000.
Impressions of the First Edition (275 p. ; 21cm):
Grosset and Dunlap, 1947
Cherokee Publishing Company, 1979
Larlin Corp., 1979
Thorndike Press, 1982
Arbor House, 1983
Rinsen Book, 1986
|5. Editions from other publishers?||Editions for the Armed Services, 1947
Avon Books, 1968
Amereon, Limited 1976
Thorndike Press, 1982 (Large Print Book)
William Morrow and Company, 2 Editions-PaperBound and Trade Cloth
Buccaneer Books, Incorporated, 1994
|6. Last date in print?||The 1994 edition from Buccaneer Books is in print as of 1999.
|7. Total copies sold?||1,221,986 copies sold as of December, 1976 (Hackett, Alice; 80 Years of Best Sellers)
|8. Sales by year?||Unknown|
|9. Advertising copy:||On April 27, 1947 Gentleman's Agreement reached the Number 1 bestseller position in The New York Times Book Review-It held this spot through June 29. The following ad appeared in the NYT Book Review on Page 39 of the May 11 issue:
"Gentleman's Agreement" is now America's No.1 Bestseller
A Novel by Laura Hobson
$2.75-Simon and Schuster.
Another one page spread was seen in the June 15, 1947 issue-It starts with the headline "How an "impossible to sell" novel became the nation's No. 1 Best-Seller."
Then it continues with the following.
"I've got an idea for a book that the magazines will never look at, the movies won't touch, and the public won't buy. It will be impossible to sell. But I have to do it.
That was how Laura Z. Hobson first broke the news to her publishers that she was planning a new novel-Gentleman's Agreement. It was to be the story of a newspaper man who pretends to be Jewish in order to do an inside story on social anti-Semitism in America-thereby gambling the love of the only girl he cared about. Mrs. Hobson was convinced that such 'unpopular' subject matter would give her book a limited appeal...We, her publishers, were a little more optimistic about her novel's chances but we were certainly not prepared for what happened. First of all, long before the book was published, the new editor of Cosmopolitan heard about Gentleman's Agreement, read it, and immediately made plans to bring it to his two million readers as a serial. The Darryl F. Zanuck purchased the screen rights for 20th Century Fox and announced that Gentleman's Agreement would be his only production for the year."
This is an extensive advertisement that continues to go on to tell of the book's success and it ends with the following: "When a novelist with an impossible to sell theme tackles it courageously and honestly, within the framework of a story rich in dramatic surprise, the public has a way of taking hold of it and making it the nation's No. 1 Best-Seller."
|11. Other promotion?||The book was promoted in Publishers Weekly throughout the time of its release. When the movie was sold to 20th Century Fox it was backed by Simon and Schuster with a $7,500 initial expenditure. Three dimensional window displays were also created by Simon and Schuster at the time of release. On June 28 after the book became number 1, a new $35,000 ad campaign was to run in 15-20 cities for 4 months. The book was also promoted through book clubs-including a mail in coupon for a free copy of Gentleman's Agreement when a reader subscribed to the Doubleday Dollar Book Club.|
|12. Performances in other media?||Motion Picture released in 1947-Gentleman's Agreement
Director, Elia Kazan; producer, Darryl F. Zanuck; screenplay, Moss Hart; photography, Arthur Miller; music, Alfred Newman. Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, and Celeste Holm. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. The movie won 3 academy awards in 1948 including Best Picture.
Radio Play of Gentleman's Agreement-Lux Radio Theatre. 1948 Production, Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter
|13. Translations?||Jatta, Francesco. Patto di galantuomini [Italian]. Roma: Editrice meridionale, 1975.
Hallgatolagos megegyezes [Hungarian]. Budapest: Nova, 1948.
Heskem g'entimani [Hebrew transliterated] Jerusalem, 1947.
Mandog mand immellem [Kobenhavn, Samlerens forlag, 1947]
Mellom gentlemen [Stavanger, Stabenfeldt, 1947]
Le Mur Invisible [Geneve, Jeheber, 1948]
Pe cuvint de onoare [place: Bucuresti, 1993]
|14. Serialization?||Serialized in Cosmopolitan Magazine in four parts.
Cosmopolitan. Arthur Gordon-Editor; Pt 1-November 1946, Pt 2-December 1946, Pt 3-January 1947, Conclusion-February 1947.
|15. Sequels or Prequels?||N/A|
|Assignment 3: Brief Biography|
|Laura Keane Zametkin Hobson, author of the best-selling novel, Gentleman's Agreement, was born in New York City on June 19, 1900. Her father, Michael Zametkin, a Russian immigrant, was the first editor of the Jewish Daily Forward and a labor organizer. Her mother, Adella Kean Zametkin, gave advice to homemakers in Yiddish in her column in The Day. Both Adella and her husband were Socialists.
Laura Z. Hobson grew up on Long Island in what she called "an agnostic, broad-minded family." Hobson, although a Jew, thought of herself as agnostic.
I think of myself as a plain human who happens to be an American. But so long as there is anti-Semitism in this country, so long as it remains an advantage not to be Jewish, I can never simply say, 'I am an agnostic,' but must say, 'I am Jewish.' (Rothe 311)
Hobson first attended Hunter College before going to Cornell University for a bachelor's degree in Religion.
After college, she had many failed romantic relationships. In the 1920s a man named Tom Mount lived with her while married to another woman. During this time she had two abortions, and after these five years Mount left for Tahiti to write. On July 23, 1930 Laura Keane Zametkin married Thayer Hobson, a publisher. The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, although she kept the surname. She was later engaged to Ralph McAllister Ingersoll, founder of a short-lived New York newspaper. "Once she became pregnant, however, Ingersoll backed out" (Time 74). She later miscarried.
Hobson had two children, Michael and Christopher. She gave birth to Christopher "without notifying the father" (Time 74). She later adopted Michael in 1937.
Laura Hobson wrote nine novels, an autobiography, hundreds of short stories and magazine articles.
Her career began in the early 1930s when she worked as an advertising copywriter. In 1934 she then joined the promotion staff of Time, Life and Fortune, where she remained until 1940, at which time she decided to "devote herself to creative writing" (Rothe 311). Prior to this decision her short stories were successfully published in magazines such as Collier's, the Ladies Home Journal, McCall's and Cosmopolitan.
In 1943, at the age of 43, Hobson's first novel was published. The Trespassers
involves a love story and a moral stand on the part of a strong, successful woman and a powerful radio tycoon, in which the lovers take opposing sides on the issue of the quota system that prevented refugees from immigrating to the United States to escape the Nazis. (Mainiero 307)
Hobson's novels have sometimes been categorized as propaganda. She is described as "a spokesperson for liberal causes, writing of tolerance for all varieties of human existence. She demands that readers look at unacknowledged prejudices and try to overcome them" (Walden 107).
Her second novel, Gentleman's Agreement, helps to confirm this notion. It focuses on a young Gentile writer who poses as a Jew in order to collect material on anti-Semitism for a series of magazine articles. She worked on this book almost exclusively from 1943 to 1947. The book became a bestseller, selling 1.6 million copies here and abroad and being translated into 13 languages. It also became a motion picture winning the Academy Award for best picture of 1947.
Hobson's liberal causes continue to be presented in her other novels as well as the "social and religious prejudices which affected her own life" (Abramson 341).
Hobson's novels relate to the circumstances of her life: The offspring of radical Socialists (First Papers); Hobson was a topnotch advertising copywriter (Untold Millions); an unwed mother (The Tenth Month); the parent of a homosexual son (Consenting Adult); an outspoken political activist and foe of fascism (The Trespassers); and a Jew who has queried her Jewish identity (Over and Above) (The Gale Group 4).
Hobson did admit to "the biggest chunks of her life" appearing in her novels, though she still wrote an autobiography, Laura Z. The events in this book only told of her life through 1947, "as she realized in the process of composition that she could not tell her whole life in one book (The Gale Group 4)." She was working on a second volume at the time of her death.
She died of cancer at New York Hospital on February 26, 1986. She was 85 years old. She is survived by her two sons, both residents of New York City, and two grandchildren. Hobson's manuscripts can be found at the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Butler Library, New York, NY.
|Gentleman's Agreement, the novel that Hobson uses to deal with the issue of anti-Semitism in the United States, has made a positive contribution to the literary world. The book's main character, a Gentile named Philip Schuyler Green, is a newspaper columnist assigned to write an article on anti-Semitism. In order to get an insider's angle on this story, he poses as a Jew to experience bigotry first-hand. Overall, critics were moved by the story and saw it as an important book with a great deal to think about morally. The common praise from the critics centered around the fact that the social issues were powerful thematically and worthy of discussion. There was certainly criticism about the novel, mainly about the way that the subject matter was presented. Some thought that the message was too propagandized, and written too much like a clipped magazine article. Others felt that everything fit together too perfectly and that the ending was too contrived, in that even Philip's girlfriend becomes awakened to intolerance because of his article. Despite the criticism, it seems that the powerful message about injustice and intolerance prevails in everyone's mind.
"It is this vital question [as to whether we can solve the problem of intolerance in America] which Laura Z. Hobson tackles with great clarity and missionary persuasiveness in this slick, readable and valuable novel on anti-Semitism…for rushing in where more gifted novelists have feared or neglected to tread, Mrs. Hobson deserved whatever prizes a push-me-pull-you democracy can bestow on one of its more responsible and aroused citizens."
Budd Schulberg, The New Republic, March 17, 1947, pg. 36
"Good reading in spite of its propaganda, and thinking readers will find themselves questioning their lip service to vaguely accepted ideals of tolerance."
The Booklist, March 1, 1947, pg. 205
"Gentleman's Agreement, concise and swift-moving, issues a powerful plea for tolerance and moderation between Jew and Gentile. The form of Miss Hobson's work permits her to break away from the customary recitation of real and fancied wrongs of the Hebrew and weave a plot that provides impact and flow…no ordinary novel is likely to solve the so-called Jewish problem. But Gentleman's Agreement handles the issue with wisdom and contributes its mite toward combating the prevalent intolerance."
H.S. Hayward, Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 1947, pg. 18
"Mrs. Hobson manages it all with brilliance and dispatch."
William Du Bois, New York Times Book Review, March 2, 1947, pg. 5, 36
His [Philip's] growing awareness of the problem and his conviction that it can be solved make an absorbing and forthright novel. Laura Hobson uses likeable characters and expert dialogue to drive home her blunt point that something must be done to combat intolerance. Courageous, convincing and highly enjoyable as well. Recommended for all libraries.
Anne Whitmore, Library Journal, February 15, 1947
In order to get material for a series of articles on anti-Semitism, a young "Aryan" journalist in New York poses as a Jew for eight weeks. This is an unquestionably provocative situation and the author has done her glib best to explore the social, economic and political aspects of intolerance…Taste has little part in Mrs. Hobson's literary equipment and her novel presents only a very slick treatment of a subject that deserves a great deal more than slickness.
The New Yorker, March 1, 1947, pg. 89
"Unfortunately the story is not as good as the sermon. The English is tense, stylized, overwritten. Every situation is overcharged. When the reporter first gets the assignment he worries himself close to a nervous breakdown for fear he won't be able to do it. In spite of stilted writing, the sharpness of the hurt of anti-Semitism stands out and remains.
E.R. Embree, Chicago Sun Book Week, March 2, 1947, pg. 3.
"Most of the reviews and nearly all the talk of this novel by Laura Hobson will treat it as a book about anti-Semitism. That is too bad, for first of all it is a good job of story telling.. Mrs. Hobson had to choose her characters by types-that is inevitable in a propaganda novel-but, having picked them and named them, she put something much more human than synthetic sawdust inside their skins and pumped in real blood. The theme of the tale is anti-Semitism, there's no question about that, but it would have been a first-rate story about people no matter what the theme…Mrs. Hobson goes closer and deeper. She looks behind the demon's ears and down its throat, and tells what she sees. She makes it all part of the story."
Rex Stout, NY Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, March 9, 1947, pg. 5
"I read Mrs. Hobson's book with mixed emotions. It is a healthy book to have in circulation. My sympathy with its theme is complete. My admiration is also genuine for the way in which Mrs. Hobson scores her truest triumph by demonstrating the racial intolerance which haunts the hearts and minds of nice people who think of themselves as liberals…I, however, must confess that I regret the slick magazine quality in much of her writing…what really bothers me in Mrs. Hobson's book…[is that] I am conscious of having been presented with no more than a laundry list of indignities to which Jews are submitted in this country. Although happy to have such dirty linen aired, I wish Mrs. Hobson had shown us the many sources of rightful pride special to the Jews, no less than the humiliations to which they are exposed by Gentiles who fancy themselves Democrats.
I distrust Mrs. Hobson's plot device of having her hero a Gentile who pretends to be a Jew for eight weeks in order to understand the suffering of the Jewish people…it seems to me to condemn her novel to do no more than scratch the surface of her subject. The inner anxieties of persecuted races cannot be explored by tourists."
John Mason Brown, The Saturday Review of Literature, December 6, 1947, pg. 49-56
"To tell how Mrs. Hobson solves the problem… would be unfair to the story. But she does solve it excitingly and originally. I hope a lot of people read her book and ponder it deeply. It should make Americans think.
Struthers Burt, Saturday Review of Literature, March 1, 1947, pg. 14
Other Reviews to read:
J.R. Parker, Survey G, May 1947
Harry Hansen, Survey G, August 1947
Edith James, San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 1947, pg.10
Joan Griffiths, Nation, May 3, 1947
Cleveland Open Shelf, March, 1947, pg. 8
|Although Laura Hobson wrote many novels that were published after 1947, her fame will always be attributed to taking on the issue of anti-Semitism in Gentleman's Agreement. When her later novels were published, Gentleman's Agreement was always mentioned as her "landmark novel." [Publisher's Weekly, August 12, 1983, pg. 57] Discussion of the novel did not stay exclusively within the 1940s, and the book is still remembered in a very favorable light. Hobson can be found in publications of the 70s and 80s under the category of Jewish American authors or Women Authors. The book is also continually referenced in non-fiction books dealing with Jews and anti-Semitism (see Assignment 5).
Hobson is an effective storyteller and Gentleman's Agreement, though somewhat dated, can still succeed in creating a sharp awareness of the insidiousness of pain and bigotry.
Suzanne Allen, American Women Writers Vol. 2, 1980, pg. 308
In one review of Hobson's autobiography, Laura Z: A Life, it is said that the book's timeline ends with
"an account of genuine triumph: her stinging 1947 bestseller about anti-Semitism, Gentleman's Agreement. Publishing it amounted to breaking a conspiracy of silence and shouting out one of middle-class America's nastiest little secrets."
Christopher Porterfield, Time, October 10, 1983, pg. 74
Another review of Hobson's autobiography states that "while Gentleman's Agreement was an important story for its time, Laura Z. is a better one. While truth is no longer stranger than fiction, it is sometimes stronger."
Anatole Broyard, The New York Times, October 15, 1983, pg. 14.
In a review of another one of Hobson's novels, First Papers (1964), Gentleman's Agreement is discussed.
"Everyone who is old enough will recall the enormous excitement generated by Laura Z. Hobson's Gentleman's Agreement in 1947. That novel, which rode the wave of postwar social idealism into extraordinary bestsellerdom, was part of a spate of liberal novels-Arthur Miller's Focus and Jo Sinclair's Wasteland were others-that addressed themselves to society's unfinished business which had been interrupted by the war. As such, the "liberal" novel, though it's artistic merit is arguable, rendered a real service to society."
At the end of the review the critic contrasts First Papers with Hobson's bestseller:
"One wishes First Papers were better. For one thing, we remember Gentleman's Agreement with pleasure and gratitude."
David Boroff, Saturday Review of Literature, February 27, 1965, pg. 32
The publication, in 1947, of Gentleman's Agreement was a milestone in the history of American anti-Semitism, or at least in the popular awareness of it. The book, and the much acclaimed movie made from it, touched sensibilities, made people aware, and sometimes ashamed, of their feelings. Perhaps some of them resolved to act differently, no matter what they thought privately.
Cerrulia Kent, Saturday Review, August 9, 1975
|Laura Hobson's novel, Gentleman's Agreement, enjoyed much fame following its release, and held the number one spot on the bestseller list for nine consecutive weeks. Published in 1947, the book was praised by reviewers for dealing with a very important social issue of the time, anti-Semitism in America. The book takes place in post-war America, and focuses on the treatment of Jews and the hypocrisy and passiveness of Americans who claimed to support the equal rights of all people. This book was an instant bestseller because it connected with controversies of the day. It came at a time when people were proud of America and all that we had fought for during World War II, and its popularity largely rested on the fact that people responded to a book that questioned and in part gave the lie to the glorified picture of American values. The marketing of this book was able to rely on these ideas, and emphasize Hobson's desire to write about anti-Semitism, while at the same time questioning whether Americans would be receptive to reading about it. A movie based on Hobson's book was also released during the same year, helping to begin the Post-War trend in Hollywood of dealing with weighty social issues. Its success helped to sell more books as well. The fact that Hobson was a Jew warranted her writing on such a subject, but while the message is clear that anti-Semitism is wrong, the question remains as to whether Gentleman's Agreement is in the end effective in displaying this message. Critics of the book attack it as too propagandized and preachy. Does the book and the subsequent movie's treatment of anti-Semitism help the cause, or trivialize it?
A March 1, 1947 review of Gentleman's Agreement contains the hope that "a lot of people read her book and ponder it deeply" (Brown 423). "It should make America think," Burt says (423).
What did Americans need to think about? At the time Hobson's book was published, World War II had only been over for two years. The book itself takes place during the first post-war Christmas season. Americans were hopeful for lasting peace. There was a new nationalist agenda which President Roosevelt had preached during the war. "Roosevelt took the lead in proclaiming America's mission as the Bearer of Democracy" (Hertzberg 301). Equality for everyone was promised.
This equality had some conditions attached to it. It was described as "a bargain between majority and minority- if only the children of minorities would behave like Americans" (Hertzberg 301). In essence, the idea of equality was assimilationist. If Jews and others acted like the majority and "adopted the manners and culture of Protestant Christians,"(Hertzberg 303) than they would be accepted. If they assimilated themselves into this white, Christian society, than they would be treated well, or at least not bothered.
Jews in America had a history of being "bothered." There had always been anti-Semitism amongst the majority. In an article in Fortune in 1936, Jews were attacked for "inviting prejudice because of their notorious tendency to agglomerate not just in cities but in self-constituted communities within cities… The article ends wondering whether Jewish clanishness would give way to a willingness to be absorbed in American culture" (Blum 173). Articles like these helped to spread these stereotypes of Jews to the general public. In 1946, 60 percent of Americans agreed that anti-Semitism was increasing in the United States. Jews were discriminated against in the areas of education, employment, housing, public accommodations, and immigration. Poll takers found that "Gentiles thought Jews had too much power in this country, that they ought to be excluded from certain towns, and that, after the Germans and the Japanese, they constituted the greatest menace to American society" (Curtis 303). More evidence can be seen in newspapers of the time. After the war "30 percent of the want ads for employment placed in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune expressed a preference for Protestants or Catholics" (Blum 174).
In Blum's book about the time during and after World War II, Gentleman's Agreement is cited as a bestseller of the early post-war period (175), and it tells of how Hobson's novel criticizes certain suburbs of Connecticut, namely Darien and New Canaan, for their "restrictive residential covenants" (175) to not allow Jews into their white upper-class towns. "It's a sort of gentleman's agreement when you buy" (Hobson 186).
Hobson shows this example and many others of how Jews were being treated after the war through the vehicle of fiction. The main character in Gentleman's Agreement, Phil Green, is the news reporter who experiences these displays of discrimination first-hand. Although a Gentile, he poses as a Jew to get his "angle" for the series of articles that he is assigned to write about anti-Semitism. Gradually, he becomes immersed in his role, and begins to see how Jews are treated.
For example, after making reservations at a lodge for he and his fiancée's honeymoon, he realizes that the establishment is unofficially "restricted" from Jews. In another example, his fiancée's family has a summer home in Darien, Connecticut, and it is there that his future sister-in-law wants to throw them an engagement party. But when she learns that Phil won't give up the façade that he is a Jew just for the party, she conveniently weeds out all of the important guests with whom she doesn't want to leave a bad impression.
Aside from some of these outward displays of anti-Semitism, there was also the issue of everyday people helping to spread anti-Semitism by not outwardly speaking against it. Phil Green had many issues with his fiancée on the subject. In thinking of his fiancée Phil says "She isn't consciously antisemitic, nor is Jane or all the pleasant, intelligent people at the party or the inns and clubs. They despise it, it's an "awful thing." But all of them…who also deplore it and protest their own innocence-they help it along and they wonder why it grows…manufacturing the silence and the acquiescence" (Hobson 192). Phil explains that this is the biggest thing that he has learned while posing as a Jew. Even though he knows that these good citizens would never "beat up" a Jew, their "enraged silence merely enforces the gentleman's agreement not to talk about "disagreeable things"(Custen 296). This is the lesson that even Phil's fiancée comes to learn by the end of the novel. She realizes that it is everyone's responsibility to take a more active stand in fighting anti-Semitism, and she is ready to talk back to the upper-class neighbors in Darien.
These issues were prevalent throughout the time of the war and after. Although it may be too strong to say that the inaction and silence of Americans helped to kill 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, these things certainly did not help the Jews in escaping Nazi Germany during the war. In the Fortune article of 1936, the author believed that not giving aid to the Jews was the best way to help them, rather than agitating the Germans into causing more of a frenzy. "The apprehensiveness of Jews contributed to anti-Semitism, whereas the admitted indifference of some 40 percent of Americans to the fate of Jews in Germany was not callous but the most effective prophylactic against the pestilence of hate" (Blum 173). This policy was supported by the president himself. Until 1944, Roosevelt did not back down from the doctrine that "the most effective means for rescuing Jews was quick and complete victory" (Blum 177). The assistant secretary of state, Breckinridge Long, who was later relieved of his position, believed that Jewish agitation was debilitating to the war effort.
Most Americans were uninformed as to what was going on in Germany, and in December of 1944 there was a poll taken that showed that Americans knew that some Jews had been killed by Hitler, but they could not believe that the Nazis had strategically killed millions.
But others, even American Jews, took a passive role in helping the Jews in Europe. In a book by Arthur Hertzberg, there is discussion of how Jews wanted to be accepted by the Gentiles, and so they did not want to confront them. They were outsiders riddled by anti-Semitism and because they were concerned for themselves here in America, they were powerless to act boldly. And even the newspapers had a relaxed attitude about the atrocities, not bringing the news to the forefront of the headlines. "On November 25, 1942, the New York Times carried an announcement on page 10 about the slaughter of two million Jews"(www.bitlink.com).
Blum gives an informative summary discussing the idea that more could have been done sooner if it weren't for a number of oppositions on the part of Americans and the government. He cites the hostility of the public and congress to change immigration policies (to undo the quotas and let Jews flee to America), the biases of the State Department (Breckinridge stopped mail about the situation with the Jews to reduce public knowledge), Roosevelt's desire for victory, and the caution towards Arabs (Palestine was closed off because the flooding in of Jews would anger the Arabs and, during wartime, we needed their help).
All of these social issues and political happenings helped to set the stage for Hobson to write Gentleman's Agreement. Clearly there was enough controversy on the subject to build a foundation for the book. Americans who bought it would be forced to read her messages, knowing all too well what she was talking about, even though her characters were fictitious.
Parallels to the times can be seen throughout the book, such as the whole reason that Phil is given the assignment. The topic was given to him because "big magazines and papers and radio chains were helping spread it (anti-Semitism) by staying off it except for bits here and there" (Hobson 16). This is reminiscent of the New York Times burying the killing of millions of Jews on page 10 of their paper.
Hobson was commended for taking such a bold stand against anti-Semitism. A full-page advertisement for the book which appeared in Book Review tells readers about the process of publishing Gentleman's Agreement. Hobson believed that the idea for her book would have limited readership because of its "unpopular" subject matter. She understood that it might not sell, but she was compelled to do it anyway. Much to Hobson's surprise, by the time it was published on February 27, 1947, it had already been bought as a serial to be published in Cosmopolitan, and as a movie that would be Darryl Zanuck's only production for the year. So by the time it was published, it was "already one of the most discussed books of the year." 30,000 copies were exhausted after three days. All this and more goes to show, the ad says, that "when a novelist with an impossible to sell theme tackles it courageously and honestly, within the framework of a story rich in dramatic surprise, the public has a way of taking hold of it and making it the nation's No. 1 Best Seller."
This idea of creating a good story to frame a serious issue was an idea cultivated by Darryl Zanuck, the leading producer at Twentieth Century Fox during the 1940s. The making of Gentleman's Agreement as a movie was an innovative endeavor for its time. It was one of the first of its genre- "social problem dramas and message pictures" (Schatz 4) which developed during the postwar era.
Zanuck had new ideas for the potential of cinema. He knew that Hobson's book could be turned into a very important on screen production, and he bought the rights for $75,000. When Zanuck decided to face the issue of anti-Semitism, he was advised not to do it. "Why rock the boat?…Why bring up an unpleasant, controversial subject on the screen?"(Custen 294).
But Zanuck believed that it was time to make movies with purpose and significance. He decided that Hollywood had an obligation to start dealing with important social issues on screen. "We must play our part in the solution of the problems that torture the world. We must begin to deal realistically in film with the causes of wars and panics, with social upheavals and depression, with starvation and want and injustice and barbarism under whatever guise." Zanuck told audiences this in a speech he gave at a seminar sponsored by the Hollywood Writers' Mobilization, an organization committed to advancing the free expression of democratic ideas and to investigating the writer's role in the war. He ended the speech by telling writers "if you have something worthwhile to say, dress it in the glittering robes of entertainment. Without these raiments no propaganda film is worth a dime"(Custen 271, 275).
Gregory Peck was cast for the role of Phil Green. In 1946, at 30 years old, Peck was "by far the youngest top male star of the postwar period" (Schatz 359). He gained much fame through the making of Gentleman's Agreement. Through this movie "his screen persona as a decent and reliable hero coalesced" (Schatz 359).
The film helped to further spread the book's message. It enjoyed much success and was considered daring and progressive in its time. In Custen's book, he writes that Gentleman's Agreement has been held up as an example of Hollywood civil liberty at its 1940s best.
After examining the book and its subsequent movie in the context of history, the question remains as to whether Hobson' s message works well in its literary context to create a lasting and effective story, or whether the content is too propagandized to convey its message in a timely and relevant way.
Many reviewers received the book well. The criticism for the most part seems to be outweighed by the end product. "It is definitely a thesis novel…occasionally it is true that it falls into the pit set for thesis novels, and for a page or so becomes a tract. But on the whole Mrs. Hobson avoids skillfully that pit, and her righteous passion is such, her conviction, her ability to make human her characters as they fight prejudice or succumb to it, that you are swept along by her story" (Rothe 312).
One of the primary critical responses to the book deals with whether or not Phil Green, born a Gentile, can really understand the feelings of a Jew. Donald Adams of the New York Times thought it was impossible for anyone not a member of a minority group "to suffer the same reaction through a temporary assumption of their status." But although he thought that this was "a fundamental weakness" of the book, it did not trivialize his view of the book as an "otherwise vibrant, truthful, and needed book" (Rothe 312).
A New York Times critic said that "it leaves unturned no stone under which the disquieting variety of bigots it exposes-among us all-can hide"(Rothe 312). This comment clearly recognizes Hobson's purpose for writing the book. Hobson not only presented examples of outwardly anti-Semitic acts, but also succeeded in exposing the type of anti-Semitism that is not as explicit; that of decent Americans who choose to be indifferent rather than to speak out against hatred. As controversial as this issue was at the time of Gentleman's Agreement, the topic is still relevant. Unless Americans take an active role in combating bigotry, the problem will never go away. Creating a compelling and socially reflective novel is no small feat. Hobson was successful by writing a best-seller that garnered critical attention, inspired a movie and was recognized as an important post-war work with a message that remains just as powerful today.
Blum, John Morton. V Was For Victory. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.
Brown, Dorothy. Book Review Digest Vol. 43-1947. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1948.
Curtis, Michael. Antisemitism in the Contemporary World. Boulder: Westview Press, 1986.
Custen, George F. Twentieth Century's Fox-Darryl F. Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Hertzberg, Arthur. The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.
Hobson, Laura Z. Gentleman's Agreement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1947.
Rothe, Anna. Current Biography 1947. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1948.
Schatz, Thomas. History of the American Cinema: Boom and Bust- The American Cinema in the 1940s. New York: Charles Scribner Sons, 1997.
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
Maintained by email@example.com