Heirs of Yesterday by Emma Wolf

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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.

"This book returns to print a revealing novel by the foremost American Jewish woman novelist of her time, Emma Wolf.  In their remarkable introduction, Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan disclose new details concerning Wolf’s life and career in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, her creative circle of Jewish women friends, the subtle antisemitism that she experienced, and her complicated  relationship with the men of the Jewish Publication Society.  A wondrous contribution to early American Jewish literature."


--Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

“A powerful corrective to common historical narratives of Jewish American identity and prevailing conceptions of turn-of-the-century Jewish fiction, this beautiful edition is also a substantial work of scholarly recovery. The thorough and rigorous introduction is a valuable resource, giving Emma Wolf the attention she richly deserves.”

—Marc Dollinger, professor at San Francisco State University and author of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

“Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan have crafted an impressive volume on the work and import of Emma Wolf. More than just an excellent description of Wolf’s contributions to literature, Heirs of Yesterday shows us the important intersections between gender, region, and history. Only a woman such as Emma Wolf, writing as she did during San Francisco’s early history, can offer us perspectives and understandings all too often missed in scholarly writing. The footnotes themselves offer an extraordinary tutorial for those interested in a nuanced understanding of Wolf’s extraordinary work.”

—Jennifer S. Tuttle, Dorothy M. Healy Professor of Literature and Health, University of New England

“[Emma Wolf's] 1900 novel, which Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan have...brought back into print, is not just a skillful novel of the American fin de siecle, but a book that reveals its author as stunningly prescient and bravely committed to telling the truth about American Jews' experiences.”

—Josh Lambert, Lilith Magazine