The Worcester Account

S. N. Behrman
New York: Random House, 1954
First edition in dust jacket
Inscribed by Behrman

    (On front free endpaper)  For Sophie and / Jerome Udell, / with the good / wishes of / S.N. Behrman / New York: March, 1955.
In the absence of authentic documentation, S.N. Behrman chose 9 June to celebrate his birthday, the family being quite certain of the year, 1893, but disagreeing on the precise day. Fifty-three years later his recollection of growing up in the enclave Jewish community of Worcester, Massachusetts, appeared in the first of ten essays of reminiscence in the New Yorker. Subsequently those articles were collected, added to, and presented as The Worcester Account (1954). With this material as foundation, Behrman again explored his boyhood and early manhood years in the 1958 comedy-drama, The Cold Wind and the Warm, attempting to focus sharply on the sun and the moon of his youth: his aunt, Ida Margolies, daughter of Ramaz (a scholar of such repute his initials were sufficient for recognition), and "Willie Lavin," the fictional name given his mentor, Daniel Asher. Little is said in the essays of the warm-hearted, sentimental, outgoing aunt; she is presented in detail only in the dramatized version. Much may be said of the influence of Daniel Asher, whose death Behrman recounts quite unsentimentally in his essay "Point of the Needle." Some seven years older than Behrman, Daniel Asher befriended the child to an extraordinary degree. Young Behrman found himself fascinated by the intellectually curious Asher, whose methods of examining philosophical conundrums represented an attitude opposite to the reverential obeisance observed in the orthodox Behrman household. Asher dared to be different, dared to challenge, an attitude not lost on Behrman, who represented the first generation born of immigrants. Behrmanís parents, together with sons Hiram and Morris, tore up their Lithuanian roots, but Behrman himself had been born in America, setting him slightly apart from the family heritage. Covertly flouting his Hebraic background, he became a fascinated audience for Asherís daring agnosticism, which approached matters in terms of heredity and environment. As their relationship matured, Asher scrutinized every piece of writing Behrman submitted for publication. When he was eleven years old, Behrman accompanied Asher on his first visit to the theatre, where he viewed the very melodramatic Devilís Island. Not surprisingly, and with some prescience, Asher later suggested that Behrman write for the theatre Ė not that Behrman needed much coaxing by then. His fate seems sealed with that first visit to Lothropeís Opera House in 1904. His becoming a professional actor, following graduation from Classical High School, merely reaffirmed his silent commitment to establish a life for himself in the theatre. Ill health obliged him to curtail his acting career and may have been responsible for his seeking alternate means of expression.


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