James Oppenheim papers

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Collection Data

James Oppenheim (1882-1932), an American poet, novelist and editor, was a member of the bohemian circle of poets, artists and intellectuals that flourished in Greenwich Village, New York, during the 1910s. He began his career writing short stories and poetry for popular magazines and established himself as one of the leading younger poets with the publication of his verse collection Songs for the New Age (1914). In 1916 he founded the literary magazine The Seven Arts with Waldo Frank and Paul Rosenfeld; the magazine folded the next year because of the editorial policy attacking U.S. participation in World War I. Oppenheim became an adherent of psychoanalysis, in particular the theories of Carl Jung, and devoted most of his later poetic work to psychoanalytic investigations. Collection consists of correspondence, writings, editorial materials, financial and legal papers, drawings, photographs, and ephemera documenting Oppenheim's literary career and personal life. Correspondence, 1899-1932, with family friends and literary associates concerns literary, personal and business matters. Writings, 1898-1932, include poetry, dramatic works, novels, stories, articles, and notes as well as his "Dream Diaries" in which he recorded his dreams and self-analysis. Seven Arts materials, 1916-1917, consist of drafts of letters, fiscal and legal records, and printed matter. Also, Oppenheim's financial and legal papers, 1922-1932; personal ephemera; and ink drawings, ca. 1920-1925, by Oppenheim and his companion Gertrude Smith.
Oppenheim, James, 1882-1932 (Creator)
Anderson, Sherwood, 1876-1941 (Correspondent)
Benét, William Rose, 1886-1950 (Correspondent)
Brooks, Van Wyck, 1886-1963 (Contributor)
Cabell, James Branch, 1879-1958 (Correspondent)
Frank, Waldo David, 1889-1967 (Correspondent)
Gibran, Kahlil, 1883-1931 (Correspondent)
Jolas, Eugène, 1894-1952 (Contributor)
Jung, C. G. (Carl Gustav), 1875-1961 (Contributor)
Klaber, Doretta (Correspondent)
Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984 (Correspondent)
Kreymbourg, Alfred (Contributor)
Lippmann, Walter, 1889-1974 (Contributor)
Lowell, Amy, 1874-1925 (Contributor)
Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis), 1880-1956 (Contributor)
Oppenheim, James, 1882-1932 (Contributor)
Rankine, Annette Kittredge (Correspondent)
Reis, Arthur M. (Correspondent)
Smith, Gertrude, 1860-1917 (Artist)
Spingarn, Arthur B. (Arthur Barnett), 1878-1971 (Correspondent)
Spingarn, Joel Elias, 1875-1939 (Correspondent)
Stearns, Harold, 1891-1943 (Contributor)
Untermeyer, Jean Starr, 1886-1970 (Correspondent)
Untermeyer, Louis, 1885-1977 (Correspondent)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1898 - 1932
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 2296
American literature -- 20th century
American poetry -- 20th century
Records (Documents)
Biographical/historical: James Oppenheim was born on May 24, 1882 in St. Paul, Minnesota and moved with his family to New York City in 1884. His father, Joseph, was a one time member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and President of the St. Paul Board of Education before his death in New York in 1886 at the early age of 36. His mother, Matilda "Tilly" (Schloss) Oppenheim was left with six children - Elsa, James, Ramsey, Helen and Robert (twins) and Doretta. Raised in New York and educated in public schools, Oppenheim began his literary career in 1898 with the publication of several short poems in the New York Sun. His early poems as well as articles and stories reflect his passion for social justice. After a short stint as a private secretary at Cosmopolitan he pursued settlement work from 1903 to 1905, which financed his continued education at Columbia University. He married Lucy Seckel in 1905 and left Columbia before graduating in order to head the Hebrew Technical School for Girls. Proving too radical for his position, he was forced to resign in 1907. Thereafter, he devoted himself entirely to literary work. His career gained ground in 1909 with the publication of the Dr. Rast stories and Monday Morning and Other Poems. These early works written in a social realist style tinged with sentimentality proved popular and Oppenheim produced similar novels, stories, plays, and poems during the nest five years. Gradually, however, his work began to reflect such major influences as Walt Whitman, psychoanalysis, his Jewish Heritage and the Bible, His interest in psychoanalysis and the publication of the novel, Idle Wives, helped lead to his divorce in 1914. He and his wife had two sons, James Jr. (Garrett) and Ralph. In the same year the publication of Songs for a New Age represented a major shift in his style and focus towards a prophetic and increasingly psychoanalytic approach. The volume of poems is dedicated to Dr. Beatrice M. Hinkle, an analyst, as well as to Jean and Louis Untermeyer. Critical appreciation of his new work was enthusiastic and many of his associations with new literary or critical figures developed. He established residence in Greenwich Village and became one of the earliest members of the bohemian circle of poets, artists and intellectuals which flourished there in the second decade of the twentieth century. His continued interest in psychoanalysis and his association with Dr. Hinkle appear to have led to his introduction to Annette Kittredge Rankine. Described by Oppenheim as a widow bored with looking at her Whistlers, she sold her paintings in order to publish a journal. This activity was understood to have therapeutic advantages for her. Annette Rankine financed a new monthly journal, The Seven Arts, edited by Oppenheim with the assistance of Waldo Prank and Paul Rosenfeld. The Seven Arts was extremely well received and immediately established itself as a first-rate literary and critical journal. Nearly all of the best writers of the new generation appeared in it and Oppenheim was at the center of the new arts. In addition to the editors, contributors included: Sherwood Anderson, Steven Vincent Benet, William Rose Benet, Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Floyd Dell, John Dewey, Mabel Dodge, John Dos Passos, Max Eastman, Robert Frost, Kahlil Gibran, Edna Kenton, D. H. Lawrence, Amy Lowell, H. L. Mencken, John Reed, Romain Rolland, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sandburg, Joel E. Spingarn, Jean Starr Untermeyer and Louis Untermeyer. The Seven Arts' editorial opposition to the entry of the United States into World War I caused a storm of protest, much ill-feeling towards Oppenheim and the withdrawal of financial support for the journal. It folded, but much of the staff, except an ostracized Oppenheim, joined other periodicals, especially The Dial. After a failed attempt to raise funds to continue The Seven Arts and a falling out with Waldo Frank, he returned to his first calling, poetry. He published several volumes of verse, but by 1923, he could only persuade Knopf to publish his collected poetry (The Seal) by agreeing to subsidize $1,000 of the publication costs. He maintained himself by continuing to publish in periodicals. Throughout his career, Oppenheim appeared in leading journals, such as: American Mercury, Century, Collier's, The Dial, The (New) Freeman, Harper's, Hearst's, New Republic and The Thinker. At the same time, he delved further into psychoanalytic theory, self-analysis, and, as earlier, dabbled as an analyst. His attempts to popularize the theories of Jung through newspaper articles and several treatises were unsuccessful. His close relationship with the artist Gertrude Smith provided him with much consolation, support and happiness during this period of declining literary fortunes. He dedicated Golden Bird (1923) to her and her portrait of him provided the frontispiece for The Sea (1924). After her death his health appears to have started to fail. He married Linda Gray in 1927, but his last years were marred by poor health and poverty. He died of tuberculosis on August 4, 1932. He published the following works in book form during his career: Poetry: Monday Morning and Other Poems (1909) Songs for the New Age (1914) War and Laughter (1916) The Book of Self (1917) The Solitary (1919) The Mystic Warrior (1921) Golden Bird (1923) The Sea (1924) Novels: Wild Oats (1910) The Nine-Tenths (1911) The Olympian (1912) Idle Wives (1914) The Beloved (1915) Stories (collected) Dr. Rast (1909) Pay-Envelopes (1911) Drama: The Pioneers (1910) Psycho-Analytical: Your Hidden Powers (1923) The Psychology of Jung (1925) American Types: A Preface to Analytical Psychology
Content: The James Oppenheim papers primarily document his literary career, although personal information is intermittently scattered throughout the files. The collection spans his entire career from 1898 to 1932 and provides numerous examples of published and unpublished poetry, drama, short stories, articles as well as fragments of novels. The papers consist of holograph and typescript manuscripts, many small notes or fragments, and correspondence. Additional scrapbooks of clippings, page proofs, drawings, a very few photographs and legal documents comprise most of the remainder of the collection. The centerpiece of the papers is the series of Correspondence, which documents virtually all aspects of his career. Although early correspondence is sparse, sane records of his settlement and school work are available. The earliest letter of 1899 to Arthur Spingarn offers an extremely early example of a self-conscious creative process in a sketch for a play. The 1916 to 1917 period of The Seven Arts is heavily represented with numerous letters. Of particular interest is his correspondence from Assistant Editor, Waldo Frank, and publisher, Annette Kittredge Rankine. Correspondence with numerous writers, critics, editors and agents continues thereafter until his death and reveals numerous contentious situations. His interest in psychoanalysis is reflected in his correspondence with Jung and numerous other doctors. Although much of the correspondence with prominent figures consists of single letters from Oppenheim, they provide details of Oppenheim's editorial concerns. More substantial correspondence is available from such key figures such as: Sherwood Anderson, William Rose Benet, James Branch Cabell, Waldo Frank, Kahlil Gibran, Carl Gustav Jung-Alfred A. Knopf, Walter Lippman, Amy Lowell, H. L. Mencken, Arthur M. Reis, Arthur B. Spingarn, Joel E. Spingarn, Jean Starr Untermeyer an Louis Untermeyer. Details of his personal life can be found in his correspondence with his younger sister, Doretta Klaber, as well as the fewer letters to his brother, Robert, and his mother. However, evidence of his radical political and social positions is lacking in the correspondence files. The files of his Writings include his early social realist and, later, more psychoanalytic works. Particularly strong series of examples exist for his Poetry and Drama (unpublished), which end with many notes and fragments. His short stories are well represented and the New Series offers many autobiographical details. The series of his novels, however, is fragmentary and contains only a small portion of his five published novels. Numerous Articles reflect Oppenheim's critical judgment and observations on contemporary phenomena, such as film. Notes and Fragments for various genre are collected in a separate sub-series. The Dream Diaries and the Psychological Notes and Articles offer insights into Oppenheim's use of Jungian dream analysis, his own self-analysis and traces of his own efforts as an analyst. A small file of Seven Arts Materials contains details of the journal's organization and goals. Further personal information is contained in the small Financial and Legal Papers and Ephemera series. Finally, Ink Drawings by Oppenheim and his companion, Gertrude Smith, close the collection. A file of photographs taken in Pittsburgh by Lewis W. Hine has been removed. from the Oppenheim Papers and reboxed as a separate collection.
Physical Description
Extent: 5.6 linear feet (8 boxes)
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11985364
MSS Unit ID: 2296
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 2cd5ed30-e859-0137-e866-0006d55287fb
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