Cover image for The Old Left in history and literature
The Old Left in history and literature
Dietrich, Julia.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Twayne Publishers ; London : Prentice Hall International, [1996]

Physical Description:
xiii, 217 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E743 .D495 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This work examines the history and the literature of the Old Left, a movement often shunted to the outskirts of the popular American imagination because of its affiliation with what is perceived as the quintessential un-American enterprise: communism. To the contrary, Dietrich argues, the leftist movement in all its many guises - communist, socialist, populist, and otherwise - is part and parcel of the fundamentally American belief in democracy, the right of all citizens to have a say in the decisions that determine the conditions of their lives. Drawing from the works of writers such as John Dos Passos, Lorraine Hansberry, Lillian Hellman, and Ernest Hemingway, Dietrich traces the cultural and political underpinnings of the movement from its origins just prior to World War I to its virtual demise during the Red Scare years of the 1950s.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Dietrich assesses the literary legacy of the Old Left, from Greenwich Village in 1912, through its 1930s heyday, to its marginalization during the Cold War. "Examining history and literature in relation to each other," she surveys "the history of the Old Left in all its sectarian variety" and discusses "a representative selection of literature that came out of and was written about the movement." Her journey leads her through the complex history of the Communist Party USA, which she summarizes intelligently, and to a diverse group of writers that includes Floyd Dell, Agnes Smedley, Mary Heaton Vorse, Jack Conroy, Meridel LeSueur, Dorothy Day, Clifford Odets, Langston Hughes, and Lillian Hellman. Although she steers clear of some familiar ground and explores some fresh terrain, including the autobiography of union activist Rose Pesotta, Dietrich's insights rarely excite the reader. The value of this work lies not in its theoretical originality, but rather in its success at fusing into a very readable synthesis the history of the Old Left and some of the most important literary works it inspired. All levels. J. A. McCartin SUNY College at Geneseo