ON THE OUTSIDE
He understood: she was tired of always being the Jew. She did not look like a Jew – only the name betrayed her and without it she was free. He remembered when she was at school. All the other girls had tall fathers who smoked cigars, understood cricket and kept a box at Covent Garden to listen to Wagner. He sighed inwardly; it was his own fault that she didn’t let him take her up to Cambridge. For a second he imagined the way she saw him: he pictured himself in a garish suit talking too loudly with the other elegant parents on neat college lawns. No wonder she forbade him from accompanying her.
– from Mr Rosenblum’s List, by Natasha Solomons
(American title: Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English)
Have any among us never felt like an outsider? It seems to me that such people would have to be supremely sure of themselves; unquestioning; unfeeling. They would feel neither superior nor inferior. Superiority would make them different from the second-rate humans around them; inferiority would put them on the ‘outside’. Almost all of us will be placed, at some point in our lives, in a situation in which we feel completely foreign.
On the other hand, there are people who are outsiders in ways that many of us will never experience. Jack Rosenblum is the main character of a book which I have had the pleasure of reviewing for this issue of Halfway Down the Stairs. He is a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who, some time after the war is over, is still trying to fit into his adopted home, 1950s’ Britain. There are others like Jack scattered throughout literature and throughout the world, people who will always be in a minority, people who will always be defined by what they are not.
This is a far more concrete division than the division I felt when I was a small child starting school, the only one in class who wasn’t wearing some completely necessary article of juvenile fashion. It’s different from the time I sat in a university class watching in amazement as everyone else volunteered mind-blowing opinions on Freud or Darwin or Foucault, and finding nothing to say myself. Divisions like these are not like the feeling of estrangement many of us may feel in any area of our lives into which we are plunged without warning, suddenly, but briefly. We grow up; we get smarter; we adapt, and society allows this of us. For some people, however, society is a relentless excluder.
But there is enough of a similarity that when we hear stories of people like Jack, struggling and struggling and never quite giving up despite the terrible odds, it tugs at our memory and we are taught empathy. This is why literature is so important, and why story-telling has often been centered around the outsider.
This is why we at Halfway Down the Stairs have chosen as our theme “The Outsider”, a celebration of the different. We are grateful as always to our guest authors, who have once again provided us with a generous slice of talent. I would also like to congratulate all our editors for their hard work. To our readers, finally, thank you for spending your valuable time visiting our e-zine. Your presence is appreciated and your feedback is always welcome.
Unfortunately, “The Outsider” will be Francesca Leung’s last issue as our senior poetry editor. She has been a highly valued member of the Halfway Down the Stairs team from the very beginning and we will all miss her very much. We appreciate her hard work and wish her all the best.
Since we have to say goodbye to her, we are now looking for (a) a senior poetry editor, and (b) a poetry editor. These are volunteer positions which will require processing of poetry submissions, contribution to the e-zine at least twice a year in any genre, and critiquing within the editorial team of personal work as well as work intended for the e-zine. If you are interested, please send inquiries or an application containing at least three examples of your work, including at least two poems, to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous publication is not necessary (though a bonus). We look forward to hearing from you.
Alison Stedman is a fiction editor at Halfway Down the Stairs.
© 2010, Alison Stedman