Back Street View Unforgettably Stark

Fannie Hurst’s Back Street is a novel about what really happens to a  “kept woman.” Its smaller-than-life characters are as vivid on the page as Rhett and Scarlett were on the wide screen.

When Ray Schmidt walks down the streets of Cincinnati in 1890, men’s heads turn: Ray has style.

Men accuse her of leading them on but refusing to go all the way: Ray’s generosity stops with kisses.

Ray falls for a Jewish lad, Walter Saxel, who marries a woman who doesn’t turn heads but has better East Coast financial connections than Ray.

To forget Walter, Ray leaves her step-family and goes to New York. She’s doing well when she runs into Walter again. Before long, Ray becomes his mistress, leaves her job, becomes a dutiful pseudo “wife.”

Through his legal wife’s connections and Ray’s coaching, Walter prospers. He becomes a millionaire, civic leader, philanthropist.

Even Ray cannot understand her total absorption with Walter, who is totally wrapped up in himself.

Walter is as stingy with money as with emotion: He gives Ray barely enough to money cover the rent.  Walter promises to make provision for Ray but never does.

When Walter dies, Ray slides further into poverty. In her last days, Ray is reduced to scrounging chicken feet from a restaurant garbage can.

Back Street
by Fannie Hurst
A. L. Burt, 1930
481 Pages
1931 bestseller #8 My grade: A-
© Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

3 thoughts on “Back Street View Unforgettably Stark”

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