A House Is Not a Home
A new edition of a best-selling memoir that reveals an immigrant woman's raucous experience in urban America
Polly Adler's "house"—the brothel that gave this best-selling 1953 autobiography its title—was a major site of New York City underworld activity from the 1920s through the 1940s. Adler's notorious Lexington Avenue house of prostitution functioned as a sort of social club for New York's gangsters and a variety of other celebrities, including Robert Benchley and his friend Dorothy Parker. According to one New York tabloid, it made Adler's name "synonymous with sin."
This new edition of Adler's autobiography brings back into print a book that was a mass phenomenon, in both hardback and paperback, when it was first published. A self-consciously literary work, A House Is Not a Home provides an informal social history of immigrant mobility, prostitution, Jewish life in New York, police dishonesty, the "white slavery" scare of the early twentieth century, and political corruption.
Adler's story fills an important gap in the history of immigrant life, urban experience, and organized crime in New York City. While most other accounts of the New York underworld focus on the lives of men, from Herbert Asbury's Gangs of New York through more recent works on Jewish and Italian gangsters, this book brings women's lives and problems to the forefront.
A House Is Not a Home is compellingly readable and was popular enough to draw Hollywood's attention in the early 1960s—leading to a film starring Shelley Winters as Adler. The book has been largely forgotten in the ensuing decades, lost both to its initial audience of general readers and to scholars in women's studies, immigration history, and autobiography who are likely to find it a treasure trove. Now, with a new introduction by Rachel Rubin that contextualizes Adler's life and literary achievement, A House Is Not a Home is again available to the many readers who have come to understand such "marginal" life stories as a special refraction of the more typical American success narrative.
"Rubin's introduction to this book is a major contribution to scholarship because it rescues from oblivion a vibrant and compelling immigrant story, presenting it from a new vantage point and allowing the reader to see the contradictions of the period Polly Adler lived through within a broadly painted historical context."—Elizabeth Ewen, author of Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars:
Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890–1925