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Anne Fleischman Bernays

b. September 14, 1930

by Justin Kaplan, updated by JWA Staff

The front cover of Professor Romeo, a novel by Anne Flieschman Bernays.

In Brief

Through her novels, Anne Bernays explored the Jewish experience of America, the pressures of assimilation, and the then-taboo subject of sexual harassment. After graduating from Barnard College in 1952, Bernays worked as an editor for Discovery, a literary journal. In 1962 she published her first novel, Short Pleasures. Her fifth novel, Growing Up Rich, won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for its contribution to American Jewish life. She has written several works of nonfiction as well, including the widely praised What If? with Pamela Painter. Bernays taught writing at a number of institutions, including Boston College and Harvard. She was a founding board member of PEN/New England and served on the board of the National Writers Union.

Anne Bernays’s work as novelist and nonfiction writer is notable for its literary quality and as a running commentary on manners and customs. She comes from a background of high achievement.

Family and Early Literary Career

Bernays’s parents, Edward L. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, and Doris E. Fleischman, were successful pioneers in the field of public relations. Doris Fleischman, a journalist, was the first married woman in the United States to get a passport in her own name. A feminist in her own right, Doris partnered with Edward at their public relations firm. Anne Bernays was born in New York City on September 14, 1930, and raised in privileged circumstances. She attended the Brearley School from 1939 to 1948 before going on to Wellesley College and graduating in 1952 from Barnard College, which she favored for its urban setting and social diversity. During these years she developed a critical distance from her parents’ confidently articulated opinions. After college, she worked briefly for Town and Country and then as managing editor of Discovery, a magazine of new writing. This brought her into contact with the literary and social culture of Greenwich Village and defined her subsequent career. Bernays was offered the top editing job at Discovery but turned it down, a choice she later regretted. Instead, she became an assistant editor at Houghton Mifflin.

In 1954, Bernays married biographer Justin Kaplan (1925-2014); they had three daughters and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like her mother she kept her name, publishing her work as Anne Bernays rather than Anne Kaplan. In 1962, she published Short Pleasures, her first novel. In Professor Romeo (1989), Bernays applied her eye and idiom to the subject of sexual harassment. The New York Times Book Review featured it on page one and listed it as a notable book of the year. In Bernays’s fifth novel, Growing Up Rich, she wrote about being Jewish in America. Its young, orphaned hero traverses the vexed territory between “Our Crowd” and Russian Jewry, New York’s Upper East Side and suburban Brookline, Massachusetts, and the opposed policies of assimilation and separateness they represent. Growing Up Rich received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for its contribution to American Jewish life. By this time, Bernays had come to reject her father’s claim that to be Jewish was purely elective. Although far from religiously observant, she became increasingly active as a board member of such ventures as the Vilna Center for Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Film Festival, both based in Boston.

Later Works and Literary Involvement

In addition to her novels, Bernays has written dozens of reviews, travel, and opinion essays for national publications, as well as two nonfiction books: What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (1990, with Pamela Painter) and The Language of Names (1997, with Justin Kaplan). She taught at several institutions, from 1992 to 1995 at the College of the Holy Cross as the Jenks Professor of Contemporary Letters and at Boston University’s College of Communications. Active in the literary and artistic community, she founded and for many years served on the executive board of PEN/New England. She was on the advisory board of the National Writers Union and has also been chair of the board of trustees of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, near her summer home in Truro. She is a member of the Century Association in New York.

In a 2017 reflection on her life as a feminist in The Independent, Bernays stated: “I've come to admire my mother's willingness to advocate for women's rights in circumstances where we've been pushed to the back row. And I've grown to accept that it's not easy to achieve parity, especially when the history of family life has been predetermined and maintained by men. I've become more forgiving of her mistakes - and some of my own.”

Bernays is a dedicated swimmer, walker, traveler, singer and player of word games as well as an enthusiastic grandmother. She has managed to resolve many of the tensions of being a Jew, a woman, and a writer in America.

Selected Works by Anne Fleischman Bernays

Trophy House (2005).

The Language of Names, with Justin Kaplan (1997).

What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, with Pamela Painter (1990).

Professor Romeo (1989).

Growing Up Rich (1975).

Short Pleasures (1962).

Bibliography

Bernays, Anne. “Take it from me, being a woman means accumulating a lifetime of indignities: An 87-year-old feminist looks back.” The Independent. November 6, 2017.

Contemporary American Authors.

Who’s Who in America.

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How to cite this page

Kaplan, Justin and JWA Staff. "Anne Fleischman Bernays." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 28, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/bernays-anne-fleischman>.