Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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ANGOFF ----JEWISH-AMERICAN FICTION
21
Edward Gibbon wrote
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
,
and William Hickling Prescott wrote
The Conquest of Peru.
But
there is no instance in all literary history where a “ foreign” fiction
writer has written fully and truly about another people. What
Shakespeare couldn’t do, George Sand couldn’t do, and John
Hersey couldn’t do. I t is one thing fictionally to get into a “for-
eign” character; it is another thing to feel at home there — and
the atmosphere of at-homeness is essential to enduring and genuine
fiction.
Hence it is no surprise that the non-Jewish writers among us,
as so often in the past, haven’t done so well by the Jewish char-
acters they have created. The only Jewish character I recall with
any distinctness is Judge Saul Bernstein in the inferior but commer-
daily successful novel,
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
, by Sloan
Wilson. Judge Bernstein is portrayed “favorably,” for he is an
able and dedicated judge, but as a fictional being he is seldom
more than two-dimensional. Jews are mentioned in John P.
Marquand’s
Sincerely
,
Willis Wayde
and in some other non-Jewish
novels, but not one of them sticks in mind, even to the extent of
Mr. Wilson’s Judge Bernstein. As a matter of fact, the only
Jewish character in a novel by a non-Jew, published during the
past five years, whom I remember with clarity, and who had any
real fictional being is Leo Mendes, a Jewish peddler in the early
days of the Santa Fe country, in Harvey Fergusson’s novel,
The
Conquest of Don Pedro.
One of the heartening — and also a little disheartening, as will
soon be seen — phenomena is the large number of stories about
Jews by Jews that appear in general magazines and in academic
periodicals. Two or three good short stories about Jews appear
generally every year in such fine magazines as
Antioch Review
,
Southwest Review
, the
University of Kansas City Review
, and
Prairie Schooner
, all of them quarterlies. One can also find good
stories about Jews fairly regularly in even so sophisticated a
magazine as the
New Yorker
, and in
Harper's Bazaar
, and in the
Atlantic Monthly
and the
Yale Review.
As a veteran contributor
of Jewish stories to non-Jewish magazines of all sorts and as one
who follows them closely, I can say that probably more Jewish
stories are appearing in them now than ever before. This is a
strange development in view of the fact that general Anglo-
Jewish magazines seem to be printing less and less Jewish stories.
Some, indeed, don’t print any at all, while others seem to specialize
in printing poor stories. The pity is that so many authors who
finally appear in the non-Jewish magazines had sent the very
same stories previously to Anglo-Jewish magazines, and had them
returned with curt notes saying the stories were poor — stories