Page 60 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
50
world in which modern man lives, the modern drama had evolved
a new technique and a new psychology. This pioneer work won
high praise and deservedly so.
Lewisohn was a superb translator from the German. His
renderings into flawless English are sometimes as good as, if not
better than, the originals themselves, and have become standard
versions. He edited the plays of Hauptmann for the
German
Classics
(B. W. Huebsch), and by 1929 he was responsible for at
least sixteen translations. He also wrote for the pro-German
weekly
International
, edited by G. S. Viereck. In 1918 he produced
an anthology,
Poets of Modern France
, which reveals the catholicity
of his taste as well as his social attitude. He became dramatic
editor of
The Nation
after World War I, contributing to that
important periodical a number of very fine critical appreciations.
Some of these were collected and printed in 1922 in
The Drama and
the Stage
, which is in many ways Lewisohn’s best book. I t reveals
one of the great masters of the art of criticism, at that time more
or less neglected. While we may not, with the advantage of thirty
years retrospect, agree with all the strictures he laid upon Joyce,
Virginia Woolf and others, he saw their flaws and his protest
against their blurring technique was valid.
His
Upstream
required four years to finish. When it saw the
light of day in 1922, it created quite a stir on two counts: (1) its
passionate protest against arid conventionalism in art and in
morals; and (2) its positive proclamation of Jewishness. The
novel tells of his quest for selfhood, for free expression of his
personality. His railing against American culture is not entirely
justified, nor is his lack of reticence about certain episodes. Frank-
ness can go to such extremes of irritability as to become repulsive.
A psychologist might not agree with Lewisohn’s reasons for
sweeping condemnation of his unfriendly milieu, for his conduct
in his love affair and marriage, or for his reversion to Jewishness as
a
Baal Teshuvah.
These were, in all probability, spiritual compen-
sations for his academic failure and for the lack of recognition he
had hoped to receive from the literary (Gentile) world. His
Jewishness was passionate, too much so for clarity or consistency.
He was far too uncritical of it. He loved it wholeheartedly, as he
always loved, and it was the only affection other than letters that
held him all his life. His plaintive cry to be himself, wrung from
an anguished soul, was a high note that had to be struck in his
complacent generation, when American literature was in the
doldrums and American Jewry, gawky in its youthfulness, was
about to reach maturity. The former needed his warning no less
than the latter. His coreligionists read his books, particularly
those that dealt with Jews, and many caught some of his Jewish