Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
Schnorrer; if an artist or an author is admired it is for his
success . .
And he goes on: “I am stifling under this weight
of moneyed mediocrity, this regime of dull respectability. I want
the atmosphere of ideas and ideals.”
Now although many Yiddish writers, some of them very
good, were continuing to pour out, simultaneously w ith Zang-
will, stories of Jewish life during the 19th and the first half of
this century, not much else in this field was being done, either
in Europe or in America. In this country only a few figures
like Louis Golding and one or two more contrived to get an
occasional short story published about Jewish life. Th is was
partly because editors generally were prejudiced against them; not
I hasten to add because they were anti-Semitic, but for the simple
reason that
one was going to buy a magazine on account of any
short story of Jewish interest it might contain. In other words,
there was no curiosity about us. Th is was almost entirely true
of Britain. It was slightly less so of the Un ited States, but even
there the interest was not so great.
The early breakthrough from minority appeal into being a
major component at least of the American literary scene came
via a somewhat surprising source. Now I may be wrong here
and probably a number of people w ill disagree with me, w ill
date it earlier or later or put forward some other writer . . . but
to my mind the key figure in the transition between short
stories of Jewish interest but with lim ited quality and appeal
and the short story of Jewish interest which leaped the barrier
into both the non-Jewish reading world and simultaneously
into literature (and I use the word literature in all serious-
ness) . . . this key figure is none other than Leo Rosten, creator
of the immortal Hyman Kaplan.
Now before 1 go on to say anything more about Hyman
Kaplan I think perhaps I ought to warn you that I am what
is called an aficionado; that is, I dote on this adorable creature
with a passion which may strike some as being somewhat exces-
sive. One reason for this may be that though the original vol-
ume of stories called
The Educat ion of Hyman Kaplan
in 1937 I only discovered him in 1959—and then only because
of the roar of welcome from every critic in London for the
The Re turn of Hyman Kaplan.
And, like every love
affair which starts late in life, I ’ve got it bad! So bad that per-
haps I see more significances in this marvelous character than
just possibly are really there. Possibly—but I don’t really
think so.
And now, to try and define just why I think him so important
. . . as well as so magnificently funny. It is perfectly true, of
course, that what he does to the English language has to be read
to be believed. We all have our favorite kaplanisms. 1 think