Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

Basic HTML Version

J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
42
booklets were printed, a record unequalled by any Hebrew
writer. Dick proved there was a vast Jewish audience, insuf-
ficiently versed in Hebrew to read works in the sacred tongue,
that could be reached through the Yiddish vernacular. When
Mendele became interested in influencing larger masses, he
too realized that Yiddish was a more effective linguistic medium.
Mendele’s narrative of 1863 was a devastating satire aimed
at the corrupt politicians and hypocritical bigwigs who had risen
to leadership in Jewish communities and who were fattening
on the spoils derived from taxes and religious imposts super-
vised by these so-called public benefactors. Other satires fol-
lowed in which the literary moralist continued with ever in-
creasing skill to expose injustice, to combat wrong, and to urge
emergence from the stagnant swamp in which Russian Jewry
seemed to have been mired. These satires, effective a century
ago, are today merely of historic and folkloristic interest. Three
of Mendele’s major novels have, however, become part of the
permanent treasure of Yiddish fiction and are available also to
non-Yiddish readers. They are
Fishke der K rume r
(Lame
Fishke),
Masoes Beniamin Hashlishi
(Wanderings of Benjamin
the Third), and
Dos Vinshfingerl
(The Wishing-Ring).
Mendele—Exponent of Yiddish Naturalism
Mendele was the ablest exponent of Yiddish Naturalism. He
alertly grasped situations with all his senses and brought them
vividly before us in all their dimensions. His constant moraliz-
ing was a malady he shared with his generation of Yiddish
literary pioneers. Along with his inevitable sermons, however,
the gifted artist interspersed poetic scenes of nature and painted
unforgettable portraits of persons and things. His novels are a
treasure-house of Yiddish folklore.
Mendele’s contemporary, Yitzchak Yoel Linetzky (1839-1915),
also won popularity in the 1860’s through narratives which made
use of harsh satire and bitter invective, but unfortunately he
never discarded the cudgel and rapier as Mendele did in later
decades. His best novel
Dos Poil ishe Yingel
(The Polish Lad,
1867) attacked the fanaticism of the Hassidim mercilessly and
with gross exaggeration. His avalanches of words were coarse,
colorful, verging on the grotesque, but somehow failed to touch
the hearts of his admiring readers. They sensed that, unlike
Mendele, he lacked love for his fellow beings and kindness
towards the folkways of his group. As the era of m ilitant en-
lightenment receded, this master of the malign phrase gave the
impression of a neglected historic relic, when he lived on until
the First World War.