Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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43
L
i p t z i n
— Y
id d i s h
F
ic t io n
Readers did, on the other hand, react with a touching tribute
of tears to the sentimental novels of Jacob Dineson (1856-1919),
Linetzky’s younger contemporary and Dick’s most talented pro-
tege. D ineson’s first novel
Der Shvartser Yungermantshik
(The
Dark Youth) burst upon the Yiddish scene in 1877 even as
Goethe’s comparable sentimental first novel
The Sorrows of
Young Werther
had burst upon the German scene a century
earlier. It sold more than two hundred thousand copies. It let
loose the floodgates of emotion, especially among women and
young girls, and called forth a host of imitators.
Dineson loved the old folkways and resented the attempts to
tear them up by their roots. If his fellow Jews erred, more
often through ignorance than through malice, he wanted to
hold up to them a mirror of their failings. He sought to get
them to weep over the wreckage in human lives imposed by
their possibly too rigid, intolerant attitudes, and hoped to im-
prove them by appeals to the compassionate Jewish heart. Th is
was his approach also in his later novels
Even Negef
(1890),
Hershele
(1891), and
Yossele
(1899).
The most facile and prolific novelist of Dineson’s generation
was Nachum Meier Shaikewitch (1849-1905), who was better
known under his penname Shomer. His tales abounded in ad-
ventures and surprises and eschewed the tragic ending, a Dine-
son innovation. Shomer held that to let the good perish and the
wicked triumph, as Dineson did, must lead to a questioning of
God’s justice and to a loss of faith in a better tomorrow. He
sought rather to bring holiday cheer to the drabness of each
passing day, to sweeten dull hours with tears of joy, to counter-
act apathy with visions of blissful possibilities. His sentimental
love scenes never descended to cloying sensuality. His banal
romanticism was easily digestible. He recognized that the masses
wanted entertainment, suspense, humor, the marvelous and the
phantastic combined with the illusion of reality. He aimed to
satisfy this taste and not to impose ill-fitting, high-brow, literary
standards.
Mordecai Spector (1858-1925) learned from Shomer the art
of entertaining readers. He treated them as equals and addressed
them as friends and neighbors rather than as ignorant pupils
in need of learning or as unenlightened sinners in need of
verbal chastisement. However, unlike Shomer, whom he repu-
diated, Spector based his plots on actual happenings in his im-
mediate environment. He let his characters debate current
issues of specifically Jewish concern. He reproduced the col-
loquial speech of the market-place and the workshop. As an
excellent observer of reality, he adhered to verifiable facts
wherever possible, but he was not an original thinker or a
subtle psychologist penetrating the deepest layers of the soul.