Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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21
S
tam p fer
— A
g no n
: L
yricist
of
M
odern
F
iction
weight, a rabbi, a cleaning woman, a musician, a mailman. Agnon
is simply not interested in total characters to begin with. He
displays as much character as the gesture requires; more would
be tedious and distracting. Hence Agnon’s emphasis on profes-
sions. The profession defines the gesture that counts; the shift
of spirit then ensues. His characters therefore tend to push apart
and pull together, forming chords of music, not spines of plot.
In “The Orchestra,” the hero meets “Charni,” meaning “Black,”
then “Ora,” or “Light,” his old nurse and an adolescent girl.
In
Edo and Enam
all the characters have one initial, Gerda and
Gerhard Greifenbach, Dr. Ginath, Gamzu, etc. After a while
the reader wonders uneasily if they are all aspects of one person,
Agnon, whose last name has “G” as its initial consonant. Chords
of characters seem happier, the tumultuous villages in
The Bridal
Canopy
, the hassidim in
In the Heart of the Seas.
His isolated
characters, in his dark tales, lose their energy and purpose. Such
a lyric chord is strummed in
Betrothed:
Many girls felt affection for Jacob, just as he felt for
them. It may well be that some of them had marriage in
mind, and Jacob perhaps thought of finding himself a wife,
though he could not yet picture himself a married man, or
decide who would suit him best. However, he would call
upon Rachel Heilperin, or take Leah Luria for a stroll,
or visit Leah Zablodovsky, or chat with Mira Vorbshitsky,
or now and then see Tamara Levi. Sometimes they would
all walk out along the beach at night, when the waves kiss
the sands and the sky caresses the earth. Because they were
seven, that is, Rechnitz and the six girls, and because they
walked together at night, the people of the town called
them the “Seven Planets.”
The Lyrical Mode of Plotting
This, we suggest, is Agnon’s essential undertaking in fiction,
a lyrical narration of a shift of spirit, to which character and
plot, action and setting, legend and history are instrumental.
His plots therefore tend to resemble those of lyric poems, not
of conventional novels and plays; that is, their suspense and
resolution is not outward in action, as in
Romeo and Juliet,
where the warring houses are reconciled over the dead bodies
of Romeo and Juliet, and peace restored to a mourning city.
The resolution rather lies in a shift in spirit, a grace attained
or lost in the hero’s temperament. Thus, in “First Kiss,” however
realistic the opening visit of the three monks, the speaker is at
home, relating to a cluster of authority figures, preparing for the
family Sabbath; at its close he gives an innocent girl the “kiss of