Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
24
from force of habit, sometimes from the quill’s influence,
which we call, out of arrogance, divine inspiration. I there-
fore withdrew my attention from my other affairs; and if I
recalled them it was only to put them off.
Betrothed
quickly says:
When Jacob Rechnitz had completed his term of study
and been crowned with a doctorate, he joined a group of
travelers going up to the Holy Land. He saw the land and
it was good, and those that dwelt within it, they were calm
and lovers of peace. And he said to himself, if only I could
earn my bread here, I should settle in this land. Jaffa was
his dearest love, for she lay at the lips of the sea, and Rech-
nitz had always devoted himself to all that grows in the sea.
He happened to visit a school, and that school needed a
teacher of Latin and German. The authorities saw him,
deliberated on him; they offered him a post as teacher, and
he accepted.
If the reader is led astray, it is by Agnon’s very simplicity. The
tale begins with a man’s state of soul, and never leaves it. Alle-
gorical suggestions, conventional plot elements, fabulous events,
suspensions of time all occur; but the hero’s state of soul is the
one constant. At the end of
Betrothed
Jacob shifts from an enig-
matic bachelor to a man betrothed. At the end of “The Orchestra”
the narrator is in
Teshuvah,
or repentance. The story is simply
his shift from one condition to the other.
Author’s Spiritual Conditions
Agnon’s Orthodoxy makes his spiritual conditions sparkle with
interest. Under a variety of pressures, contemporary fiction often
denies the human spirit altogether, depicting
massehmensch,
corporate man, animal man, irrational man, creatures of the
absurd. Believing in the substantial significance of
Mitsvot,
Agnon
treats the world of spirit as more, not less than daily experience.
At times he shows the radiant innocence of
The Fairie Queene,
a world where characters change as grubs become butterflies. In
“The Kerchief,” the narrator gives a mythic beggar the kerchief
his father gave his mother. His gesture of
hesed
or
tsedakah
goes
beyond sentimentality, because Agnon makes the gesture sub-
stantial. By his charity the narrator becomes another person, in
a radiant pastoral mode.
Such a lyrical gesture tends to have a typical plot, as do those
in Wordsworth’s poems or Gerard Manly Hopkins’. So, without
being dogmatic, one can note that Agnon’s hero tends to be