Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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L
e f t w ic h
— B
ashev is
S
inger
in
Y
iddish
L
iterature
73
milieu.” But he objected that Bergelson in picturing the boy
Penneck put into him a lot of later, grown-up revolutionary
thought which the boy could not yet have had. But I have read
an interesting chapter of memories of Bergelson by his niece, who
was almost his own age. She lived in the same house with her
parents, the rich matriarchal mansion where all the married sons
and daughters and their children lived, and she describes Bergel­
son as a boy exactly as Bergelson pictured Penneck. He was already
then in revolt against the family business that dominated the
house, against his older brothers who ran the business, against
their whole bourgeois way of life, traditionally religious, refusing
to say his prayers, refusing to join in the life of the household,
finding his friends among the poor outside, always sitting in his
room alone, writing. Thus, the Penneck portrait seems to be
true to the author's life. There is no truth too in Bashevis’s
objection that “Bergelson has in his book adjusted himself to
all the old and new theories of the Yiddish-Soviet critics, in
order to become a revolutionary writer.”
It is good to have had Bashevis declare himself in this way
against the committed writer, committed in Bergelson’s instance
politically. It applies equally to other commitments. Because
a sex commitment has become a fashionable fad, and seems to
be becoming a spiritual disease, writers tend to adjust them­
selves to the new demand. Storm Jameson is a novelist who
has accepted the fact that “ Sex, with all that word implies, has
invaded the novel to stay.” Yet she regrets “ the monstrous stress
laid on these gestures of our being which we share with the
lower animals. It is as if the novelist having called in sex to redress
the balance of the Victorians, had mislaid half the other weights.
The values are as distorted as ever.”
Recent Acceptance of Yiddish Literature
I have not forgotten, with the Sholem Aleichem boom, the
Sholem Asch vogue and now the Bashevis fashion, that only re­
cently has Yiddish literature won acceptance in world literature.
When I delivered a series of lectures on Yiddish literature in
1938 at King’s College, London University, I began by pointing
out that a new book called
Contemporary Movements in European
Literature,
a collection of lectures which had been delivered at
the same King’s College, abounded in Jewish names—Babel,
Bergson, Brandes, Max Brod, Ehrenburg, Pasternak, Marcel
Proust, Isaac Rosenberg, Jacob Wasserman, Werfel, Arnold and
Stefan Zweig—but made no mention of Mendele, Peretz, Sholem
Aleichem, Bialik, Shneour, Sholem Asch, Bergelson, “writers no
less important,” I said, “ and no less European.”