Page 133 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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W
in er
— M
ich a
J
o seph
B
erdichevsky
127
while secretly imbibing the new literature of the
Haskalah.
Married
at sixteen, he was driven out when his father-in-law discovered
him reading a Hebrew secular book.
He began publishing short scholarly and belletristic works, and
after another unsuccessful marriage and divorce at the age of
twenty-five, he went abroad to German and Swiss universities. His
doctoral dissertation dealt with the relationship of ethics to aes-
thetics, a theme to which he returned in subsequent years. He
had broken with Orthodoxy and embraced the philosophy of
Nietzsche, which he grafted onto a secular nationalism to be
applied to the Jewish scene. After his third—this time successful—
marriage, he lived in Berlin in social seclusion until his untimely
passing in 1921 at the age of fifty-six.
Author of Short Stories and Novels
In Hebrew short stories and novels, Berdichevsky depicted the
shocking, sordid and stultifying conditions of life in Eastern
Europe. His Yiddish writings had the warmth, charm and flavor
of folk tales. A man of great erudition, he produced scholarly and
philosophical works in German. He also sought out the by-paths
of Jewish lore, treasures of myth and legend deviating from the
mainstream of normative Judaism. These he assembled and edited
in Hebrew anthologies.
Berdichevsky in Hebrew is the novelist of the embattled indi-
vidual who struggles with a cosmic fate, the restrictions imposed
by the group and the turmoil within himself. His heroes are in
rebellion against the forces that contrive to smother his freedom.
As a result, the hero is alienated from his people; and yet there is
ambivalence in his pain on being separated from them. He tries
to break away from the confines of the herd, but before he wanders
off too far something within him pulls him back.
In the literature that predated Berdichevsky, the rebel was por-
trayed as being either in conflict with the old tradition or disap-
pointed in the new culture. Berdichevsky’s heroes experienced
similar problems, all of which were overt pressures. Their most
destructive turmoil, however, came from within more often than
from
without.
The earlier heroes had social conflicts; the heroes
of Berdichevsky’s creation had inner trauma. Hence the dilemma
so acute and the devastation much deeper.
On the surface Berdichevsky may be categorized as vacillating
or confused. Actually, in mood and in attitude he is consistently
heterogeneous. He can be prosaic or poetic, cerebral or sentimental,
realistic or romantic, critical or lyrical. He was not a man of
harmony nor did he endow his characters with the bounties of