Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

Basic HTML Version

24
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
tion placard. Like their audience, many were ordinary, workaday,
uneducated even in Jewish matters. When they strove for ele­
gance, they turned, not in the manner of their European con­
freres to Bible and Talmud for references and telling phrases, but
to Germanized forms which have come to be known as “daych-
merish.” But for the most part their writing was simple and
direct, their construction unsophisticated, their themes obvious,
and their strength in the realistic depiction of everday reality
and in their romantic exhortations to change it.
Parallel to the realistic work, an entertainment literature,
much of it imitative of popular literature in English, began to
appear, at first hawked in the streets in penny installments than
as a regular newspaper feature. Wildly escapist, it was, in Jacob
Gordin’s phrase, “a Noah’s Ark of nonsense and junk.”7 The
list which Alexander Harkavy compiled of sixty-five Yiddish
novels published in America until 1898, included such titles as
Indian Prince, California Gold Miners, Heroes of the Night, The
Black Hand, Between Love and Millions, A Daughter's Revenge,
White Slavery,
along with translations of Jules Verne.8 If the
penny-dreadfuls represent an escape from a difficult reality, they
also suggest a measure of acceptance, of coming to terms with a
new life and finding a place in it. And they also indicate that,
however hard life was, the immigrant’s economic level was higher
here than it had been “at home” : here he was able to buy the
installments as they appeared. And if such purveyors of these
dime novels as Tannenbaum, Zalataroff, Zayfert, Hermalin,
Paley, or Shomar—the most widely read—sinned against litera­
ture, they also served it well, for they prepared an audience for
works of quality.
Out of the confusion and turmoil, the contours of a new
Jewish world began to emerge. As the century drew to a close
and the immigrants found a place for themselves in the new
land, Jewish life began to acquire stability and to recreate a
surrogate shtetl world in the Jewish enclaves of the great cities,
to a Jewish world which had already developed a substantial
7 Elias Schulman,
Geshikhte fun der yiddisher literatur in amerike, 1870-
1900,
New York, I. Biderman, 1948, p. 86. Schulman’s book is an indis­
pensable guide to the literature of this period, as is N. B. Minkoff’s
(op.
cit.)
to the poetry.
8
Ibid.,
pp. 89-90.