Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
o f letters have been published, quite ap a r t from his num e rou s
translations and an impressive range o f editorial activities. Yet
most o f his work bears a didactic stamp, and all o f it stems from
the actual and the present.
As an artist, B renne r lacks tranquillity. His pu rpose was too
u rgen t for any overrid ing resort to subtly in tegrated harmony
and rhythm , even though his sense o f artistry and form was o f far
h igher o rder than has often been supposed. But the lack o f polish
is compensated by a certain rugged strength . Essentially a realist,
B renner was always preoccupied by the present, the he re and
now. T h roughou t his literary life his writings reflect the p ercep ­
tion o f his own immediate environment, to an ex ten t which en ­
dows them all with a strong autobiographical flavor. But tha t
perception was acute and deeply pene trating . With uncanny skill
he laid his finger on the pulse o f life, fearlessly exposing all its
hypocrisy and cant, and tearing aside the veil from whatever he
felt was sham and insincere.
By temperam en t incapable o f moral compromise, B renn e r saw
the world sharply divided into good and evil. But the characters in
his stories bear no resemblance to the black and white figures o f
the romantic novelists. He was not concerned with heroes and
villains with all the ir facile predictability. Indeed , even in his early
novels the principal character is a kind tha t was later to be called
the “an ti-hero .” B renne r was wrestling ra th e r with the vexed and
complex problem o f the effect o f env ironm en t on disposition,
and whether wretchedness is inh e ren t in the hum an condition, or
could it be alleviated by sustained and conscious effort.
This crucial question provides the key both to B renn e r ’s pes­
simism and to the germ o f optimism which it enshrouds. I t is
responsible, too, for the introspection o f his characters, the ir
constant questionings and painful searchings o f the soul. In his
earlier writings his in terest is focused on Jewish life in the dias­
pora. For here B renne r was able to measure the in terp lay o f
character and env ironm en t against his own intimate and pene ­
trating observation. Diaspora Jewry is exam ined, weighed and
condemned as sadly wanting. It is ju d g e d to be com pounded of
hypocrisy and sham, a half-life, purposeless and ineffectual.
Neither the trad itional piety o f eastern Eu rope no r the so-called
enligh tenmen t o f the west could bear analysis — and B renn e r
tu rned his back on both. But condemna tion is tem pered with the
plea o f circumstance. B renne r could not tolerate what he found ,