Page 96 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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Peretz was an artist who presented his readers with fragments
of life rather than the whole of life, with miniatures rather than
full-length pictures. He wrote stories and sketches rather than
novels. The novel demands sustained effort, patience, concentra-
tion, and submission to detail — qualities he did not possess. He
was essentially a man of temperament, of moods and high-geared
emotions. He wrote quickly and by flashes of the luminous mo-
ment. He dashed off scenes and impressions as they occurred to
him, and sometimes the glow would burn itself out before it
mounted to a flame. This, too, is why there are few love stories
in his writing, for the love story calls for growth and development,
for which he was too impatient. The love element is not lacking
in his sketches, but it is always something greater and deeper
that he had in mind, as witness such stories as
What is a Soul?
The Cellar
Drooping Eyes
, and numerous other sketches.
There is no single literary standard by which the genius of
Peretz may be judged or measured. The writing styles and fashions
of his day did not apply to him. He used and defied them alike
until he perfected a tool that suited his craftsmanship. He be-
longed to no school and acknowledged no master. He no doubt
read Mendele, but there is no trace of the latter’s influence in
his writings. He was acquainted with Sholem Aleichem and they
engaged in correspondence, but what he read of him was in Polish
translation. He knew the Russian, Polish and German writers,
but what he imbibed from them was negligible. He derived his
material from the fabled wealth of the Talmud, from the mysti-
cism of the Kabbalah, from the romanticism of the Bet Hamidrash
— but, above all, from the soul of his people. Born writer that
he was, and possessing creative imagination, he did not parcel
himself out biographically nor exploit situations from his own
There were many social forces and party movements among the
Jews of his day, but Peretz did not belong to any of them. He
wanted to be free. He dreaded nothing so much as to be tagged.
He cried out against exploitation of the poor and had little liking
for the capitalistic system, but he was not a Marxist. He sym-
pathized with the proletariat, but when the Bundists proclaimed
him as their banner-bearer, he wrote: “ I am with you in your
struggle. My eyes rest lovingly on your flaming flag; my ear does
not tire listening to your mighty song — and yet, I fear you . . . I
fear lest you lower the cedars to the level of the grass . . . There
will be no empty stomachs, but souls will starve, and the eagle,