Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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KAHN / THREE CENTRAL EUROPEAN WRITERS
101
both Wassermann and Feuchtwanger represen ted . Instead he
was primarily a th inker, a religious and moral th inker who used
the novel as one means o f conveying his thought.
All th ree were fond o f using the historical novel though they
did no t use it to the exclusion o f o ther works. But their interest in
history was deceptive: history as such had bu t a secondary appeal
for them. What they were aiming for instead was to place a con­
temporary or universal issue in an historical setting tha t would
offer distance and perspective. Feuchtwanger and Brod were
especially p rone to use the historical novel for this purpose, while
Wassermann was at times satisfied with the desire to vivify the
past, if not merely to reconstruct it.
WASSERMANN’S ROLE
Feuchtwanger called Jakob Wassermann a German Dostoyev-
ski, which he was not; others saw him, ju s t as wrongly, as a mere
en ter ta iner who craved cheap popularity by translating news
headlines into fictional terms. One German critic dismissed
Chris­
tian Wahnschaffe,
one o f Wassermann’s principal works, as sheer
kitsch.
Born in Fiirth in 1873 to an unsuccessful businessman’s family,
Jakob Wassermann was, until his twenty-fifth year, a wretchedly
unhappy young man. A fter endless quarrels at home, he was
shipped o ff to an uncle in Vienna and a business job he detested.
Next he wandered th rough Germany, vagabond-like, not know­
ing about the next meal o r bed. Immersion in Munich’s Bohemia
also did little good. When he secured a m inor editorial post with
Simplizissimus
, a famed magazine o f hum o r — Thomas Mann was
also working there — his life assumed normal proportions for the
first time.
Die Juden von Zirndorf
(1897) (The Jews o f Zirndorf)
first attracted attention to his talent.
This very first work announced his literary propensities: choice
o f uncommon names, a ponderous style, veiling characters in
mystery, and choosing his own good time to peel o ff the layers o f
the mystery. His characters, mostly young, solitary, ren t with
inner torment, usually functioned outside the mainstream of
society. They rarely moved the action in a straight line toward the
story’s climax. While Wassermann created numerous Jewish
characters in his o the r works,
Caspar Hauser
(1908),
Das
Gansemannchen
(1905) (The Goose Man),
Christian Wahnschaffe