Page 129 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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SLOTN ICK / BERGELSON AND TRAD IT ION
123
twentieth century, the novel form in Yiddish was in a state o f stag­
nation. T he younger generation o f writers — including D.H.
Nomberg, L. Shapiro, and Y. Opatoshu as well as Sh. Asch and
I.M. Vaysenberg — had not yet begun to write long works o f fic­
tion. T he novels tha t were being published at the time by such
major writers as Sholem Aleykhem, as well as M. Spektor, Y.
Dinezon and others, were essentially n ine teenth-century novels
in conception. For example, Sholem Aleykhem’s
Motl Peyse dem
khazns
(Motl the son o f Peyse the cantor, begun 1907) and
Blondzhende shtern
(Wandering stars, 1909-1911), each very dif­
feren t from the o ther, were both in (different) novelistic forms
tha t this au tho r had developed in the course o f his career (the
comic, “idiomatic” and the noncomic, melodramatic forms,
respectively).2 Dinezon and Spektor continued in the popu lar
vein tha t had been so successful in the previous century, and were
jo in ed by new writers such as L. Kobrin and Sh. Asch. But it was
not until Bergelson’s
Nokh alemen
(When all is said and done,
1913; English translation by Bernard Martin, Ohio University
Press, 1977) tha t the twentieth century saw something new in this
field: a work o f psychological intensity and artistic originality that
b rough t the Yiddish novel into the m odern age.
THEME OF FIRST NOVEL
Nokh alemen
, Bergelson’s first novel, fea tures a female pro tago ­
nist who seems to share much with the past heroines o f Yiddish
fiction. Mirl Hurvits is the daugh ter o f a p rom inen t family in a
provincial town, has been secularly educated , and is o f marriage­
able age. Like h er predecessors, Mirl must choose a suitable mate,
and so determ ine he r fu ture . But Mirl’s approach to her
situation, as well as Bergelson’s portrayal o f it, do not follow the
conventions that they seem, superficially, to invoke.
Tension between old ways and new had been an integral par t o f
2 Examples of the first include most of the author’s short stories, and such
longer works as
Tevye der milkhiker
(Tevye the milkman, 1894-1916),
Menakhem-Mendl
(1892-1913) and
Motl Peyse dem Khazns
(Motl the son o f Peyse
the cantor, begun 1907). Examples of the second, noncomic type include
Der
blutiker shpas
(The bloody jest, 1911-1912),
Sender Blank
(1887-1888) and
Blondzhende shtern
(Wandering stars, 1909-1911). For a discussion o f this two­
fold division o f Sholem Aleykhem’s longer works, see D. Miron,
Sholem
Aleykhem: pirkey masa
(Ramat-Gan: 1970), pp. 29-88.