Page 130 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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124
JEW ISH BO O K A N N U A I .
the Yiddish novel from its beginnings; and the conventional her­
oine o f the sentimental, melodramatic novels o f popular
nineteenth-century writers such as A.M. Dik, Y. Dinezon and M.
Spektor, is a romantic figure, caught in the conflict between the
traditional life o f her parents and the new, modern attitudes that
she longs to emulate. This conflict manifests itself most particu­
larly with regard to the issue o f marriage: the traditional custom
o f th
eshidekh,
or arranged engagement, is challenged by modern
notions o f romantic love. The rebellion o f the heroine, in her
desire to follow the promptings o f her heart, usually leads to dis­
tress and disgrace; the resolution o f the conflict, happily or
tragically, is in these novels an outcome o f the author’s ideological
attitude as expressed in the melodramatic machinery o f the plot .
Characters like Golde Mine and her sister Ayne in Dik’s
Di
kremerkes
(The shopkeepers, 1865), Leye in Spektor’s
Gliklekhe
un umgliklekhe
(The fortunate and the unfortunate, 1885), or
Rosa and Rukhme in Dinezon’s
Der shvartser yungermantshik
(The
dark young man, 1877) begin as pure, well-meaning damsels
whose distress stems from their weakness and their impossible
position between two worlds. In their respective triumphs or
downfalls, these heroines exemplify either the approved model
o f a modern maskil’s mate, or the personification o f the fatal
effects o f evil and ignorance on the innocent. Sholem Aleykhem
too created female protagonists, such as Rokhele in
Stempenyu
(1888) and Rosa in
Blondzhende shtern
(Wandering stars,
1909-1911), whose careers illustrate various results o f the conflict
between the traditional and modern worlds.3
Mirl Hurvits also struggles to free herself from a mode o f life
that she cannot endure; she seems to seek her liberation in love
and marriage. However, the social circumstances o f this conflict,
which is the central focus o f most o f the previously mentioned
novels, is background material in
Nokh alemen.
Details o f Mirl’s
family and surroundings are important threads in the tightly-
woven fabric o f this novel; but the problem o f the heroine is not
that o f finding a place for herself in the old or new social struc­
ture. It is, rather, the broader issue o f the individual who per­
ceives the purposelessness o f her own existence and seeks to
3 For a discussion of Sholem Aleykhem’s female protagonists in the context of
these and other novels, see A. Norich, “Portraits of Artists: Three Novels by
Sholem Aleykhem,”
Prooftexts
(forthcoming).