Page 131 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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satisfy her longing fo r some kind o f meaning in life. For Mirl, her
series o f suitors, fiances and lovers are not romantic fancies, but
potential means o f escape from her constant discomfort. H er dis­
illusionment with a series o f such options, each represen ted by a
man — including provincial prosperity, sexual attraction, bou r ­
geois respectability, sympathetic friendsh ip and intellectual
insight — leads to her rejection o f every one, each time with a
renewed recognition o f the meaninglessness o f her life. Mirl is
not misled, as are earlier heroines, by romantic notions from
dime novels; no r is she a female philosopher who dispassionately
evaluates her situation. She is a woman who relies on emotion and
intuition, on her sense o f honesty and abhorrence o f hypocrisy
and pretense, to guide h er in h er quest for a meaningful exist­
ence. And true m odern heroine that she is, Mirl comes to the
realization, again and again, that the “principle” tha t she is
seeking does not exist, and that he r own search for it is the only
possible constant in h er chaotic universe.
T he radical na tu re o f Bergelson’s subverting o f convention in
Nokh alemen
may be fully appreciated by a comparison o f this
novel with a contemporary work, Sholem Asch’s
Both nov­
els were published in the same year, 1913; both deal with the
struggles o f a Jewish woman in modern times; and both were dis­
cussed by the critics in terms o f the ir promise for the fu tu re of
Yiddish literature .4T he very d ifferen t ways in which each au tho r
uses tradition and literary convention exemplify the divergent
artistic paths o f Asch and Bergelson.
Like Mirl, Meri is a daugh ter o f the shtetl who feels oppressed
by its provincial bounds. She has read the Russian classics as well
as a good deal o f less elevated, romantic literature, and she sees
herse lf as a medieval hero ine born ou t o f h e r time. In her ambi­
tions and her subsequent downfall, b rough t about by insufficient
moral education and undisciplined though genuine passion,
4 See, for example, Bal-Makhshoves (I. Eliashev), “Sholem Asch un Dovid
,”Dos lebn
(Warsaw), February 6,1914, p. 3; L. Kenig, “Sholem Asch
un Dovid Bergelson,”
Shrayber un verk,
pp. 70-72; and Sh. Niger, “Dovid
Nokh alemen
” (dated 1913) and “Sholem Asch:
” (dated 1913),
reprinted in his
Shmuesn vegn bikher
(New York: Farlag Yidish, 1922), pp.