Page 94 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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86
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Transports, but he could not discover from what beginning she
had been rescued . . . In nationality she seemed to be a bit o f
everything; it was the brush o f his native consonants he thought
he had momentarily heard. He listened in vain for her earliest
years” (p. 50).
Hester Lilt’s life is indeed “fraught with background.” She does
not care to reveal it because more important than the Jewish real­
ity she represents is the mystery to be interpreted . This is the
other side of Auerbach’s coin. Tha t interpretation is more impor­
tant than background for Ozick is made abundantly clear in a
later passage in the novel when Hester Lilt does finally reveal her
background to Joseph Brill. Unfortunately, he cannot make head
or tail of her story; he does not understand it. More significantly,
the reader who is witness to the scene is not supplied with the text
o f Hester Lilt’s background, only with the au tho r’s reporting o f
it. Hester Lilt gives Brill a convoluted European story, facts which
he cannot fathom. Ozick gives the reader none o f the facts. “The
more she delivered, the more she withheld. She meant him to
seize everything and nothing. She knew herself to be a flake of
history, someone destroyed, finished; old, the way the world
after its destruction is old; whatever had once mattered did not
matter now.
She was all future; she cut the thread o f Genesis
” (p. 92,
my emphasis).
POTENTIAL AND ACTUAL
What counts for Hester Lilt, as for Madame de Sevigne, is
latency, the background that leads to the possible. In fact this is
Brill’s own definition o f reality: “What we deem to be Reality is
only Partial Possibility, coarsely ground into mere dumb m atter”
(p. 5). At the end o f the novel, Beulah Lilt, the dullard pupil,
turns out to be an original artist whose work, obviously like her
childhood, is endowed with latency.
Hester Lilt is indifferent not to background but to event. Her
obsession is with the Jewish quality o f interpretation. This is evi­
dent both in the titles o f her works and in the parables for which
she has a particular predilection. Hester Lilt is an “imagistic lin­
guistic logician.” She uses language — and silence — to show
things
clearly, and to leave
meaning
hidden. A listing o f some of
her titles demonstrates her didactic duality:
Metaphor as Exegesis;
Divining Meaning; Interpretation as an End in Itself,
and
An Interpre­