Page 61 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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LOW IN /HERMAN WOUK AND THE LITURGICAL NOVEL
49
ten on October 15, 1943, Wouk tells us that he is working on his
first novel. He writes: “I’ve read a couple of novels with heroes, to
wit —
Joseph Andrews, Nicholas Nickleby
— and I am now engrossed
in
Don Quixote.
The form of the narratives, the looseness, the
irony, the author’s interpolations, the fundamental optimism, all
these have meant a great deal for me.”6 In
Inside, Outside,
there
are close to one hundred direct references or oblique allusions to
the classics of Western literature, from Cicero to Cervantes, from
Rasselas to Rabelais to Rousseau. There are Shakespeare and
Moliere, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens. The narration of
Goodkind’s birth alludes to the birth scene of
Tristram Shandy.
The last line of the novel, “Call me Israel,” is a literary pun,
alluding to the first line of
Moby Dick.
It goes without saying that
both Sholem Aleichem and Mendele Mokher Seforim (called
Mandalay Mohair Serafin by his ignorant, assimilated descend­
ant, Peter Quat’s father) are mentioned. But the two authors most
frequently alluded to in the novel are Marcel Proust and Jona­
than Swift. Proust’s role as a model of the writer trying to recap­
ture the past through the use of involuntary memory is clear
enough here. Even Proust’s depiction of Swann’s obsession with
Odette as a literary precedent for Goodkind’s fascination with
actress Bobbie Webb is easy enough to see.
What meaning, however, can
Gulliver's Travels
add to the nar­
rative? How are the various fantastic voyages to Lilliput, to
Brobdingnag, to Laputa, and to the country of the Houyhnhnms
related to the story of Israel David Goodkind? Each episode of
Swift’s text begins with an account of the author’s self and family,
his inducements to travel, and the map coordinates of the ship on
which he sails. All these details give the “ring of tru th” to Swift’s
narrative. The reader is induced to believe that since the narra­
tive
sounds
true, it
is
true. And ten pages after all the prefatory
verisimilitude, when the narrator begins to converse with horses,
in their own language, we are inclined to suspend our disbelief.
Such, to a less fantastic degree to be sure, is what happens in
Inside, Outside.
Despite the author’s meticulous care in presenting
his work as memoir, the analytical reader must not forget that we
are in the presence of fiction — and of fiction from beginning to
end.
6 Quoted in Arnold Beichman,
Herman Wouk: The Novelist as Social Historian.
(New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1984), p. 22.