Page 71 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

YUDK.IN / THE POST-WAR ANGLO-JEWISH FAMILY NOVEL
59
want . . . nice girls and chopped liver. I want lobster and cham­
pagne and pale skins and thin cheeks and flat chests.” This is not
based on a metaphysical analysis of Judaism vis-a-vis other possi­
bilities, but on a hankering after that other, larger, goyish world.
That world is, as he sees it, attractive, because it is natural,
entrenched and unself-conscious. Again, he reflects (it is most
unlikely, after all, that he would voice these dangerous thoughts
in the wrong quarters), “How right the British are to elevate char­
acter above all else. The character to be oneself — how difficult a
feat for a Jew in middle-class, Anglo-Saxon society. And he fell to
musing on the odd paradox of the so easily recognizable bour­
geois Jew, with all his blatant self-assertive characteristics, in real­
ity so hollow and careless, so bereft of identity, a victim of wrong
instinct, cloudy with self-consciousness . . . His instinct, while he is
living in western society, is always wrong — too fervent, too
throbbing with feeling, self-righteousness, injury; too emotional
by half. I f he is to live in the western world, he must acquire there­
fore, as soon as possible, the cooler western mask.” Although Leo
is, of course, spiritually, emotionally and socially integrated into
the Jewish community, he still perceives its imperfections from
the outside. I suppose that we could translate this perception into
other terms by saying that the Jew does not inhabit his own space
naturally, so he has to grope around in search, whereas the true
Englishman, the non-Jew, is at home in his world. It should be
noted that Leo’s own development in the novel is an active confir­
mation of his doubts about other Jews. He is unsure of his own
position, and this leads, at the end of the novel, to his making a
wrong choice of marriage partner. He decides to marry Lillie,
whom he does not love, but who is, he thinks, “pretty, efficient,
smart,” rather than Sara, who is totally good, but who is not likely,
in his estimation, to help him in the “world.” So here, in this vital
area, he is looking at his own future and even at his love through
the eyes of others. Leo is a character whose uncertainties are writ­
ten into what comes over as a narratorial view. He is trying to
make sense of his own position, his Judaism, his environment and
his spiritual life, whilst blundering into personal disaster. He
attributes this Jewish fault to lack of at-home-ness in the world.
On the other hand, Jewishness does have stunning virtue. Friday
night (the Sabbath) is a concretization of a divine ideal, “It is then
that the Jewish family can be seen, if only in a second’s vision, as a
symbol of God’s sane, ordered wish for the humankind.”