Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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MAZOR/S.Y. AGNON AND KNUT HAMSON
7 1
and faithfully follows the Hamsunian pattern, is clearly revealed
in “In the Prime of Her Life.” Thus, while Tirtsa is sitting in the
garden, occupied with her thoughts about her frustrated love,
she is surprised by a barking dog. At first she is frightened, but
soon her attitude changes — “Despite the fact that I usually dis­
dain dogs, I bent down toward him and patted him. At first, the
dog stared at me suspiciously but then he barked joyfully.”
The same symbolic scene which involves Nagel in
Mysteries,
is
repeated in “In the Prime of Her Life.” In Agnon’s story, the
main protagonist also suffers a failed love, and exhibits an
extreme change in attitude toward the dog — from disdain and
hostility to affection, as expressed through the patting of the
threatening dog. In both cases, the scene is charged with the same
symbolic meaning: the unconscious preoccupation of the frus­
trated lover with his erotic misfortune. Moreover, the same scene
recurs in another story by Agnon, under circumstances that also
evoke the same sense of unfulfilled love. In the story entitled,
“And the Rugged Ground Shall Become Level” (
Ve-Haya he-Akov
le-Mishor),
we encounter a protagonist who returns to his home­
town from a long exile, only to discover that his wife had remar­
ried and had just given birth to a child by her second husband. As
he enters the town, a big threatening dog springs at him. Then
the dog crawls at his feet and he pats him affectionately. This rep­
etition of a strikingly peculiar Hamsunian scene in two different
stories by Agnon conclusively dispels the possibility of mere coin­
cidental resemblance.
But the parallelism between Hamsun and Agnon does not end
with these references. It is more detailed, substantial and conse­
quently all the more convincing.3 As mentioned above, the dog
which seems to bite under erotic circumstance appears in
Myster­
ies,
but the bite is a bluff. The dog does not try to bite at all. The
motif of the implied dog bite is meaningfully developed in
Hamsun’s works. In
Mysteries,
Dagny notices that Nagel’s hand is
bandaged. “What happened to your hand?,” she inquires. He
3 The mutual use o f the symbol o f the “erotic dog” by Hamsun and Agnon was
first pointed out by Y. Mark in his study, “Exile and Redemption: Between
Agnon and Hamsun” (in Hebrew),
Criticism and Interpretation,
no. 15, 1980,
pp. 153-182. Leading critics o f Agnon, such as Dov Sadan, Gershon Shaked
and Arnold J. Band, have alluded to Hamsun’s influence on Agnon, but did
not translate their broad, illuminating observations into a thorough study.