Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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ABERBACH /AGNON AND THE NEED FOR TRADITION
95
o f re lig ious ideals, s t ir r in g u p the n a r r a to r ’s gu ilt a t be ing a
tra i to r to his roo ts . In one such story, “H a -N e ro t” (T h e C an ­
dles), th e g r a n d f a th e r casts a shadow o f d isapp rova l over the
n a r r a to r ’s lite ra ry endeavo rs . T h e n a r r a to r finds h im se lf in a
house c row ded with peop le , inc lud ing his g ra n d fa th e r . T h o u g h
the tab le is set fo r the Sabbath , a bookseller persists in selling
books w r itten in the language o f Jew ish here tics — the S am a r ­
itans. Lea fing th ro u g h th e books, the n a r r a to r finds, to his as­
ton ishm en t , th a t he h im se lf is the a u th o r . T h e g r a n d f a th e r ’s
d em e a n o r is a comm en t on his ‘he re sy ’: “My g r a n d f a th e r stood
silently on the side. His black skullcap re s ted on the m idd le
o f his head . An o the r-w o r ld ly sadness dwelt u p o n him . White
fringes o f his h a ir cu r led ove r his sunk en cheeks like silver bells
whose tones a re he ld w ith in .”6 A g n o n ’s p o r tray a l o f h im se lf
as a r a th e r naive an d pious te lle r o f tales, r a th e r th an as the
soph istica ted w r ite r he is, is explicable in the ligh t o f such in ­
cidents: he m u s t s tand u p to the m em o ry o f his g r a n d f a th e r ’s
so rrow fu l and critical gaze.
A g n o n ’s’s firs t taste o f secu lar li te ra tu re came from his m o th ­
e r , E s th e r Czaczkes. Like many O r th o d o x Jew ish girls from
wealthy fam ilies in th e 19th cen tu ry — and , indeed , in this cen ­
tu ry — she h ad been allowed to re ad the E u ro p e an classics
which the m en , fo r relig ious reasons, were fo rb id d en to read .
A fflicted with a h e a r t cond ition , she was pa r ticu la r ly close to
h e r son, who was th e eldest o f h e r five ch ild ren , an d he grew
up with an unu sua lly s tro n g sense o f responsibility towards he r .
T h e in tim a te , r a th e r tro u b led b ond between m o th e r an d son
— an im p o r ta n t th em e in A g n o n ’s f ic tion ' — was tigh ten ed
as the fa th e r was o f ten away on business. A gnon claimed to
have w ritten his first poe try in tea rs at the age o f seven because
his fa th e r was away.
A g n o n ’s fa th e r d id no t m ind his son w riting poe try — he
h im se lf w ro te verse occasionally. B u t when A gnon dec ided d u r ­
ing his ado lescence to become a p ro fessiona l w riter, the family
was shocked . T h is was seen as the first stage on the ro ad to
heresy. Bu t it was too late to s top him : his poem s and sho r t
6.
Kol Kitve S.Y. Agnon
(Collected Works), 2nd ed. (1953-62), vol. 6, p. 117.
Henceforth referred to as
Kol Kitve.
7. See D. Aberbach, “Demut ha-Em be-Khitve Agnon” (The Lost Mother in
Agnon),
Moznayim,
February/March 1982, pp. 52-6. Also see
At the Handles
o f the Lock, op. cit.