Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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ABERBACH / AGNON AND THE NEED FOR TRADITION
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A g n o n ’s acqua in tances w ere gene ra lly ag re ed th a t his w ritings
con s titu te th e fu llest b iog raphy o f th e m an . His d e ta chm en t
from o th e rs , as ob se rved by Scholem , freq u en t ly em e rge s in
his fiction. O n e o f his m ost b iza rre stories, “H a-Ro fe u-
G e ru sh a to ” (T h e D oc to r’s Divorce), was w r itten in th e late
1930’s, when A gnon an d his wife, acco rd ing to Scholem , were
on th e th re sh o ld o f d iv o rc e .14
In this story , set in post-W o rld W a r O n e V ienna , a do c to r
is besieged on his w edd ing n ig h t by th o u g h ts o f his w ife’s f o r ­
m e r lover. F rom th e n on he slowly goes m ad , seizing every
chance to rem in d h e r o f h e r ‘s in ’ and m ak ing h e r life a hell.
H e is filled with supp re s sed an d u n ex p la in ed an g e r a t h e r .
W ha t love he has fo r h e r is sadistically p rovoked by the su f fe r in g
which he inflicts on h e r an d by his con sequ en t rem o rse . T h e
story reaches a climax when th e lover, who is neve r n am ed ,
en te rs his hosp ita l fo r t re a tm en t . As in H aw th o rn e ’s
The Scarlet
Letter,
in which C h illingw o rth , H e s te r P ry n n e ’s fo rm e r h u sb and ,
becomes th e d o c to r o f D imm esdale whom he suspects, rightly ,
o f fa th e r in g H e s te r ’s child , th e p a t ien t is tre a te d with exquisite,
malicious care . H e has h a rd ly a clue th a t the do c to r is see th ing
with rage a t him . T h e d o c to r ’s wife (a n u rse in his hospital)
is no t so fo r tu n a te . His sadism wears h e r down un til she finally
asks fo r a d ivorce. However, a f te r th e sep a ra tion he is still ch ild ­
ishly b o u n d to h e r . A t n ig h t in bed — so th e story end s —
he lifts his arm s o u t an d calls to h e r , “N u rse , nu rse , come to
me!”
KAFKAESQUE THEMES
Fo r abou t fifty years, A g n o n ’s stories have been com p a red
with those o f K a fk a ,15 b u t it is no t genera lly recogn ized th a t
the most sign ifican t parallels a re fo u n d no t only in K afka’s fic­
tion b u t also in his au tob iog raph ica l writings. T h e p rob lem s
faced by Kafka in his le tte rs an d diaries, pa r ticu la r ly those r e ­
lating to au th o r i ty an d women , a re sim ilar to those d ep ic ted
in A g n o n ’s stories. T h e psychological dynam ics o f th e m a rr iag e
in “T h e D oc to r’s D ivorce” an d in o th e r stories by A gnon a re
14. Personal communication to the author, Gershom Scholem and Mrs.
Scholem.
15. See, for example, H. Barzel,
Bein Agnon le-Kafha
(Agnon and Kafka: A
Comparative Study), Bar-Ilan University Press: Tel Aviv, 1972.