Page 153 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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KEN FRIEDEN
Psychological Depth in I. L. Peretz’
Familiar Scenes
On the 75th Anniversary of His Death
A
c e n t u r y
a g o
,
in 1890, I.L. Peretz inaugurated a new phase
in Yiddish fiction with his book of stories entitled
Familiar Scenes
(Bekante bilder).1
While he had already published the remarkable
poem “Monish” two years before, these narrative works repre­
sented an even more radical departure from current norms and
a turning-point in his career. Until his death twenty-five years
later, Peretz continued to explore the consequences of the psy­
chological revolution in his early stories.
Familiar Scenes
contains three extraordinary short texts: “The
Messenger” (“Der meshulekh”), “What is ‘Soul’?” (“Vos heyst
‘neshome’?”), and “The Mad Talmudist” (“Der meshugener
batlen”). The first conveys an old man’s experience of trav eling
through a snowstorm; the second contains a narrator’s autobi­
ographical and metaphysical reflections; and the third enters
the mind of an imbalanced Yeshiva student. The first and last
texts share thematic and stylistic characteristics. Thematically,
they deal with desperate situations and death, and they employ
the literary form now called internal monologue to depict hu ­
man beings in conditions of extremity. “The Messenger” and
“The Mad Talmudist” are decisive expressions of the develop­
ment toward psychological complexity in modern Yiddish fic­
tion.
Peretz’ accomplishment in
Bekante bilder
is hardly imaginable
without its major prototype by Mendele Mokher Sforim, an al­
legorical novel called
The Nag (Di klyatshe).
Peretz read Mendele’s
1. Leon Peretz,
Bekante bilder,
ed. I. Dinesohn (Warsaw, 1890); I. L. Peretz,
Bekante bilder: ferfroiren gevoren,
2d ed. by I. Dinesohn (Warsaw, 1894).