Page 154 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
novel, which was first published in 1873, in a Polish translation
that appeared in 1886.2 Mendele’s novel tells the story o f “mad”
Isrolik; or rather, it employs the first-person form to have
Isrolik tell his own tale. Unlike the other boys in his town who
succumb to the flood o f arranged marriages, Isrolik resolves
to remain single and enter the university. He then prepares
for the entrance examinations, only to find himself baffled by
his studies o f history and literature. The latter has especially
deleterious effects, when he cannot check the fantasies that Slav­
ic lore inspires in him. Isrolik, the would-be enlightener, also
discovers his inability to reach the Jewish masses he hopes to
educate. He experiences a series o f hallucinations concerning
a talking horse that comes to symbolize the afflicted Jewish peo­
ple. Mendele’s interest is more with the allegorical level than
with the psychology o f his flighty narrator, yet Peretz was able
to draw from Mendele’s use o f the first-person form.
“The Messenger” portrays a relatively balanced character in
an external crisis. The old man is carrying money and a contract
through a blizzard, and trying to ignore a painful sensation
in his chest. The story follows his thoughts, memories, and fan­
tasies as he trudges through the snow. While sitting to rest he
drifts into a dreamy state and ultimately freezes to death. Al­
luding to this story, the second edition o f
Familiar Scenes
(1894)
bore the sensationalistic subtitle:
Frozen! (Ferfroiren gevoren!).
VARIED STYLE
In “The Messenger,” Peretz experiments with a range o f in­
ternal monologue techniques, combined with occasional third-
person descriptions. The story opens: “He walks, and the wind
chases at his clothes and white beard.”3 Peretz employs narrative
omniscience to follow the thoughts o f the old man, who worries
from the outset whether he will be able to complete his mission.
A sharp pain stabs him again and again in the chest, “but he
2. See
B r iv un redes f u n I. L . P ere tz ,
ed . N achm an Meisel (N ew York: YKUF ,
1944), pp . 141n , and 148-49 .
3. I. L. Peretz, “T h e M es sen g er ,” in
A le verk I. L. P ere tz ,
vol. 2 (N ew York:
CYCO , 1947), p. 30. All translations are my own; “T h e M essen g er” is h en c e ­
forth cited as “M” by page a lone . A fu ll English translation is con ta ined
in I. L. Peretz,
Bontche the S ilen t,
trans. A. S. Rappoport (Philadelph ia: David
McKay, 1927), pp . 37 -48 .