Page 158 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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selves. You dress up foreign, naked thoughts from an external
world, and the main thing is— from the real world, while I, who
write for my own pleasure and in accordance with my mood,
when I am holding the quill, I draw simultaneously from dif­
ferent worlds.
And fourth, because writing itself is different here than in
your parts, and it will be difficult for you to read .. . . I write
as one speaks among us, and swallow syllables that one swallows
here while speaking.5
The second and third points are particularly significant. Peretz
aptly describes Mendele’s
Benjamin the Third
The N ag
he comments that Mendele writes “for the public,” and Peretz
sets himself apart from this didactic, Enlightenment attitude.
Because, as he comments, “I write for myself . . . in accordance
with my mood,” Peretz replaces social criticism and allegory by
individual psychology and internal monologue techniques. Fur­
thermore, the early Peretz is less concerned to portray social
ills than to deal with “different worlds” suggested by the poetic
Despite his claim to write only for his own pleasure, in the
letters to Sholem Aleichem, Peretz frequently mentions social
goals. For example, he emphasizes the importance o f expanding
the horizons o f the Yiddish language, and wishes to promote
books on psychology and history.6 Moreover, he discusses the
issues o f nationalism, assimilation, and the role o f women.7
Hence the letters to Sholem Aleichem anticipate Peretz’ later
movement toward socially critical depictions o f hasidic life, while
at the same time they mark his goal o f inventing more indi­
vidualized characters who show psychological depth.
A seminal critic o f Yiddish literature, Shmuel Niger, confirms
the significance o f the emphasis Peretz placed on the individual
consciousness. I f Mendele and Sholem Aleichem deal with the
“soul o f the people,” Peretz probes his own m ind.8 In contrast
5. Translated from letter 74 in
B r iv un redes fu n I. L. Peretz,
ed. Nachman
Meisel (New York: YKUF, 1944), pp. 138-39.
6. Ibid., letters 75-76, pp. 144-45.
7. Ibid., letter 76, pp. 146-48.
8. S. Niger,
Dertseylers un romanistn,
vol. 1 (New York: CYCO, 1946), pp.