Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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WINEMAN / AGNON AND RABBI NAHMAN
99
ality,” and the need for disguise. Common to all th ree is the
recu rren t theme o f the barriers and psychological delay and
failure in carrying ou t an assigned mission, together with the
sense o f a dream like existence and the presence o f paradox
and irrational motifs.
Perhaps bearing in mind Yosef Hayyim B renne r’s words o f
praise for Agnon upon the publication o f
Agunot
,8 the la tter’s
very first story to appea r in Eretz Yisrael, Rifka Horowitz
stressed tha t the commonality among them lies in content, not
in style. Almost sixty years earlier, B renne r9 had written that
while the poetic vision o f Agnon in that early work brings to
mind the poetical quality o f Rabbi N ahm an’s tales, in its lan­
guage and form it goes much beyond them. Horowitz points
to o the r differences between the two who share so many qual­
ities. Rabbi N ahman’s tales have ultimately an autobiographical
focus and he writes about kings and princes and the like; Agnon
lacks tha t kind o f autobiographical accent, and his characters
are average people often with all their limitations and indeci­
siveness.
Like Hillel Barzel10 Horowitz accepts Agnon’s claim that he
was unfam iliar with Kafka’s writings, but she adds the obvious
corollary tha t Agnon was certainly familiar with the stories o f
Rabbi Nahman and with the o the r Bratzlav writings as well.
In his comprehensive study o f Agnon, Arnold J. Band indicated
that the young Agnon in his early teens “was particularly im­
pressed with the tales about the famous Rabbi Nahman o f
Bratzlav in
Shivhe ha-RaN,
and the imprin t o f those tales is no­
ticeable th roughou t his literary life.”11
As a case in point, one o f Agnon’s earlier Hebrew stories,
ha-Nidah
(The Banished O ne ),12 which appeared in 1919, sug­
gests a num ber o f startling similarities and points o f connection
with one o f the tales o f Rabbi Nahman,
M a’aseh be-Ven ha-Rav
(The Tale o f the Rabbi’s Son). Like that earlier tale, also
ha-
Nidah,
which exemplifies definite neo-Romantic characteristics,
is set du ring the time o f intense and fierce conflict between
8 .
Elu ve’Elu, Kol Sippurav
II, pp. 405-416.
9.
Hapoel Hatzair
II (May 1909), p. 7. Quoted in Shaked,
Shmuel Yosef Agnon,
p. 163.
10.
Bein Agnon le-Kafka, Mehkar Mashveh
(Ramat-Gan: 1972).
11. Band,
Nostalgia and Nightmare,
p. 9.
12. Appeared initially in
Hatekufah
IV (1919); included in
Elu ve’Elu,
pp. 5-56.