Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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MODERN YIDDISH LITERATURE IN
ENGLISH TRANSLATION
By
S
h l o m o
N
o b l e
I
N 1899, Leo Wiener in his work,
A History of the Yiddish Liter-
ature in the Nineteenth Century
, first called the attention of
the English reader to the existence of a “literature less known to
the world than that of the Gypsy.” I t is difficult to say today
with any measure of certainty what effect his words had upon the
public. In a prefatory note, Mr. Wiener stated that “should
the present work rouse any interest in the . . . literature of the
Russian Jews, the author will undertake a more complete Chres-
tomathy . . .” In his history, Wiener had included several selec-
tions from Yiddish literature, transliterated in Latin characters,
with an English translation on facing pages. Apparently, his
words were received with little enthusiasm, the anticipated interest
in Yiddish literature failed to manifest itself, and the promised
work never appeared. Previously, in 1898, Weiner had published
a slender volume of Morris Rosenfeld’s
Songs from the Ghetto
,
depicting the difficulties confronting the new arrivals in America;
their struggle for daily bread and a modicum of comfort — with
the original Yiddish in Gothic (Fraktur) characters and a rather
literal English translation on facing pages. This, then, was the
extent of Yiddish writings rendered into English at the turn of
the century.
The first decade of the twentieth century saw little improvement
in this respect. Only two Yiddish books worth the name appeared
in English in that period. In 1905, Mordecai Spector’s
The Three
Worthies of Brebendefka
appeared in an English translation by
Louis Lipsky. I t contained a portrayal of three Jewish types in
Russia — the assimilationist, the nationalist, and the indifferent
Jew — and the effect the pogroms of the early 1880’s had upon
them. The following year, the Jewish Publication Society of
America brought out a selection of Peretz’
Stories and Pictures
,
in the translation of Helena Frank.
TRANSLATIONS OF YIDDISH DRAMA
The next decade was more auspicious to Yiddish literature in
English translation. A number of Yiddish works were made
accessible to the English reader. Especially keen was the interest
in Yiddish drama and the theatre. Thus, in 1916 appeared the
collection,
Six Plays of the Yiddish Theatre
, translated by Isaac
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