Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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J EW I S H BOOK ANNUAL
6
deprecate. Jacob Wassermann’s
Mauritius Case
shared both
marks. It was a world success and not a Jewish novel. But it
was a tense and lofty exercise of the creative imagination.
I f
we
had an American Jacob Wassermann, no critic would mention
the
virtuosi
of mere entertainment.
The generation immediately following exhibited undoubtedly a
very genuine improvement in literary
quality.
We are in a quite
different world of style and manner and bearing when we come
to, let us say, Robert Nathan, Elmer Rice, Babette Deutsch,
Irving Fineman, Max Lerner, Irwin Edman, S. N. Behrman,
Marie Syrkin, the English writings of Hayim Greenberg, of Will
Herberg, above all, when we come to the work, the
oeuvre
, of
Maurice Samuel. It is as though this generation, whether of
native or of foreign birth, had suddenly in the deeper and higher
sense learned English and moved with ease and grace within the
moods and methods, to whatever subject applied, of the funda-
mental traditions of the literature of the English tongue. One
may sorrow over the silly radicalism of Elmer Rice. One remains
persuaded that at least in
The Adding Machine
he added a memor-
able work to the American drama. So sagacious a critic as Joseph
Wood Krutch has constantly supported the claim of S. N. Behrman
to be a comic dramatist in one of the classic English traditions.
The slight but elegant fictions of Mr. Robert Nathan, the firmly
wrought verses of Miss Babette Deutsch, the vigorous and
trenchant political essays of Max Lerner — all these are on the
higher levels of contemporary American literature. Slightly
above even these levels, though all such immediate judgments
must be tentative, stands the work of Irwin Edman and Irving
Fineman. Mr. Edman, after a dash into Jewish autobiography in
the
Menorah Journal
some years ago, withdrew entirely into
neutral realms. His philosophical attitudes are not mine. But
his witty verse and luminous prose in which he has, without un-
worthy concessions, made philosophy seem a friendly thing in a
“middle-brow” world, are to be mentioned with respect and
kindness.
With the work of Mr. Fineman we enter the tragic realm of
the Jewish creative artist. The wide American public does not
want to read about Jews, which is understandable; literate Jews
prefer the psychical security of reading what everybody else is
reading. In these simple statements is summed up the fragmenti-
zation of the career of this extraordinarily gifted novelist. Had
he not chosen the honorable and spiritually fruitful part of writing
out of the depth of his Jewish heart, he would rank with the most
conspicuous American novelists today, none of which are above
him in endowment or skill.