Abstract

Nineteenth-century intellectuals often decried nostalgia as a widespread social and cultural malaise, issuing harsh indictments of contemporaries who expressed their discomforts over the rapid pace of modernization and urbanization by fixating on an idealized past. Yet as this article emphasizes in its discussion of the fiction of Leopold Kompert, nostalgic longings for the past were not always a symptom of dislocation in the present. Kompert, one of the earliest and most popular producers of ghetto literature in nineteenth-century Europe, geared his nostalgic tales of traditional Jewish life in his native Bohemia at an upwardly mobile Jewish community increasingly identified with German culture as well as at the general reading public. Through an analysis of his works and a study of their reception, this article explores the ways in which fiction helped promote a vision of the ghetto as a usable past. By memorializing traditional forms of Jewish life in respectable aesthetic forms, Kompert's tales claimed cultural respectability for the immediate Jewish past. Ghetto literature sought in this way to secure Jews a form of bourgeois cultural respectability that might serve as a marker of their newly-found—or yet-to-be achieved—middle-class status. An investigation of ghetto fiction and its reception illuminates thus both the dynamic role of German-Jewish literature in reinventing tradition and the ways in which this process of acculturation was inextricable from the quest to produce Jewish literature that might claim to be secular culture of the highest possible order.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0604
Print ISSN
0021-6682
Pages
pp. 576-615
Launched on MUSE
2007-12-04
Open Access
No
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