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Classic Yiddish Fiction

Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz

Ken Frieden

Publication Year: 1995

Revisits fiction by the three major Yiddish authors who wrote between 1864 and 1916, exploring their literary and social worlds. Yiddish literature, despite its remarkable achievements during an era bounded by Russian reforms in the 1860s and the First World War, has never before been surveyed by a scholarly monograph in English. Classic Yiddish Fiction provides an overview and interprets the Yiddish fiction of S. Y. Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and I. L. Peretz. While analyzing their works, Frieden situates these three authors in their literary world and in relation to their cultural contexts. Two or three generations ago, Yiddish was the primary language of Jews in Europe and America. Today, following the Nazi genocide and half a century of vigorous assimilation, Yiddish is sinking into oblivion. By providing a bridge to the lost continent of Yiddish literature, Frieden returns to those European traditions. This journey back to Ashkenazic origins also encompasses broader horizons, since the development of Yiddish culture in Europe and America parallels the history of other ethnic traditions.

Published by: State University of New York Press

front matter

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pp. v-vi

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pp. ix-xiii

Two or three generations ago, Yiddish was the primary language of the Jews in Eastern Europe and America. Today, following the Nazi genocide-and after half a century of vigorous assimilation- Yiddish is sinking into oblivion. By providing a bridge to the lost continent of Yiddish literature, this book resists a ...

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pp. 1-8

Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem (Rabinovitsh), and Isaac Leybush Peretz actively contributed to the invention of modern Jewish identity, as their satires reflected and provoked transformations of the Jewish experience. Between 1864 and 1916, Yiddish fiction traversed far-flung pathways of Jewish life and literary ...


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pp. 9-14

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CHAPTER 1. The Grandfather of Yiddish Literature

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pp. 15-38

Modern Yiddish literature has its origins in the life and work of Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (1836-1917). A follower of Abramovitsh once found him working at his desk and asked what he was writing. "I'm not writing, I'm driving away flies," he answered, and then explained his metaphor: "When I write Hebrew, ...

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CHAPTER 2. S. Y. Abramovitsh: Mendele and the Origins of Modern Yiddish Fiction

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pp. 39-66

The life of Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh cannot adequately explain what enabled him to change the course of Judaic literary history. He published the first modern Yiddish novel serially in 1864-65 and wrote four novels over the next thirteen years. These five works constitute the core of his creative achievement in Yiddish, ...

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CHAPTER 3. Satire and Parody in Abramovitsh's Later Fiction

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pp. 67-94

Abramovitsh's writings exemplify the interdependence of political conditions and literary history. His early Yiddish novels express an optimism resulting from the wide-ranging reforms that freed the serfs in 1861 and liberated the Jews from other constraints. In the later years of this reformist period, from 1869 to 1878, ...


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pp. 95-102

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CHAPTER 4. The Grandson: Trials of a Yiddish Humorist

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pp. 103-134

Sholem Aleichem once commented, to justify the simplicity of his prose, "Why should I write in the style of Yehuda Ha-Levi, and not in the style of Sholem Aleichem? Or, if I really must sing like another poet, I want to sing like the poet of poets-the people."1 Although he excelled in conveying the voices of everyday people, ....

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CHAPTER 5. Sholem Aleichem's "Jewish Novels"

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pp. 135-158

After S. Y. Abramovitsh set a course for modern Yiddish fiction in the 1860s and 1870s, Sholem Aleichem wrote several novels in the 1880s that followed Abramovitsh's direction. He called Abramovitsh "the grandfather" of Yiddish literature in 1888 and fashioned himself as an obedient and devoted grandson. In this way, ...

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CHAPTER 6. Tevye the Dairyman and His Daughters' Rebellion

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pp. 159-182

The saga of Tevye and his daughters expresses broad social conflicts that threatened traditional Jewish life in the late nineteenth century. Love is the principal driving force while economic, political, and religious differences compete to obstruct fervent unions between men and women. In his tragi-comic mode, Tevye the ...

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CHAPTER 7. Social Criticism in Sholem Aleichem's Monologues

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pp. 183-202

Sholem Aleichem's monologists take cues from Abramovitsh's personae of Mendele the Bookseller and Isrolik "the Madman," and they reinforce Sholem Aleichem's claim to be Abramovitsh's literary grandson by emulating the feigned directness of Mendele's address to his readers. Like Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem writes ...

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CHAPTER 8. Sholem Aleichem's Monologues of Mastery

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pp. 203-224

Sholem Aleichem is best known for impersonating the speech of common people, but he gives voice to a diverse cast of characters in his monologues. From a literary standpoint, his digressive style is often most effective when attributed to an "uncultivated mind of coincidental, associative, obsessive memory." 1 Another model ...


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pp. 225-230

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CHAPTER 9. The Father of Another Literary Family

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pp. 231-258

Isaac Leybush Peretz came to be known as "the father of the literary family" after his death in 1915. 1 He exerted immense influence on twentieth-century Yiddish culture, most notably in Warsaw, and his coterie provided an alternative to the patrilineal descent from "grandfather" Abramovitsh to "grandson" Sholem ...

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CHAPTER 10. I. L. Peretz: Monologue and Madness in the Early Stories

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pp. 259-280

After Abramovitsh created the predominant style (or nusach) for modern Hebrew and Yiddish writing, l. L. Peretz became one of the leading practitioners of an opposing style (or anti-nusach). For Peretz had already been deeply influenced by Polish, Russian, and French literature when he encountered the works of his forerunner ...

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CHAPTER 11. Irony in I. L. Peretz's Chassidic Tales

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pp. 281-310

Peretz's creativity reached its zenith in 1899 to 1901 with his innovative return to chassidic traditions. He had taken tentative steps in this direction with several Hebrew stories as early as 1886, but his Yiddish fiction initially carried him toward psychological realism ("The Messenger" and "The Mad Talmudist," 1890) and social ...

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pp. 311-316

This survey of Yiddish fiction does not simply present each author's major works in chronological order, because Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz were close contemporaries. They were called the "grandfather," the "grandson," and the "father" of modern Yiddish writing, yet they died in 1917, 1916, and 1915, ...


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pp. 317-318


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pp. 319-350


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pp. 351-364

E-ISBN-13: 9781438403335
E-ISBN-10: 143840333X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791426012
Print-ISBN-10: 0791426017

Page Count: 364
Publication Year: 1995

Series Title: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture
Series Editor Byline: Sarah Blacher Cohen