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WENDY ZIERLER "In What World?": Devoran Baron's Fiction of Exile As a recurrent literary image, a community of women is a rebuke to the conventional ideal of a solitary woman living for and through men, attaining citizenship in the community of adulthood through masculine approval alone. The communities of women which have haunted our literary imagination from the beginning are emblems of female self-sufficiency which create their own corporate reality. Nina Auerbach, Communities of Women1 ONE OF THE PRIMARY SUBJECTS THAT has occupied previous critics of the fiction of Devorah Baron (1887-1956) has been Baron's ostensible failure to engage the central issues of her day. As Eli Schweid, Hillel Barzel, and Dan Miron have observed, Baron portrayed neither the alienation of the young intellectual Jew from tradition and community, nor the social upheavals in Eastern Europe caused by mass migrations of Jews from Eastern Europe to Palestine and America, nor the reality of the new life in Erets Israel. Despite the fact that Baron experienced these disruptions and dislocations herself—moving from the role of rabbi's daughter to that of writer and teacher; from shtetl to city; from Eastern Europe to Palestine—her fiction seems to bypass these experiences. In contrast to the fiction of S. Y. Agnon, for example, which portrays Ufe in Palestine as well as Poland, and which depicts modernity from the point of view of tradition—and tradition from the point of view of modernity— PROOFTEXTS 19 (1999): 127-150 O 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 128WENDY ZIERLER Baron's fiction seems perennially and statically rooted—as if outside time—in a mythified version of the shtetl, ensconced within its sacred texts and genealogies.2 The goal of this article is to challenge this reading of Baron's work. In doing so, I join a growing group of critics and scholars who are rereading the work of Devorah Baron from the perspective of modernism, postmodernism , feminism, and gender studies—most notably, Naomi Seidman , whose recently published A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish (1997) includes a masterful discussion of Baron's Hebrew and Yiddish fiction through the metaphor of the women's section of the synagogue (where the young rabbi's daughter, Devorah Baron, sat studying, behind a partition, as her father conducted lessons for the boys of their town),3 and Amia Lieblich, whose Riqamot (Embroideries, 1991), a postmodern psychological "biography" of Baron, written as a series of fictional encounters between Baron and Lieblich, recently appeared in English translation, also by Seidman.4 There is no question that Baron's fiction, which often thematically bypasses the new homeland of Palestine in favor of the Lithuanian shtetl, or which seemingly seeks out scriptural continuities between the old world and the new, differs from that of her contemporaries. But this does not mean, as Eli Schweid has argued, that "Baron is completely unaware of the problematic that agitates the writers of her generation."5 As Naomi Seidman aptly observes, "[f]or a literary audience accustomed to and eager to recognize the collective apostasy narrative in a literary text, Baron's work might well have seemed timid, outdated, and populated with the ignorant small-town folk the new generation of Hebrew writers longed to leave behind. Baron's work, though, is neither conservative nor nostalgic."6 On the contrary, Baron's fiction, written in a style that mixes midrashic homily with modernist invention, conventional folktale structures with elements of social realism, often reveals in subtle yet powerful ways the gaps and disjunctures between tradition and modernity. Even as they portray and memorialize the traditional Jewish world, Baron's stories clearly respond to the problematic of early twentieth-century Jewish women's experience, providing significant insights into the phenomena ofchange, disjuncture, alienation, and immigration from a female point of view. To be sure, in comparison with the work of the early Hebrew women poets, who embraced the Land of Israel and the experience of immigration as primary sources of female literary and creative inspiration, Devorah Baron's fiction, which often leaves its protagonists in the Diaspora , represents a very different kind of writing. Whereas the poetry of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 127-150
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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