Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe

Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe

Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe

Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe

Synopsis

Literary Passports is the first book to explore modernist Hebrew fiction in Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century. It not only serves as an introduction to this important body of literature, but also acts as a major revisionist statement, freeing this literature from a Zionist-nationalist narrative and viewing it through the wider lens of new comparative studies in modernism. The book's central claim is that modernist Hebrew prose-fiction, as it emerged from 1900 to 1930, was shaped by the highly charged encounter of traditionally educated Jews with the revolution of European literature and culture known as modernism.

The book deals with modernist Hebrew fiction as an urban phenomenon, explores the ways in which the genre dealt with issues of sexuality and gender, and examines its depictions of the complex relations between tradition, modernity, and religion.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1913, Gershon Shofman (1880–1972), a young but fairly well established Hebrew writer, embarked on a train journey from Lvov—the capital of Eastern Galicia, then part of Austro-Hungary—to Vienna, the famed capital of the empire. When he arrived at the Nordbanhof railway station in the Leopoldstadt quarter—a common point of entry for many Eastern European immigrants (including many Jews)— he was stopped by Austrian officials and asked to present a passport or some other traveling document. Like many other Jewish émigrés and exiles from Eastern Europe at the time, Shofman had nothing to present. This could have made for a dangerous situation. Shofman was not merely an immigrant, but had been a fugitive from the Russian army since 1904, when he deserted his unit in the midst of the RussoJapanese War. Shofman had to think fast. He rummaged through his suitcase, searching for any papers or documents that might help him to establish his identity and affiliation. After a few tense moments, he found a small postcard that showed his photograph with accompanying Hebrew text.

This postcard was part of a series of portraits of Hebrew and Yiddish writers published by Avraham Chaim Robinson, the owner of a Jewish bookstore, Ha-techiya, in Stanislawow, Galicia, which also operated a small publishing house under the same name. Designed in the Art Nouveau style that flourished in the fin de siècle, the postcard featured the author’s name and photographic portrait, encased in a drawn gilt frame, surrounded by a lyre and rose vines. Alongside these flourishes . . .

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