Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader

Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader

Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader

Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature: A Reader

Synopsis

Recent scholarship has brought to light the existence of a dynamic world of specifically Jewish forms of literature in the nineteenth century- fiction by Jews, about Jews, and often designed largely for Jews. This volume makes this material accessible to English speakers for the first time, offering a selection of Jewish fiction from France, Great Britain, and the German-speaking world. The stories are remarkably varied, ranging from historical fiction to sentimental romance, to social satire, but they all engage with key dilemmas including assimilation, national allegiance, and the position of women. Offering unique insights into the hopes and fears of Jews experiencing the dramatic impact of modernity, the literature collected in this book will provide compelling reading for all those interested in modern Jewish history and culture, whether general readers, students, or scholars.

Excerpt

The beginnings of modern Jewish literature are rarely said to have been much before the 1880s, when eastern European authors such as S. Y. Abramovitsh (1835–1917), writing under the pen name Mendele Mocher Sforim, began to put Hebrew and Yiddish literature on the map in new ways. Indeed, both Hebrew and Yiddish literature came to achieve international prominence over the course of the twentieth century, boasting Nobel Prize laureates such as Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978) and S. Y. Agnon (1966). Singer, a Polish Jew who spent much of his adult life in the United States writing in Yiddish, and Agnon, a native of Poland who settled in Mandate Palestine as a young man and who wrote in Hebrew, are but two examples among many In the aftermath of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel, the postwar period witnessed a dramatic expansion of modern Hebrew literature. It also saw an explosion of Jewish literature written in English, with writers such as Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Safran Foer enjoying—like Singer and Agnon before them—a wide readership of Jews and non-Jews alike.

As the literature collected in this volume makes clear, envisioning the history of modern Jewish literature as a development that begins in eastern Europe in Hebrew and Yiddish and develops to fruition in Israel and North America in Hebrew and English runs the risk of obscuring as much as it illuminates. Modern Jewish literature had a long and complex history before the 1880s, and not just among those 1 figureheads of the Jewish Enlightenment who, starting in the late eighteenth century, inaugurated the auspicious project of reviving Hebrew as a viable literary language. In central and eastern Europe—the areas where the vast majority of European Jews lived—Jews typically used . . .

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