Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France

By Maurice Samuels | Go to book overview

Five Ghetto Fiction: Daniel Stauben,
David Schornstein, and the
Uses of the Jewish Past

In the difficult aftermath of the Revolution of 1848, a young Jewish scholar used to seek escape from the Parisian “whirlwind” by summoning memories of his childhood in Alsace.1 Normally his recollections of the “antique simplicity” of semirural Jewish life offered him “a refuge” from the anxiety of contemporary events. One night, however, he found himself in a state of “weariness and depression” after a day spent “both in reading and in the agitation of political questions,” and he realized that his powers of recollection had let him down. No longer able to muster in proto-Proustian fashion the lost world of his youth and stricken with terror at the failure of his memory, he decided to go physically in search of his past: “I threw my traveling coat over my shoulder and set out on the road to Alsace.” Fortunately, the lost world of his childhood still existed a short journey away. In a few hours, a train would reconnect him with the people, traditions, and stories that seemed to exist frozen in time and that offered him the only reliable antidote to the stresses of modern life.

So begins the first in a series of nine “Lettres sur les moeurs alsaciennes” [Letters on Alsatian Manners], published by Auguste Widal in Les Archives Israélites between 1849 and 1853. At once a description of a vanishing way of life and an account of the narrator's feelings as he reconnects with the people and customs of his childhood, the letters unfold in hybrid form, containing both a first-person travelogue and intercalated fiction, told as stories by the various characters or the narrator himself. Documentary in its effort to describe traditional social types, customs, and folktales but also explicitly a kind of therapy for the modern subject, the series struck a chord with readers in the

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Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction: Out of the Archive 1
  • One: Romantic Exoticism 37
  • Two: Between Realism and Idealism 74
  • Three: The Conservative Renegade 112
  • Four: Village Tales 154
  • Five: Ghetto Fiction 193
  • Conclusion: Proust's Progenitors 239
  • Notes 263
  • Index 315
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