Turgenev and the Poetics of Jewish Death
Gogol's Yankel in Taras Bulba escapes not only the fate of his fellow Jews drowned in the river by the Cossacks but also other near-fatal encounters. Gogol undoubtedly kept him alive because he needed a Jew to conduct Taras Bulba to Warsaw; he also was not about to sacrifice Yankel's comic po"ntial. In “The Jew,” Turgenev, as it were, revived Yankel. He needed him, however, not for comic relief but as the antihero of an existential drama about death and dying. This time the Jewish protagonist is not spared at the last moment. He is hanged. Furthermore, Turgenev's Yankel, renamed Girshel (Girshel'), is no longer an appendage of the epic hero, he is the Jew of the title.
Written in 1846 and published in 1847, “The Jew” (“Zhid ”) appeared eleven years after the first edition of Taras Bulba and five years after the second. Although Gogol had not written anything significant since 1842—when he published two of his best-known masterpieces, “The Overcoat” and Dead Souls—in 1847 he was still the reigning giant of Russian literature. The oft-quoted saying, “We all came out of Gogol's 'Overcoat,'” implies that nineteenth-century Russian writers were all Gogol's literary