In a Maelstrom

In a Maelstrom: The History of Russian-Jewish Prose, 1860–1940

Zsuzsa Hetényi
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 325
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7829/j.ctt2jbnxc
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  • Book Info
    In a Maelstrom
    Book Description:

    The first concise history of Russian-Jewish literary prose, this book discusses Russian-Jewish literarature in four periods, analyzing the turning points (1881–82, 1897, 1917) and proposing that the selected epoch (1860–1940) represents a special strand that was unfairly left out of both Russian and Jewish national literatures. Based on theoretical sources on the subject, the book establishes the criteria of dual cultural affiliation, and in a survey of Russian-Jewish literature presents the pitfalls of assimilation and discusses different forms of anti-Semitism. After showing the oeuvre of 18 representative authors as a whole, the book analyzes a number of characteristic novels and short stories in terms of contemporary literary studies. Many texts discussed have not been reprinted since their first publication. The material offers indispensable information not only for comparative and literary studies but for multicultural, historical, ethnographic, Judaist, religious and linguistic investigations as well.

    eISBN: 978-615-5211-34-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xv)
  4. THE CONCEPT OF RUSSIAN-JEWISH LITERATURE AND ITS AMBIGUITIES A THEORETICAL VIEW
    (pp. 1-34)

    “Russian-Jewish literature,” the term appearing in the title of this book, has no unambiguous or universally accepted definition in the literature. First of all, what the word “Russian” signifies in this context is not that the works in question were written in Russia but that they were written in the Russian language rather than in Yiddish or Hebrew. Within Jewish literature as a whole, written in a wide variety of languages all over the world, Russian is only one of the languages beside, of course, Hebrew and Yiddish (and naturally Arabic as well as numerous others). Hebrew, and to a...

  5. I. “TURBULENT TIMES”—THE UTOPIA OF ASSIMILATION
    (pp. 37-87)

    After the French Revolution, the following famous declaration was made in the French Convent by Stanislas Clermont-Ferrand: “One must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation, but one must give them everything as individuals; they must become citizens.” This was said at about the same time as the so-called Pale of Settlement was being established in Russia, the area in which Jews were permitted to settle, in the border regions which, after the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795) fell within the country’s frontiers along with their more than a million strong Jewish population.¹ The idea that they...

  6. II. “IN A MAELSTROM”—AFTER THE POGROMS
    (pp. 89-114)

    It has been mentioned several times in this book, that the pogroms of 1881–1882 represent an extremely sharp dividing line in the history of Russian-Jewish literature. There had been pogroms in the Pale of Settlement earlier: Jewish communities had been the victims of periodical Cossack raids ever since the Bogdan Khmelnitsky uprising in the mid-17th century. Urban pogroms, however, began in the 19th century, the most infamous being those in Odessa (1821, 1859). These would usually be started by the local Greek population around Easter, on the pretext that the Jews were “offending” their religious festival by keeping their...

  7. III. “AT A CROSSROADS”—CHOOSING PATHS
    (pp. 115-168)

    The third period of Russian-Jewish literature set in following an imperceptible transition, and is associated, if conditionally, with the date suggested by Shimon Markish: the year 1897 when the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel. This was also the year when Semyon Yushkevich’s first work, The Taylor, was published in the Narodnik paper Russkoie Bogatstvo. The big names of this period already sound more familiar to Russian readers as valiant representatives of the second rank of writers. The apologetic period was over once and for all, and the didactic, tendentious approach was gradually pushed to the background. The post-pogrom...

  8. IV. “MOTHERLAND” AND “CEMETERY”—CLIMAX AND ENDGAME
    (pp. 169-227)

    Concerning 1917, it is a matter of debate between historians whether the turn of events of 7 November should really be regarded as a revolution or, as some maintain, a mere unfortunate incident, or a simple coup d’état. As a dividing line between historical epochs, 1917 brought no immediately noticeable changes into the continuum of Russian culture (if only for the reason of artistic oeuvres reaching from one era into the next); the radical changes set in following the period of the great chaos (the Civil War and War Communism), in the 1920s. Like every major upheaval in Russia, it...

  9. V. A PATTERN OF NARRATIVE IN JEWISH ASSIMILATION LITERATURE. THE CHILD’S EYE VIEW—ISAAC BABEL IN A RUSSIAN-JEWISH, AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN LITERARY CONTEXT. A COMPARATIVE CONCLUSION
    (pp. 229-257)

    As a conclusion, I propose a special addendum on a peculiar feature, a phenomenon which seems, at the same time, to be the most outstanding achievement of the Jewish literature of assimilation: the narrative method of the child’s eye view, reflecting the dual identity of generations of assimilation. Russian-Jewish literature was the first to develop the forms putting the problem of assimilation into a universal context, formulating and describing thereby the characteristic experience of identity search and multiculturalism, both of them fundamental issues crucial to this very day. The closing chapter of my book attempts to define the substance of...

  10. BIOGRAPHIES OF AUTHORS
    (pp. 259-284)

    Born in Nikolaev near Odessa. He earned his living as a private tutor from the age of 15 on. He started to work for Odessa Papers when he was 20, writing sketches on country life. He studied painting at the art school of Odessa, then at the École de Beaux Arts in Paris, but soon gave up painting, finding it less expressive than literature, a pastime for the idle rich. He tested himself first as a writer while living in a hidden French village where he wrote his first story (A Little to the Side, 1901). Anything but prolific as...

  11. APPENDIX
    (pp. 285-286)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 287-301)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 303-316)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)