Les Rois en exil , by Alphonse Daudet, is a variation on the same theme. In his dramas, Victor Hugo at first sacrificed truth to popular prejudice. Yet Hugo's last great play, Torquemada , reveals the author's real sympathy for the Jewish victims of treachery and oppression — a sympathy he demonstrated publicly by presiding at a Paris rally on May 31, , to protest against czarist persecution of Russian Jewry. Unpleasant Jewish types continued to make their appearance in the novels Cosmopolis ; Eng.
Zola, however, by placing the Jewish Gundermann opposite a far more despicable Christian character, does succeed in restoring some sense of balance. In all these novels the Jew or Jewess is a rapacious intriguer, endangering the security of the nation and corrupting morals. Bourget's L'Etape portraying an idealistic Jew, is a happy exception. Though often cast in the role of a prostitute, the Jewess in the short stories of Maupassant is treated sympathetically and proves herself more noble than her non-Jewish associates.
Thus in Mademoiselle Fifi , the Jewess Rachel alone resists the offensive Prussian officer, emerging as a symbol of French patriotism and courage. And in La femme de Claude , a drama by Alexandre Dumas fils , it is the Jewess Rebecca who symbolizes feminine virtue and purity in a decadent and selfish society. The brothers J. Rosny present a fierce and proud Jewess in La Juive The Dreyfus case inspired not only a spate of nationalistic and anti semitic novels, but also some important works of an exactly opposite type by three great French writers.
Society, eager to persecute the defenseless Jew Pyrot, is depicted in all its cowardice and greed. Anatole France also presents a likeable Jewish philologist, Schmoll, in Le lys rouge The central figure, a liberal journalist in search of truth and justice, speaks out on behalf of Dreyfus, under the influence of an admirable Jewish friend, Woldsmuth.
The Affaire also directed the attention of two great Catholic writers toward Jewry. Two other writers of the period introduced Jewish figures. World War I marked a turning point in the treatment of Jewish characters in French literature, and they became increasingly numerous, varied, and interesting. Writers were preoccupied with the search for new social and moral values for a society shattered by war, and tended to give greater recognition to the Jew's specific identity.
The Jew was no longer merely a persecuted human being to be defended for the sake of justice, but the bearer of a cultural and spiritual tradition worthy of a place in the broader French or European heritage. But it was Romain Rolland who, even before World War I, had given Jewish values a broad and universal meaning for modern civilization. Not only had the Jew his own traditions to contribute to the French heritage, he also had a special vocation in the western world, being the bearer of "Justice for all, of universal Right.
This deals with the friendship between two schoolboys, one a Christian and the other a Jew. The persecution of the brilliant and idealistic Silbermann by his anti semitic schoolmates forms the background to the story. The author, educated in a reactionary, anti semitic milieu, describes how he is attracted by a sensitive and intelligent young Jew whom he meets in the trenches. Georges Duhamel, in his serial novel La chronique des Pasquier —41 , presents a finely drawn Jew in Justin Weill, the loyal and idealistic friend of the storyteller-hero.
Although the liberal Duhamel makes his Jewish hero an admirable figure, he is nevertheless presented as the perpetual stranger, alienated from both the French and the Jewish traditions. Throughout the Chronicles it is this fundamental alienation that accounts for the unsuccessful search for a Franco-Jewish synthesis. The same theme is given a slightly different interpretation by Paul Nizan in La conspiration Here the hero, Bernard Rosenthal, failing to involve the girl he loves in his own philosophical preoccupations, commits suicide.
In all these works the Jewish hero has a central role, yet he is always analyzed in terms of the non-Jew's reactions. To clarify the non-Jew's attitude toward the Jew, some French novelists have created minor, but striking, Jewish characters.
Roger Martin Du Gard devotes La belle saison , the third volume of his family cycle Les Thibault , to the story of Antoine Thibault, a young doctor, and Rachel, his Jewish mistress, who becomes intensely real although she is only seen through the eyes of her lover. The leading French writers of the postwar period did not introduce Jewish figures into their works, perhaps because of the irreparable mental shock caused by the war.
Essays and theoretical writings on the Jewish question by Sartre for example were not rare, but Jewish characters and heroes became the exclusive concern of French Jewish writers. Although Jews made no specific contribution to French literature before the 13 th century, their links with French culture are more ancient. Even Hebrew-Old French dictionaries have survived.
Fleg, Anthologie juive , Its author was probably Jacob ben Judah de Lotra, who is known to have written a Hebrew kinah elegy on the same theme. With the expulsion of the Jews from France in this literary activity came to an end, although Alsace, and occasionally Provence, remained havens for Jewish refugees. After a gap of nearly years, writers of Jewish origin again made their appearance on the French literary scene. A skeptical humanist, more deistic than Christian, Montaigne in his Essays reveals a tolerant abhorrence of the Inquisition in Portugal, but only an outsider's interest in Jewish survival.
But in French literature proper, Jews played no major literary role until the era of Louis Philippe — Few of the many Jewish writers who rose to eminence in 19 th -century France showed any real interest in Jewish themes. By the beginning of the 20 th century the number of Jewish playwrights had grown considerably.
Almost all these authors, with the exception of Henry Bernstein, were Frenchmen who also happened to be Jews; but the Dreyfus case had a profound influence in reshaping the ideas of French Jewish writers. Their general approach was, however, very different. Bloch, a Communist, assigned to the Jew the role of "revolutionary ferment" in his adopted society; while Cohen, a Corfu-born poet and mystic, was strongly influenced by his Mediterranean background.
So does Pierre Abraham — , the brother of Jean-Richard Bloch, who directed the leftist monthly, Europe , and only recalled his Jewish identity in response to the Dreyfus case and, some 30 years later, to Hitler. On the other hand, the themes of certain 20 th -century writers, the problems they analyzed, the characters they depicted, the settings they chose were exclusively Jewish. A phenomenon worth consideration is the large number of Romanian-born Jews who either began or resumed their literary career in France.
His Le Livre des Questions has become the first of a series of works which consist of persistent questioning, sometimes in the form of narratives or dialogues, sometimes in the form of apocryphal talmudic discussions between imaginary rabbis or kabbalistic letter games. The term is of course taken in a spiritual sense and has no political meaning. In this new poetic work it is language itself which is being questioned. The book is also a self-portrait. The Word is always imperfect since it cannot totally express our own inner self, even less our relationship to God.
On the metaphysical level, the question remains unanswered. But the human quality of the Stranger and his function in our midst is more clearly defined. And I? I am, for you, the Stranger. And you? The star always separated from the star. What brings them closer is only their will to shine together. Le livre du part-age The Book of Shares, appeared in English translation as the inaugural volume of a new series on religion and post-modernism at the University of Chicago Press. Whether this latest work indeed marks a new departure remains to be seen.
They have the excuse of despair. Wiesel, in Entre deux soleils , unifies his vision of man through narrations, dialogues and legends, and emphasizes his role as witness. The book is couched in the form of a testament, written in a Soviet jail, by a Jewish poet accused of high treason and counterrevolutionary activities. Although the hero Paltiel Kossover is an imaginary figure, his itinerary closely resembles that of many a Jewish dissident. The son of a kind and pious father, he spent his youth in a Romanian shtetl. His messianic fervor took on the garb of revolutionary faith, claiming to bring salvation to mankind and Jews alike.
The new Leninist religion, widely followed by young Russian Jews in the thirties, was to bring the hero to clandestine action in Nazi Germany and Palestine, and to fighting in the Spanish Civil War and the Red Army. But Paltiel, though a rebel against traditional Judaism, kept an obscure feeling of loyalty to his father, whose voice often calls out to him in the depth of night.
Hardly knowing why, Paltiel carried his tefillin with him throughout.
Though her role remains somewhat ambiguous, they will together uncover the sinister imposture of the Russian regime, and gradually Paltiel's poetry becomes the song of his people. Together they flee with their small son, Grisha, secretly circumcised by his father. The Soviet police submit the hero to its most refined physical and moral tortures, the chief result being to strengthen and elevate the spirit of the victim, who on the threshold of death writes a poignant spiritual autobiography as a legacy to his son. Grisha, the still unknowing child, instinctively feels the presence of a potential enemy: wanting to evade the questioning of a neighbor, a supposedly well-meaning doctor and father figure, he bites off his tongue and will remain mute.
A strange witness of Paltiel's martyrdom and death is the clerk of the court, a Jew himself caught in the system, who carries the message to the mute son of the poet.
Grisha will eventually reach Israel with a group of refuseniks, expecting his mother to follow. But will she ever come? The reader is carried into a dreamlike world of introspection, into the shadowy recesses of the psyche. Wiesel's book is an emotional and convincing statement of Jewish self-assertion.
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Its characters are convincing, while the search for a buried past is the motivation and the core of the book. The concluding message is clear: Israel, the land of the prophets, will be and must be the place where memory is kept intact, the land of truth and life, the land of Jewish hope.
Elhanan Rosenbaum, born in a shetl of the Carpathian mountains, survives the Holocaust and discovers Palestine. In besieged Jerusalem he falls in love with Talia and a son, Malkiel, is born. In New York, where he settles with Malkiel, Elhanan preserves the memory of the terrible years.
But Malkiel, already an American, although close to his father, has no link with Elhanan's past. One thing only is certain: his mother Talia died in bringing him into the world.
Elhanan, who has been unable to reveal his treasured nightmare to his son, becomes ill and loses the ability to speak or to remember. Soon the past will be lost forever. Elhanan will have nothing to bequeath to his son who, in turn, will be unable to know the roots of his deepest convictions and to share them with his friend Tamar.
The shipwreck of memory is averted in a dramatic manner: the father suddenly starts to tell the story of his tumultuous past, thus feeding his son's memory, while his own will finally be relieved of its intolerable burden.