Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story ‘‘Henne Fire’’ first appeared in the magazine Playboy and then in his 1968 collection entitled The Séance. Singer wrote this story, as he did his other works, in Yiddish, despite being fluent in English; the author and Dorothea Straus translated the story into English. Many critics and readers considered Singer a master of the short story form; among his numerous awards, he received the 1978 Nobel Prize in literature.
‘‘Henne Fire’’ takes place in a small Polish village sometime before World War I but after the middle of the nineteenth century. The story is filled with supernatural and magical elements, and is told by one of Henne’s neighbors in a familiar and intimate style. Henne Fire is a woman whose erratic and frightening behavior prompts the tale’s narrator to refer to her as ‘‘not a human being but a fire from Gehenna,’’ an ancient word for hell. In the story, Henne’s family flees her home, unable to tolerate the sting of her venomous words and physical abuse. Many of Henne’s neighbors are afraid of her, as well, having witnessed her violence and paranoia, and simply want her to move to another town. Other villagers, including the local rabbi, try to make Henne’s life bearable while striving to protect the townspeople from her wrath and her strange propensity to ignite nearly everything around her.