Agnon, S. Y. (Short Story Criticism)
S. Y. Agnon 1888-1970
(Born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes; also transliterated as Josef; wrote under the pseudonym Shmuel Yosef Agnon) Israeli novelist, short story writer, novella writer, editor, and essayist. See also S. Y. Agnon Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism and S. Y. Agnon Contemporary Literary Criticism.
A major twentieth-century author, Agnon was one of two writers to receive the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. Nevertheless, his international fame has been limited by the fact that he wrote primarily in Hebrew and devoted most of his fiction to the consideration of Judaic history, culture, and language. Yet Agnon's underlying commentary on the plight of the individual in the modern world has universal application, highlighting the growing disintegration of community and spiritual faith and the accompanying spread of secular and materialistic values and cultural rootlessness. Furthermore, his skill as a writer is unquestioned: Agnon is highly regarded for his adroit use of modernist literary techniques and exceptional control of language.
Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes on July 17, 1888 in the city of Buczacz in Galicia, an historical region of southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. His father, an ordained rabbi and a fur trader by profession, was an Hasidic Jew who exposed his son to rabbinic texts, the Bible, and Talmud and maintained a family library in which his son spent much time. Agnon attended a small local school, studied privately with a teacher, and also received tutelage in German, which enabled him to read European literature in German translation. In 1906 Agnon became an assistant to the publisher of a small Jewish weekly journal; during the next year or so, a number of his poems appeared in that publication. In 1907, at the age of nineteen, he traveled to Palestine, where he stayed for six years, mainly in the city of Jaffa. There he became first secretary of the Jewish court and secretary of the National Jewish Council. Agnon also published several stories in the newspaper Hapo'el Hatzair. The title of one of these, "Agunot" (1908), was adopted—with slight modification—as his pseudonym.
Agnon departed for Berlin in 1913. At this time Germany was a melting pot of sorts. Agnon observed various Jewish groups coming into contact there, and the culture of persecuted Jews who had immigrated from rural villages in eastern Europe stood in stark contrast to that of the comparatively cosmopolitan German Jews and of Zionists (those Jews who called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine). Agnon was struck by the difference between the Judaism of tradition and that of modern Jews subsumed by secular society. While in Germany, Agnon became friends with the eminent Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem and the businessman Salman Schocken, with whom he shared an interest in old Hebrew books. Schocken served as Agnon's patron, enabling the young author to focus on his writing. Other noted figures with whom Agnon associated while in Germany include the philosopher Martin Buber, the poet Hayyim Bialik, and Ahad Ha'am, a vocal proponent of Zionism. Agnon returned to Palestine in 1924, settling permanently just outside Jerusalem. In 1931 the initial volumes of The Collected Works of S. Y. Agnon were published in Hebrew by Schocken. Agnon continued to live and write in Palestine (officially Israel as of 1948), and eventually became a celebrated figure in his country. In 1966 he received the Nobel Prize along with the German poet and dramatist Nelly Sachs. Agnon died in 1970.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Agnon's stories display striking diversity. His narratives include coming-of-age tales such as "The Kerchief"; magical fables such as "Pisces" and "Buczacz"; unusual love stories such as "Metamorphosis" and "First Kiss"; and accounts of modern alienation such as "A Whole Loaf" and "At the Outset of the Day." Other works, like "The Tale of the Menorah" and "Fernheim," explore the relationship of Judaism to political turmoil and exile. Agnon's stories often have the quality of folk literature and legend but incorporate modern literary techniques and devices such as shifting points of view, wordplay, symbolism, historical allusions, nonlinear narratives, and intermingling of fantasy and reality. Agnon's literary inspiration and allusions are rooted largely in Jewish culture, language, and history. Nitza Ben-Dov has observed that, "Most of Agnon's fictional works are composed of all the many linguistic strata of Hebrew, from the Bible and on through the Mishnah, the Talmud, the midrash, the prayerbook, the medieval Hebrew poets, the rabbinic commentaries, and the Hasidic tales of Eastern Europe." Nonetheless, Agnon was also familiar with the writings of German authors and those of Scandinavian, Russian, and French authors in German translation.
Like Austrian writer Franz Kafka, with whom he is often compared, Agnon occasionally depicted characters rendered ineffectual by vacillation, passivity, or psychological inertia. Employing a version of these themes, "The Face and the Image" tells of a man who is summoned to visit his sick mother but is prevented from doing so by a series of absurd obstacles. Similarly, "To the Doctor" revolves around the device of numerous delays, which in this tale contribute to the death of a sick man. Kafka and Agnon also shared the ability to create surrealistic, dreamlike stories in which the world seems menacing or inhospitable. Agnon's "The Lady and the Pedlar," which contains more atmosphere than plot, is of this mold. As well, many of Agnon's characters, like those of Kafka, suffer from alienation. Nahum N. Glatzer has observed that in Agnon's Kafkaesque stories, "Man is lonely, homeless, in exile; meaning disintegrates, lines of communication break down; there is no exit."
As already suggested, Agnon often focuses on the difficulty of establishing and sustaining relationships. The protagonist of "The Doctor's Divorce" is a doctor (and therefore a man of science trained to rely on reason and objectivity) who cannot dispel the unsubstantiated suspicion that his wife had an affair prior to their marriage. Eventually his inner turmoil brings the marriage to an end, in spite of the doctor's unabating love for his wife. In "The Tale of the Scribe" the main character's holy calling as a scribe of religious texts proves to be incompatible with normal human relationships, or with earthly existence for that matter. The novella Betrothed, which treats the subject of unfulfilled love, tells of a scientist lured away from his betrothed and from Judaism by the temptations of worldliness and modern life.
Agnon is the most accomplished author of fiction to have written in Hebrew. Commentators have attributed part of the subtlety and complexity of his writing to the capacity of that language. According to David Patterson, "The ancient vocabulary of Hebrew is pregnant with associations of all kinds, and the skillful juxtaposition of words and phrases can be made to yield a variety of nuances. Linguistically, as well as thematically, Agnon's writings can be read at different levels." With regard to many foreign-language authors, scholars have debated whether the art of their writing can be sufficiently conveyed in translation. In the case of Agnon, that question has often taken center stage. Noted author Cynthia Ozick observed that, "For decades, Agnon scholars (and Agnon is a literary industry) have insisted that it is no use trying to get at Agnon in any language other than the original. The idea of Agnon in translation has been repeatedly disparaged; he has been declared inaccessible to the uninitiated even beyond the usual truisms concerning the practical difficulties of translation. His scriptural and talmudic resonances and nuances, his historical and textual layerings, his allusive and elusive echoings and patternings, are so marvelously multiform, dense, and imbricated that he is daunting even to the most sophisticated Hebrew readers." Setting aside issues of translation, critics generally agree that Agnon was concerned foremost with the enduring relevance and meaning of Judaism through history. According to Lippman Bodoff, "The struggle to provide and maintain a Jewish identity as the core of Israeli culture, in the face of the chasm in Jewish life opened up by modernity between the self and reason at war with community and faith, is an underlying theme in much of Agnon's work." Agnon saw growing secularity and loss of tradition as threats to Judaism, community, and spiritual piety that would eventually lead to isolation and alienation. Conflicts and oppositions similar to these run throughout the author's works. Bodoff, though speaking specifically about Betrothed, identified a pervading theme in Agnon's fiction, "a battle between Past and Future, Religion and Nature, Spirituality and Science, Hebraism and Paganism, Jewish tradition and Greek and Roman culture, God and Nature . . . ." Agnon's subtlety as an artist is evidenced by the fact that the victor in those battles is not always apparent.
VU Kapot ha-Man'ul 1922
Bidmi yameha (novella) 1923
*Sefer Hama'asim 1932
Bi-levav Yamim [In the Heart of the Seas: A Story of a Journey to the Land of Israel] (novella) 1935
Elu va-Elu [A Dwelling Place of My People: Sixteen Stories of the Chassidim] 1941
**Shevu'ath Emunim (novella) 1943
**Edo ve-Enam (novella) 1950
Ad 'olam [Forevermore] (novella) 1954
Selected Stories of S. Y. Agnon 1970
Twenty-One Stories 1970
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SOURCE: "Seeing into the Hidden Interior of Things," in Saturday Review, May 16, 1970, pp. 27-30, 46-8.
[In the following excerpt, Leviant observes that Agnon incorporated some of his favorite themes into the narratives of Twenty-One Stories, a collection that the critic perceives as steeped in Hebrew history, culture, and language.]
In Twenty-one Stories we see the themes that had become almost obsessive with Agnon throughout his long career: loss of home, exile from family, Diaspora, alienation, despair, loss of faith. Half of the stories come from Agnon's Sefer ha-Maasim (variously translated as Book of Tales, Deeds,...
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SOURCE: "The Whole Loaf: Agnon's Tales of the Ancestral World," in The Fiction of S. Y. Agnon, Cornell University Press, 1970, pp. 29-52.
[In the following excerpt, Hochman surveys Agnon's short fiction treating the culture of the shtetl, the Hebrew village prior to the nineteenth century.]
About a third of Agnon's work directly reflects the culture of the shtetl before its final decline. Entirely devoted to a limited range of experience in the century preceding Agnon's birth, such work takes the form of folk tales in the idiom of the faithful who enjoyed the "whole loaf" of experience within the ancestral tradition. The civilization of the...
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SOURCE: "Agnon's Mediterranean Fable," in Defenses of the Imagination: Jewish Writers and Modern Historical Crisis, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1977, pp. 187-98.
[In the following excerpt, Alter calls attention to Agnon's intermingling of ancient Hebrew and Greek worlds in Betrothed, a strategy that enhances the story's fabulous quality, according to the critic]
S. Y. Agnon was a writer often fascinated with fabulous antiquity, but what is peculiar about Betrothed, one of his most intricately devised and original tales, is its seemingly promiscuous intermingling of different ancient worlds. The story is set in the early Zionist...
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SOURCE: "Symbolic Analogue in Agnon's 'Metamorphosis'," in Escape into Siege: A Survey of Israeli Literature Today, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974, pp. 57-70.
[In the following excerpt, Yudkin examines Agnon's narrative technique as it is demonstrated in "Metamorphosis" ("Panim aherot"), focusing on the author's ability to suggest character histories extending beyond the events explicitly described in the story. Note: The title of the story, here translated as "Metamorphosis," is also known as "Another Face" (see Lev Hakak, 1986).]
The purpose of this [essay] is to examine a single story by S. Y. Agnon and thus investigate certain aspects of his narrative...
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SOURCE: "Shmuel Yosef Agnon's The Face and the Image'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 12, Spring, 1975, pp. 184-85.
[In the following essay, Knieger attempts to define the central theme of the story "The Face and the Image" ("Ha-panim la-panim").]
One of the Agnon stones in Twenty-One Stories is "The Face and the Image." But this title is a metaphorical translation of the Hebrew "Ha-panim la-panim," which literally translates into "The Face to the Face." The editor Nahum N. Glatzer in his "Editorial Postscript" writes (on page 283) that the "Hebrew title of the story is taken from Proverbs 27:19, which the standard translations render as, 'As in the...
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SOURCE: "The Book of Fables," in S. Y. Agnon, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York, 1975, pp. 68-83.
[In the following excerpt, Fisch examines dreamlike aspects of the stories in Book of Fables, which is also known as Books of Deeds.]
[There is a] combination in Agnon's fiction of the dreaming and waking consciousness, but [it remains to be] determined what kind of dreams these are. They are surely not typically Freudian or Jungian dreams, though it would be easy to find features to support a Freudian or Jungian analysis. What we seem to have is a specific Agnonian type of dream with a syntax all its own; with anxieties, hopes and terrors which can best be...
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SOURCE: "'Edo and Enam'—The Ironic Perspective," in Modern Language Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter, 1983, pp. 85-100.
[In the following essay, Fuchs maintains that an understanding of Edo and Enam as an ironic story enables the reader to make sense of the story's "strangeness," namely its "digressions, internal contradictions, sudden transitions from realism to phantasy [sic], neologisms and anachronisms."]
It would seem that a story as widely explained and thoroughly interpreted as Edo and Enam requires no further explanations. The numerous allegorical interpretations of this enigmatic story left...
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SOURCE: "Passivity in Agnon," in At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S. J. Agnon, The Littman Library, 1984, pp. 31-59.
[In the following excerpt, Aberbach studies the meaning underlying the passivity of characters in Agnon's short fiction.]
No characteristic of the Agnon hero is more pervasive, more problematical and deeply rooted than his passivity. In his contact with women and men, whether they are relatives, friends, acquaintances, or officials, his passivity shows itself in his indecisiveness, his failure to act or to complete his actions, his willingness to wait aimlessly, his malleability, "femininity", and masochism, his blind submission to...
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SOURCE: "Wherefrom Did Gediton Enter Gumlidata?—Realism and Comic Subversiveness in 'Forevermore'," in Modern Language Studies, Vol. 15, No. 4, Fall, 1985, pp. 64-79.
[In the following essay, Fuchs focuses on the protagonist—both his characterization and behavior—in Forevermore (Ad Olam) in order to reveal "the underlying irony of the story, which is its most salient feature."]
S. Y. Agnon's story Ad Olam (Forevermore) has stirred much critical controversy over its ideological meaning. [In Pesher agnon, 1968] Meshulam Tochner sees the story as a polemic against modern Biblical...
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SOURCE: "Sexual Symbols in 'Another Face' by S. Y. Agnon," in Hebrew Annual Review, Vol. 10, 1986, pp. 95-108.
[In the following essay, Hakak offers a Freudian interpretation of "Another Face" ("Panini aherot"), claiming that sexual symbols pervade the story. Note: The title of the story, here translated as "Another Face," is also known as "Metamorphosis" (see Leon I. Yudkin, 1974).]
Michael was grateful to her for her not interpreting his dream according to Freud and his School.
S. Y. Agnon, "Another Face," Dec. 12, 1932, edition, Dabar
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SOURCE: "S. Y. Agnon's Art of Composition: The Befuddling Turn of the Compositional Screw," in Hebrew Annual Review, Vol. 10, 1986, pp. 197-208.
[In the following essay, Mazor uses the stories "Between Two Cities" ("Ben sete 'arim") and "Two Scholars Who Lived in Our Town" ("Sne talmide hakamim sehayu be 'irenu") to demonstrate that Agnon sometimes employs puzzling narrative structure and plot development as conscious strategies.]
A remarkably intriguing aspect in S. Y. Agnon's art of composition is that in a considerable number of his works, the reader is confronted by a strikingly confusing organization. As the story's plot seems...
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SOURCE: "Passion Spins the Plot: Agnon's 'Forevermore'," in Tradition and Trauma: Studies in the Fiction of S. J. Agnon, edited by David Patterson and Glenda Abramson, Westview Press, 1994, pp. 9-26.
[In the following essay, Sokoloff asserts that the plot of Forevermore (Ad Olam), which features "repetition, circularity, episodic fragmentation of narrative line, and disconnected events," is intended by Agnon to lend irony to the ostensible progress made by the protagonist.]
Agnon's Forevermore (Ad 'olam), a short story riddled with ironies and contradictions, features as its protagonist a scholar who has single-mindedly devoted twenty...
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SOURCE: "The Doctor's Dilemma: The Nature of Jealousy in Agnon's 'The Doctor and His Divorcée'," in Hebrew Studies, Vol. 30, 1989, pp. 41-7.
[In the following essay, Kubovy provides a psychological analysis of the protagonist's jealousy in "The Doctor and His Divorcée."]
There are many different interpretations of the story "The Doctor and His Divorcée." The story has been analyzed for spiritual, religious, social, and psychological meanings. I will concentrate on the psychological aspects of the story, focusing especially on the nature of jealousy and the interplay among its various components.
In this story a doctor meets a nurse named Dinah and...
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SOURCE: "The Genres and Forms, the Novella, and the Short Stories," in Shmuel Yosef Agnon: A Revolutionary Traditionalist, translated by Jeffrey M. Green, New York University Press, New York, 1989, pp. 167-241.
[In the following excerpt, Shaked identifies five primary types of short stories written by Agnon.]
The Fantastic Folk Tale
A thorough study of even one story belonging to each of Agnon's genres is beyond the scope of this study; thus, I have chosen to analyze five so-called poles from the entire work, beginning with the short folk story "Three Sisters."
"Three Sisters" was first published in 1937 and is typical of...
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SOURCE: "Kabbalistic Feminism in Agnon's 'Betrothed'," in Judaism, Vol. 42, Fall, 1993, pp. 423-34.
[In the following essay, Bodoff interprets Betrothed as a symbolic tale in which the modern Jew (represented by the protagonist Jacob) is torn between Hebraism (in the figure of Shoshanah) and the appeal of the secular worldliness (as symbolized by Jacob's travels, career, and involvement with gentile women).]
The struggle to provide and maintain a Jewish identity as the core of Israeli culture, in the face of the chasm in Jewish life opened up by modernity between the self and reason at war with community and...
(The entire section is 5658 words.)
SOURCE: "The Web of Biblical Allusion," in Agnon's Art of Indirection: Uncovering Latent Content in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon, E. J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands, 1993, pp. 135-52.
[In the following excerpt, Ben-Dov contends that a buried layer of biblical allusion in "The Dance of Death, or the Lovely and Pleasant" belies the overt meaning of the story.)
Agnon's scriptural and talmudic resonances and nuances, his historical and textual layers, his allusive and elusive echoings and patternings, are so marvelously multiform, dense, and imbricated that he is daunting even to the most sophisticated Hebrew readers.
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SOURCE: "Expressing and Repressing the Female Voice in S. Y. Agnon's In the Prime of Her Life" in Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, edited by Judith R. Baskin, Wayne State University Press, 1994, pp. 216-33.
[In the following essay, Sokoloff offers a feminist reading of the novella In the Prime of Her Life.]
While the last fifteen years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in feminist critical thought and literary interpretation, few attempts have been made to explore the implications of gender as a thematic concern in modern Hebrew texts. Yet Hebrew warrants special feminist examination because of its exceptional history as a holy tongue that...
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Band, Arnold J. Bibliography and Appendixes. In Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon, pp. 453-524; pp. 525-56. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, 563 p.
Extensive bibliography of works by and about Agnon. The secondary bibliography consists entirely of works published in Hebrew.
Kabakoff, Jacob. "S. Y. Agnon's Works in English Translation" Jewish Book Annual 25 (1967): 39-41.
Identifies English-language translations of more than 30 stories by Agnon in anthologies and such journals as Ariel, Commentary, Jewish...
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Agnon, S. Y. (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
S. Y. Agnon 1888—1970
(Born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes) Austro-Hungarian-Israeli novelist, short story writer, and poet.
The following entry provides criticism on Agnon's works from 1975 through 2003.
Agnon was known for his ironic and lyrical fiction, based largely on Hebrew folklore and tradition.
Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in Buczacz, Galicia (then Austria-Hungary, now Poland) 17 July, 1888. His father, a rabbi, taught him the Talmud and Hasidic literature, along with secular Hebrew and Yiddish writings, while his mother recited German stories. His love for literature led him to publish stories in Hebrew and Yiddish while still a teenager. In 1908 he settled in Palestine, but was rejected both by the Russian-Jewish population and the new settlers who prized manual labor above intellectual rigor. Agnon took his pen name, which later became his legal name, from the title of his first published story, “Agunot,” which was published in Jaffa, Israel, in 1909. “Agnon” is based on a Hebrew word meaning abandoned or forsaken. In 1912 he settled in Germany, finding a more comfortable life there for around twelve years and forming friendships with well-known Zionists. In 1919 he married Esther Marx, with whom he had two children. Agnon became well known among German Jews and achieved literary success when his Hebrew works were translated into German. He also built a notable collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and was devastated in 1924 when a fire in his home destroyed them, along with his personal manuscripts. Agnon then returned to Palestine, settling in Jerusalem. In 1929 his personal library was again destroyed by fire when Arabs rioted in the city. Agnon won the Israel Prize in 1954 and the Nobel Prize in 1966. He died in 1970.
Agnon was virtually unknown to Western readers until his works began to be translated from Hebrew into English after he won the Nobel Prize in 1966. Unlike many other modernist Jewish writers of his era, he emphasized original folk sources and dwelled on the lessons of the Torah. His earlier short stories and novellas concerned Jewish life in Eastern Europe, but after his immigration in 1924 until his death, he wrote almost exclusively about life in Palestine. Agnon's work has been compared to that of Cervantes and Kafka in its air of mystery and its imaginative power. His short stories are remarkably diverse, some magical fables, some accounts of modern-day alienation and exile. Others attempt to deal with the ways Judaism has survived throughout history in periods of political turmoil. His first successful work was a novella, Ve-Hayah he-'Akov le-Mishor (1912; And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight). After the manuscript for his first novel was destroyed in a fire, he produced Hakhnasath Kallah (1931; The Bridal Canopy), a novel set in the eighteenth century about a Jewish man who travels about seeking dowries for his daughters. While continuing to write short fiction, he published the novel Sipur Pashut (1935; A Simple Story), an account of the development of a psychosis and its ultimate cure. Ore'ah Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night) appeared in 1937 and in 1945, Tmol Shilshom (Only Yesterday). The former novel, a comment on the waning spirit of European Judaism, was written just before World War II; the latter is a picaresque and imaginative story set in Jerusalem, told from the point of view of a dog whose astute social and political commentary exceeds that of most his human counterparts. Bi-levav Yamim (1948; In the Heart of the Seas: A Story of a Journey to the Land of Israel), which follows a group of Jews in their journey from Galicia to Palestine, was followed by Edo ve-Enam (1950; Edo and Enam), a tale of the supernatural. Shirah (Shira), posthumously published in 1971, is a story of a bourgeois German exile in 1930’s Palestine who seeks an escape from the conformity of his life. Several editions of Agnon's short stories and a collection of his poetry also were published after his death.
Critical discussion of Agnon’s work has truly been what one commentator called an “industry.” Agnon's multifaceted writings, concurrent with the growth of Hebrew as an accepted language in American and British universities, have also substantially increased interest in literature in modern Hebrew. The wealth of Hebrew and German criticism during Agnon's earlier career presaged a still-growing American and British critical following, encouraged by scholarly journals such as the Hebrew Annual Review, Judaism, and Prooftexts. Early English-language Agnon critics, such as Arnold Band, used New Critical and comparative literature approaches or discussed the dilemmas of relating modern Jewish culture to the past. From the late 1970s through the early 2000s, critical approaches to Agnon came in what eminent Agnon scholar Alan Mintz called “a polyphony of voices,” following the general trends of scholarly inquiry. Gershon Shaked and other critics emphasized the rich intertextuality of Agnon's fiction, which has provided a rich vein for further critical analysis. A variety of approaches to Agnon's work, including poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, postcolonialist theory, reader-response criticism, and feminist criticism, have developed among Agnon scholars. The close text-centeredness most Agnon critics embrace, Mintz says, suggests “the hovering spirit of classical Jewish learning.”
Ve-Hayah he-'Akov le-Mishor (novella) 1911-12
Das Buch von den Polnischen Juden [editor, with Ahron Eliasberg] (folk tales) 1916
Giv ‘at ha-Hol (short stories) 1920
Be-Sod Yesharim (short stories) 1921
“Me-Hamat ha-Metsik” (short story) 1921
'Al Kapot ha-Man'ul (short stories) 1922
Bidmi yameha [In the Prime of Her Life] (novella) 1923
Ma'aseh he-meshulah meerets ha-Kedosha (short stories) 1924-25
Polin: Sipure agadot (short stories) 1924-25
“Ma'aseh rabi Gadiel ha-Tinok” (short story) 1925
Al Olam [Forever More] (novel) 1926
“Ha-Nidah” (short story) 1926
Sipur ha-Shanim ha-Tovot [Ma'aseh ha'Rav Veha-Orah] (short stories) 1927
Agadat hasofer (short stories) 1929
Laylot (short stories) 1930-31
*Hakhnasath Kallah [The Bridal Canopy] (novel) 1931
*Me-Az ume-Ata (short stories) 1931
*Sippurei Ahayim (novel) 1931
Sefer HaMa'asim [The Book of Deeds] (short stories) 1932
*Be-Shuva u-ve-Natat (short stories) 1935
*Sipur Pashut [A Simple Story] (novel) 1935
Kovets Sipurim (short stories) 1937
*Ore'ah Nata Lalun [A Guest for the Night] (novel) 1937
Yamim Nora'im [Days of Awe: Being a Treasury of Traditions, Legends and Learned Commentaries Concerning Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur and the Days Between. Culled from Three Hundred Volumes, Ancient and New] [A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days] (nonfiction) 1938
“Pi Shenaim: O me-Husar Yom” (short story) 1939
*Elu va-Elu [A Dwelling Place of My People: Sixteen Stories of the Chassidim] (short stories) 1941
Shevu'ath Emunim [The Betrothed] (novella) 1943
“'Al Berl Kaznelson” (character sketch) 1944
Sipurum ve-Agadot (short stories) 1944
Sipurim (short stories) 1945
*Tmol Shilshom [Only Yesterday] [Just Yesterday] (novel) 1945
Bi-levav Yamim [In the Heart of the Seas: A Story of a Journey to the Land of Israel] (novel) 1948
Edo ve-Enam (novel) 1950
*Samukh ve-Nireh (short stories) 1950
*Ad Heinah (short stories) 1953
“Sifrehem shel Anshe Butshatsh” (article) 1956
Tihella, and Other Israeli Tales [with others] (short stories) 1956
Atem re'item [editor] (collection of rabbinic sources) 1959
Kelev Hutsot (excerpts from Temol shilshom) 1960
Sihfrehem shel Tsadikim [compiler] (articles) 1961
Ha-Esh ve-Ha'etsim (short stories) 1962
Sipurum (short stories) 1966
Two Tales: “Betrothed” and “Edo and Enam” (novellas) 1966
Sipure Yom-ha-Kipurim (short stories) 1967
Selected Stories of S. Y. Agnon (short stories) 1970
Shirah [Shira] (novel) 1971
Twenty-One Stories (short stories) 1971
Ir u-Melo'ah [A City and Its Fullness] (short stories) 1973
Mr. Lublin's Shop (novel) 1975
A Book That Was Lost and Other Stories (short stories) 1995
Present at Sinai: The Giving of the Law (non-fiction) 1996
Agnon's Aleph Bet: Poems (poetry) 1998
*These works published in the collected works, Kol Sipurav Shel Agnon (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv), 1947-1957; standard edition, edited by Agnon (Schocken Books) 1953-1962; [Kol sipurav shel Sh. Y. ‘Agnon] 8 vols., 1968.
SOURCE: Knieger, Bernard. “Shmuel Yosef Agnon's ‘The Face and the Image’.” Studies in Short Fiction 12, no. 2 (1975): 184-85.
[In the following review of an Agnon short story, Knieger calls attention to the Hebrew meaning of the phrase “face-to-face,” concluding that the narrator is facing his own isolation from traditional faith.]
One of the Agnon stories in Twenty-One Stories (New York: Schocken, 1970) is “The Face and the Image.” But this title is a metaphorical translation of the Hebrew Ha-panim la-panim, which literally translates into “The Face to the Face.” The editor Nahum N. Glatzer in his “Editorial Postscript” writes (on...
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SOURCE: Aschkenasy, Nehama. “Biblical Substructures in the Tragic Form: Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge; Agnon, And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight.” Modern Language Studies 13, no. 1 (winter 1983): 101-10.
[In the following essay, Aschkenasy compares biblical references in The Mayor of Casterbridge and And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight, concluding that Agnon's use of the biblical dimension is more subtle than Hardy's.]
Bringing together Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)1 and Agnon's And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight (1912),2 a novella not yet translated into English, may seem an...
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SOURCE: Green, Jeffrey M. “Inside Agnon.” Modern Hebrew Literature 9, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 1984): 80-4.
[In the following review of Estherlein, a compilation of Agnon's letters to his wife from 1924-1931, Green states that Agnon reveals few literary secrets but offers insights into his thinking about other matters.]
For those of us whom he captivates, Agnon is incomparable. While they might seem to be limited to a narrow realm of experience and interests, his writings have an emotional range extending from the depths of tragedy to the most caustic of wit. His works include Hassidic legends, astonishing surrealistic dreams, allegory-like fantasies as well...
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SOURCE: Fuchs, Esther. “Wherefrom Did Gediton Enter Gumlidata? Realism and Comic Subversiveness in ‘Forevermore’.” Modern Language Studies 15, no. 4 (fall 1985): 64-79.
[In the following essay, Fuchs deconstructs an Agnon story emphasizing the central irony, which she claims other critics have neglected.]
S. Y. Agnon's story “Ad Olam” (“Forevermore”) has stirred much critical controversy over its ideological meaning. Meshulam Tochner sees the story as a polemic against modern Biblical criticism and modern Hebrew literature.1 Eddy Zemach claims that the story argues against secular Judaism.2...
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SOURCE: Shaked, Gershon. “Midrash and Narrative: Agnon's ‘Agunot.’” In Midrash and Literature, edited by Geoffrey H. Hartman and Sanford Budick; chapter translated by Lois Bar-Yaacov, pp. 285-303. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.
[In the following chapter from a collection of essays discussing literary manifestations of Midrash, an ancient biblical form of exegesis, Shaked demonstrates how Agnon's early story “Agunot” uses forms of intertextuality borrowed from old Hebrew traditions.]
From love of our language and adoration of holiness I abase myself before the words of the Torah, and starve myself...
(The entire section is 7974 words.)
SOURCE: Band, Arnold. “The Kafka-Agnon Polarities.” In The Dove and the Mole: Kafka's Journey into Darkness and Creativity, edited by Moshe Lazar and Ronald Gottesman, pp. 151-60. Malibu, Calif.: Undena, 1987.
[In the following chapter from a book of essays on Franz Kafka, Band reviews previous criticism comparing Kafka's and Agnon's writings, arguing that many of the alleged similarities in the works of the two writers have been overemphasized.]
The comparison of Kafka with other writers of the modern period has become such a beaten path in Kafkakunde that one often shudders upon encountering another “Kafka and …” study. Despite this academic ennui, we...
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SOURCE: Ozick, Cynthia. “Agnon's Antagonisms.” Commentary 86 (December 1988): 43-8.
[In the following essay, Ozick uses Agnon's novella Edo and Enam to reflect on the ambiguities of translation and on the oppositions between ideas of safety and destruction, redemption and illusion, and exile and return.]
Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the 1966 Nobel winner for literature, was born one hundred years ago, in Galicia, Poland, and died in Jerusalem in 1970. Not long after his death, I wrote a story about Agnon, a kind of parable that meant to toy with the overweening scramble of writers for reputation and the halo of renown. It was called “Usurpation” and never...
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SOURCE: Ben-Dov, Nitza. “Discriminated Occasions and Discrete Conflicts in Agnon's A Simple Story.” Prooftexts 9, no. 3 (September 1989): 213-27.
[In the following essay, Ben-Dov discusses the “assertive mother” theme in A Simple Story and describes Agnon's use of repetition or variation of motifs to highlight the rivalry between two women for one man's attention.]
The powerful influence of Agnon's Jewish mothers on their sons has long been observed by his critics. Yet the psychology of the mother herself—her motives, thoughts, words, and actions—has not been explored. A Simple Story, the novel that is Agnon's masterpiece of...
(The entire section is 7070 words.)
SOURCE: Mintz, Alan L. “Agnon without End.” Commentary 89, no. 2 (February 1990): 57-9.
[In the following review of the English translation of Shira, Mintz states that the novel portrays the end of the liberal German-Jewish world view.]
The translation for the first time of a major work by S. Y. Agnon (1888-1970), the greatest writer in modern Hebrew, is sufficient cause for celebration; the fact that this work is a novel makes the event that much more interesting, but also more equivocal.
Agnon, who was born and brought up in Eastern Europe and moved to Palestine for the first time in 1907, most naturally displayed his narrative...
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SOURCE: Hoffman, Anne Golomb. “Introduction to Between Exile and Return: S. Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing, edited by Sarah Blacher Cohen, pp. 1-20. Albany: State University Press of New York, 1991.
[In the following excerpt from the introduction to her full-length semiotic study of Agnon's writings, Hoffman reviews her complex textual approach, encompassing psychoanalysis, traditional Hebrew criticism, and poststructuralist literary theory. (Hoffman's book contains a complete bibliography of primary and secondary sources.)]
S. Y. AGNON: MODERN JEWISH WRITER
Each of these terms—“modern,” “Jewish,” “writer”—provides...
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SOURCE: Sokoloff, Naomi B. “Expressing and Repressing the Female Voice in S. Y. Agnon's In the Prime of Her Life.” In Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, edited by Judith R. Baskin, pp. 216-35. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Sokoloff applies a feminist critique to an Agnon novella, which she says associates the tradition and uncertain future of the Hebrew language with its repressed and unfulfilled female characters.]
While the last fifteen years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in feminist critical thought and literary interpretation, few attempts have been made to explore the implications of...
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SOURCE: Appelfeld, Aharon. “Between Shelter and Home.” Modern Hebrew Literature 14 (spring-summer 1995): 9-11.
[In the following essay, Appelfeld disputes other critics who say that Agnon exemplifies the “sacred” in Judaism vs. the “profane” of secularism, asserting that Agnon had a more holistic approach which combined both tradition and change.]
It has become commonplace to describe Agnon's writings as representing the tension between the sacred and the profane, or as the critics put it, between the traditional and the secular. In other words, between the polar opposites that were deeply rooted in the souls of the writer and his contemporaries. This...
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SOURCE: Bernheim, Mark. Review of A Book That Was Lost and Other Stories, by S. Y. Agnon. Studies in Short Fiction 34, no. 3 (summer 1997): 397-99.
[In the following review, Bernheim offers a mostly positive assessment of a new edition of Agnon short stories.]
In modern Jewish literature, S. Y. Agnon has long occupied a particular place. Undeniably the great Hebrew language craftsman of the century, this 1966 Nobel Laureate has been relatively inaccessible in the English-speaking world. Two other Nobel winners—I. B. Singer and Saul Bellow—are far more widely read and viewed as the voice of Yiddish literature on the one hand and explorer of besieged cultural...
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SOURCE: Riggan, William. Introduction: “Hebrew Literature in the 1990s,” World Literature Today 72, no. 3 (1998): 479-84.
[In the following excerpt from an essay on contemporary Hebrew literature, Riggan calls Agnon the best of the “conservatives” who appreciated the nuances of the Hebrew language tradition.]
To read the creative and critical texts gathered here in this special issue of World Literature Today commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel is to witness, by and large, precisely such a turn from the collective to the personal, from state-building to the construction and protection of one's own private,...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
SOURCE: Almog, Shulamit. “Literature, Politics, and the Law: On Blacksmiths, Tailors, and the Demolition of Houses.” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 1, no. 1 (fall 1999): 37-52.
[In the following essay, Almog draws linguistic comparisons between a story by Agnon and the transcript of an actual legal case in modern-day Israel, concluding that the literary text reveals more of the true nature of human conflict.]
In 1962, Haim H. Cohn, at the time the Attorney General of the State of Israel, approached Shmuel Yosef Agnon and asked him to contribute to a collection of articles being prepared to commemorate the seventy-fifth...
(The entire section is 7521 words.)
SOURCE: Roskies, David G. ”Essay on ‘The Sense of Smell’.” In Reading Hebrew Literature, edited by Alan Mintz, pp. 118-25. Hanover, N.H.: Brandeis University Press, 2003.
[In the following essay from a collection which offers several commentaries about specific works of Hebrew literature, Roskies discusses the complexities of an Agnon short story, “The Sense of Smell.”]
Despite its brevity, Agnon's “The Sense of Smell” combines disparate elements that are not easily reconciled. The story's homiletic structure, storybook headings, archaic style, and anecdotal plot, and its coincidental encounters, dream sequence, and moment of mystical reverie bespeak a...
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Goldberg, Isaac. “Shmuel Yosef Agnon: Israel's Nobel Laureate.” AB Bookman's Weekly 87 (April 1 1991): 1267.
Brief overview of Agnon's life and work.
Lutske, Harvey. “S. Y. Agnon.” In History in Their Hands: A Book of Jewish Autographs, pp. 173-74. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson Inc., 1996.
Brief sketch about Agnon.
Aberbach, David. At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, 221 p.
A study of themes in Agnon's fiction, emphasizing the blurring of...
(The entire section is 885 words.)