Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Warsaw. Capital of Poland. Isaac Bashevis Singer’s evocation of the city’s atmosphere around 1880 is one of his novel’s major achievements. At the time in which the novel is set, Warsaw is a large city with palaces and slum housing, served by railways, interior plumbing, and new gas lighting in some streets. Some affluent residents and businesses have telephones installed. There is culture in the shape of theaters and opera houses, high fashion, bookshops, and café society. Yasha is to appear at the Alhambra Theatre. The air smells of “fresh baking, coffee, horse manure, smoke from the trains and factories.” It is a bustling, noisy metropolis.

Singer mentions many of the city’s real streets, including Avenue Dluga, Marshalkowska Boulevard, Alexander Place, and Nalevsky Street. Yasha keeps a small apartment on Freta Street, containing books, antiques, and “his collection of billboards, newspaper clippings and reviews.” It is just large enough for him and his mistress, Magda. Kroleska Street has the apartment in which Yasha’s principal love, the widowed Emilia, lives with her daughter in genteel poverty. Though poor, they keep a servant, own a piano on which the daughter practices daily, have good-quality furnishings, as Emilia’s late husband was a university professor. Singer draws the sharp contrast between her home and that of Zeftel in Piask.

One night, Yasha attempts to burglarize the apartment of a rich landowner on Marshalkowska Boulevard but...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Alexander, Edward. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Sees The Magician of Lublin as marking a new direction for Singer. Instead of the Jewish community, his subject is the individual, in this case the artist, as he vacillates between freedom and faith.

Allentuck, Marcia, ed. The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. A collection of essays on Singer’s works. Particularly helpful is one by Cyrena N. Pondrom, pointing out various opinions as the meaning of Yasha’s penitence.

Friedman, Lawrence S. Understanding Isaac Bashevis Singer. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. Discusses the theme of identity in The Magician of Lublin. A good starting point for the study of Singer.

Lee, Grace Farrell. From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. A chronological study of Singer’s works, intended to show how his views altered with the years. A perceptive section on The Magician of Lublin focuses on symbolism.

Malin, Irving, ed. Critical Views of Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: New York University Press, 1969. A number of essays on various subjects. J. S. Wolkenfeld’s “Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Faith of His Devils and Magicians” compares the moral choices of several major characters, including Yasha.