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Illusions of home: The shifting landscape of Eastern Europe in Hebrew and Yiddish literature

By Allison Hope Schachter, Berkeley University of California and advisor Robert B. Alter


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, approximately two million Jews left the Pale of Settlement, fleeing poverty, pogroms, civil war, and revolution. Nearly all of the prominent Hebrew and Yiddish writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries emerged from the Pale and their departure coincided with the breakdown of this political and cultural region. These writers then circulated through numerous literary centers including, Kiev, Moscow, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, London, New York, and Jerusalem. Though the story of twentieth-century Hebrew and Yiddish literary modernism is one of immigrants and refugees, of international mobility and perpetual border crossing, of both nationalist and internationalist aspirations, its writers emerged in the early twentieth century from this cultural milieu of Eastern European Jews, where Yiddish was, for the most part, a native language, and the Pale of Settlement and the shtetl, a shared cultural landscape. Despite these common origins, the literary histories of both Hebrew and Yiddish modernism have rarely been examined together.This project challenges monolingual and national models of literary history, by reading the development of Hebrew and Yiddish modernism together, in light of the movement of its writers and literary centers to Western Europe, the Yishuv [Jewish Settlement in pre-state Palestine] and the Americas between the 1890s and 1940s. The following chapters focus on two separate but related transformations. First, the dissertation examines the development of a self-consciously modern and national literature, predicated on nostalgia for traditional Jewish life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe (even before the disappearance of this way of life). Second, the dissertation investigates the evolution of Hebrew and Yiddish modernism when the shtetl could no longer serve as a coherent reference point for an imagined Jewish nation. The prose writers in question---S. Y. Abramovitsh, Yosef Chaim Brenner, Dovid Bergelson, and Leah Goldberg---all negotiate an ambivalent nostalgia for a mythic Eastern European Jewish cultural past and the new geographic realities of Jewish life. In the absence of a fixed national or geographic center, the rapidly changing geographic and linguistic affiliations of Hebrew and Yiddish writers and intellectuals resulted in innovative modernist forms that redrew ideological lines, rewrote narratives of exile and Diaspora, and challenged monolithic nationalist identities.Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of California, Berkeley, 2006.School code: 0028

Topics: Literature, Modern, Yiddish literature, Jewish literature, Slavic literature, Jews, Jews
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