AGNON, SHMUEL YOSEF


AGNON, SHMUEL YOSEF
AGNON, SHMUEL YOSEF (Czaczkes, Samuel Josef; 1888–1970), Hebrew writer; Nobel Laureate in literature. One of the central figures in modern Hebrew fiction, his works deal with major contemporary spiritual concerns: the disintegration of traditional ways of life, the loss of faith, and the subsequent loss of identity. His many tales about pious Jews are an artistic attempt to recapture a waning tradition. He was born in Buczacz, Galicia, where his father, an erudite follower of the Ḥasidic rebbe of Chortkov, was a fur merchant. Rabbinic and Ḥasidic traditions as well as general European culture influenced the home. Agnon's education was mainly private and irregular. He studied the Talmud and the works of Maimonides with his father; read much of the literature of the Galician maskilim; and studied Ḥasidic literature in the synagogue of the Chortkov Ḥasidim. He learned German from Mendelssohn's translation of the Pentateuch (the Biur) as well as from a tutor and read books from his mother's small German library, where he also found German translations of Scandinavian writers. He began writing at the age of eight in Hebrew and in Yiddish. In 1903 he published his first work, a Yiddish poem on Joseph Della Reina and a rhymed "haskamah" (preface) in Hebrew to Ẓevi Judah Gelbard's Minḥat Yehudah. In 1904 he began to publish regularly, first poetry and then prose, in Ha-Miẓpeh, edited in Cracow by S.M. Laser, who continually encouraged him. In 1906 and 1907, he also contributed several poems and stories in Yiddish, primarily to Der Juedische Wecker, which appeared in his own town. Up to his departure   from Buczacz he published some 70 pieces in both languages – poems, stories, essays, addresses, etc., that were occasionally signed Czaczkes but more often appeared under a pseudonym. His most comprehensive Yiddish work of that period, Toytn-Tants (1911), attests to the development of his literary talent and to a definite affinity with German neo-romanticism. But once he left Buczacz, he no longer wrote in Yiddish. When Agnon left for Ereẓ Israel, in 1908, he was already a well-known young author. His emigration removed him from shtetl life, which no longer answered his spiritual needs and placed him in the midst of a new and evolving creative Hebrew literary center. However, he was atypical of the pioneers of the Second Aliyah; those who espoused the "conquest of labor" considered him bourgeois, while the Russian Jews scorned him as a Galician. He supported himself by tutoring and occasional literary efforts. He also worked intermittently in a number of clerical positions and resided in both Jaffa and in Jerusalem. While he abandoned his religious practices during these years, he was not completely identified with the modernism of the new settlers. On the contrary, he was charmed by the old yishuv and was drawn more and more to Jerusalem, where the Jewish historical milieu nurtured his creative imagination. In "Agunot" ("Forsaken Wives"), his first story published in Palestine during the Jaffa period (Ha-Omer, Fall 1908), he first used the pseudonym "Agnon"; and in 1924 it became his official family name. Many other stories followed (appearing mostly in Ha-Poel ha-Ẓa'ir). Although most of his works from this period are unknown, those few that were later republished, such as "Agunot," were radically reedited by Agnon. One of his stories, "Ve-Hayah he-Akov le-Mishor," was republished separately by J.H. Brenner (1912) and became his first book. Like many of his youthful contemporaries, Agnon was drawn to Germany. Arriving in midsummer of 1912, he remained there until the fall of 1924. His presence in Germany during those years was a major influence on Zionist youth, who found in him a change from the accepted circle of Hebrew writers in Germany, who were contemptuous of Agnon and his style. During his first years in Germany he supported himself by tutoring and by editing for the Juedischer Verlag with Aaron Eliasberg. Finally he met the wealthy businessman S. Schocken who became his admirer, supporter, and publisher. In Berlin and Leipzig he associated with Jewish scholars and Zionist officials. He read widely in German and French (in German translation) literature and expanded his knowledge of Judaica. He also began to acquire and collect valuable and rare Hebrew books. Some of his stories, in the German translation of M. Strauss, appeared in Martin Buber's journal, Der Jude, and spread his fame among German Jews. The most productive of Agnon's creative years in Germany were spent in Wiesbaden and Bad Homburg near Frankfurt. He was unburdened by the quest for livelihood: during the inflationary years he lived quite comfortably, as did other Hebrew writers of that day, due to the support of A. Stybel. In Homburg he was a member of a circle of Hebrew writers. He also began to prepare with M. Buber a collection of Ḥasidic stories and lore. However, this radiant period ended in 1924, when fire swept his home and destroyed most of his books and manuscripts, including Bi-Ẓeror ha-Ḥayyim ("In the Bond of Life," whose imminent publication by Stybel had already been announced), a long novel depicting the flow of modern Jewish history against an autobiographical background. The destruction by fire of his writings makes it difficult to assess the scope of his creativity in this crucial period. However, a scrutiny of the other published works of that time and of some published subsequently reveals several basic facts: (1) Most of the stories are set in Poland in the world of pious Jews (new versions of stories of the Jaffa-Jerusalem period appear, as do other distinctive works such as "Bi-Ne'areinu u-vi-Zekeneinu," "Ovadyah Ba'al Mum," and "Bi-Demi Yameha"). (2) In most stories of this period Agnon's characteristic style approximates that of the world depicted: the Hebrew of the pietistic books of the last centuries whose linguistic structure is influenced by Yiddish. (3) Because of the suspension of many Hebrew publishing ventures in Europe during World War I, Agnon published no Hebrew stories during the early war years, although some appeared at that time in German translation. (4) He had already acquired a circle of readers who eagerly read three collections of his stories: Sippurei Ma'asiyyot (1921), Be-Sod Yesharim (1921), and Al Kappot ha-Manul (1922). In 1924, Agnon returned to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. In the riots of 1929, his home in the Talpiyyot suburb was plundered and many books and rare manuscripts dealing with the history of the Jewish settlement in Palestine were destroyed. The first edition of Agnon's collected works in four volumes (1931) included selected stories published until mid-1929, as well as the second version of Hakhnasat Kallah (The Bridal Canopy, 1937), which had been lengthened to a novel. This folk-epic was recognized as one of the cornerstones of modern Hebrew literature, and the entire collection established Agnon as one of its central figures. The impression of Agnon as a pietistic writer was enhanced by the collection of stories Be-Shuvah va-Naḥat (1935) and strengthened by two non-fiction collections: Yamim Noraim (1938; Days of Awe, 1948), an anthology of High Holiday traditions; and Sefer, Sofer ve-Sippur (1938), about books and writers. Even the novel Sippur Pashut (1935; A Simple Story, 1985), which is set at the close of the previous century and depicts the clash between the older and younger generations, did not openly convey to the readers the profound tension which underlies Agnon's "serenity." A cycle of five stories called Sefer ha-Ma'asim was published in 1932, followed a year later by Pat Shelemah (A Whole Loaf, 1956). Readers were astounded by the nightmarish environment of these short works of fiction which artistically articulated the confusion of the author standing on the threshold between the new world and the old. The eradication of boundaries between fantasy and reality, the inner monologue, and the perplexing environment exist also in "Panim Aḥerot"(1933), "Afar Ereẓ Yisrael," and "Ba-Ya'ar u-va-Ir." These stories were collected only in 1941 in Ellu ve-Ellu. In addition,   in the 1930s three narratives appeared which subsequently became the nucleus of Temol Shilshom ("Rabbi Geronim Yekum Purkan" in 1931; "Tehillato shel Yiẓḥak" in 1934; "Balak" in 1935). In spite of this evidence of the darker side of Agnon, the critics and readers were not attuned to this new mode until the early 1940s. Agnon rose to a new level of artistic creativity in his book Ore'aḥ Natah Lalun, which was originally published in serial form in Haaretz (Oct. 18, 1938, to April 7, 1939) and then appeared in his collected works (1939; A Guest for the Night, 1968). In this novel an anonymous narrator visits his town in Galicia after an absence of many years and witnesses its desolation. Although the factual core of the story was Agnon's short visit to Buczacz in 1930, the novel mirrors the hopelessness and spiritual desolation of the Jewish world in that decade in Europe and in Palestine. A grotesquely nightmarish scene of the city is presented: its synagogues are empty; its people are shattered; and its society, generally, is moribund. Although Agnon was directly motivated to write this novel by the events of the 1930s, it is noteworthy that even in his youthful writings he envisioned his town as a "city of the dead." At times the narrative technique of Ore'aḥ Natah Lalun is similar to that of Sefer ha-Ma'asim where the despair is often recorded by shocking portrayals. Thus, at the onset of the 1940s, the readers learned to react not only to Agnon's story of the lives of the pious but also to a wide variety of subjects and narrative techniques. Critics such as G. Krojanker, B. Kurzweil , and dov sadan began to give Agnon the interpretation he merited. They demonstrated that, however indirectly, his works were concerned with the deep psychological and philosophical problems of the generation. His greatest novel, Temol Shilshom, made its appearance in 1945 (Only Yesterday, 2000). The setting and time of this work are in Palestine in the days of the Second Aliyah, but its spirit parallels the period in which it was written, the years of the Holocaust. The novel focuses upon an unsophisticated pioneer, who returns to the ways of his forebears, but after being bitten by a mad dog, dies a meaningless death. The complex situations and interlocking motifs of his novel, as well as its moral concern, marked a new peak in Hebrew fiction. Agnon collected some of his stories in two volumes, Samukh ve-Nireh (1951) and Ad Hennah (1952); re-edited Hakhnasat Kallah, Ore'aḥ Natah Lalun, and Temol Shilshom; and, in 1953, published the second edition of his collected works in seven volumes (an eighth volume, Ha-Esh ve-ha-Eẓim, was published in 1962). However many stories were omitted, including Shirah, a novel set in the academic community in Jerusalem (see below). With the publication of this last edition, the scope of his writings could be evaluated for the first time: novels, folktales, and "existentialist" stories. Following the appearance of the 1953 edition, Agnon published about half a dozen new short works every year, mainly in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the majority of them dealing with Buczacz. As separate books he published Attem Re'item, a collection of rabbinic commentaries related to the revelation at Sinai (1959), and Sifreihem shel Ẓaddikim, tales of the Ba'al Shem Tov and his disciples (1961). The modern nightmarish theme is evidenced during these years, by the stories "Ad Olam" (1954; "Forevermore," 1961), "Hadom ve-Kisse" (1958), "Ha-Neshikah ha-Rishonah" (1963), and "Le-Aḥar ha-Se'udah" (1963). Agnon received many awards including the Israel Prize (in 1954 and 1958). The crowning honor was the Nobel Prize for literature (1966), the first granted to a Hebrew writer. (Arnold J. Band) -Posthumous Publications and Works on Agnon Since Agnon's death many volumes of his literary remains, prepared for publication by his daughter, Emunah Yaron, have appeared. These volumes include stories which appeared during Agnon's lifetime, but which were not included in editions of his collected writings. Shirah (1971; Shira, 1989) is a novel about Manfred Herbst, a lecturer in Byzantine history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Approaching middle age, and the father of two grown daughters, Herbst is torn between his affection and loyalty to his devoted wife, who has just borne him a third daughter, and his passion for the nurse Shirah. The novel unfolds in Jerusalem of the 1930s and 1940s. Ir u-Melo'ah ("The City and the Fullness Thereof," 1973) is a collection of tales about Buczacz, Agnon's native city. The stories cover 600 years of life in the city and are, in effect, the history of Poland and its Jews. Ba-Ḥanuto shel Mar Lublin ("In Mr. Lublin's Shop," 1974) is an account of Agnon's years in Leipzig during World War I. A rich gallery of personalities from all strata of the population, both Jewish and German, passes before our eyes. Lifnim min ha-Ḥomah ("Within the City's Wall," 1975) comprises four major stories. The first, the title story, demonstrates in poetic style Agnon's deep attachment to Jerusalem; the second, Kisui ha-Dam ("The Blood Screen"), is replete with incidents that occur within and beyond the land of Israel; the third, Hadom ve-Kisse ("The Footstool and the Chair"), is a mythological account of the author's birth and his previous life; the last story in the volume, Le-Aḥar ha-Se'udah ("After the Feast"), in which Agnon describes his own departure from the world, represents the apex of his writings. Me-Aẓmi el Azmi ("By Myself for Myself," 1976) is a collection of Agnon's articles, speeches, and sundry other matters, while Pitḥei Devarim ("Opening Remarks," 1977) is a volume of stories, most of which were previously unpublished. Sefer, Sofer, ve-Sippur ("The Book, the Writer, the Tale," 1978) is an expanded version of the 1938 edition with new material. In 1977 the Hebrew University issued a volume of stories and poems of juvenilia written by Agnon in Yiddish, entitled Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Yiddish Work. It consists of stories and poems that appeared in various periodicals from 1903 to 1912, i.e., from when he was 15 years old until he settled in Ereẓ Israel, and it contains an extensive introductory chapter in Yiddish by Dov Sadan. Korot Bateinu ("History of Our Families," 1979) contains two stories, one about Jewish family life in Galicia and the   other tracing the history of Agnon's own family beginning with the Middle Ages, interweaving imagination and historical truth. Esterlein Yekirati ("Estherle My Dear," 1983) contains the correspondence between Agnon and his wife, Esther, in the years 1924–1931. Sefer ha-Otiyyot (Agnon's Alef Bet, 1998) is an abecedary in verse written in 1919 at the behest of the Culture Committee of the Zionist Organization and for some reason never published. The manuscript was a late discovery. Takhrikh shel Sippurim ("A Shroud of Stories," 1984) contains stories published in periodicals in Agnon's lifetime as well as some found among his literary remains, mostly about the life of the Jews in Poland and Ereẓ Israel. Another two, about the Jews of Germany, were added for the 1989 printing: "Gabriella" and "Leregel Iskav" ("For Business Reasons"). Sippurei ha-Besht ("Tales of the Ba'al Shem Tov," 1987) was part of the Codex Ḥasidicum planned by Agnon and Buber when Agnon was still in Germany. It was ready for press in 1924 but was destroyed in the fire in Agnon's Bad Homburg home. The present volume was put together by Emuna Yaron and her husband from material in the literary remains. S.Y. Agnon – S.Z. Schocken, Ḥillufei Iggerot 1916–1959 (1991) is the correspondence between Agnon and his publisher. Attem Re'item (Present at Sinai, 1994) adds new material to the 1959 edition. Mi-Sod Ḥakhamim ("From the Circles of the Wise," 2002) contains the correspondence of Agnon with Brenner, Y. Lachower, Sadan, and Berl Katznelson . Also appearing were two volumes of Kovetz Agnon, edited by Reuven Mirkin, Dan Laor, Rafael Weiser, and Emuna Yaron and containing, among other writings, unpublished chapters of Shirah, a 1909 story called "Be'erah shel Miriam o Keta'im mi-Ḥayyei Enosh" ("Miriam's Well, or Chapters from Human Life"), and chapters from Sefer Ma'asim not included in the original edition. In addition, there are letters to Martin Buber from the years 1909–24 and correspondence between agnon and hanokh yalon as well as essays on Agnon. Dramatizations of Agnon's work have proliferated. Habimah presented Hakhnasat Kallah (The Bridal Canopy); the Cameri Theater performed Ve-Hayah he-Akov le-Mishor ("And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight"); and the Khan Theater of Jerusalem staged Ha-Rofe u-Gerushato ("The Doctor and His Divorcee"), Panim Aḥerot ("Metamorphosis"), and Bi-Demi Yameha ("In the Prime of Life"). In 1980 Habimah Theater produced Sippur Pashut and Orna Porat's Youth and Children's Theater adapted five of Agnon's stories for the stage. Shirah and Esterlein Yekirati have also been put on stage, a number of stories have been adapted for the screen ("Farnheim," "Ma'aseh ha-Oz," etc.), and two films have been made about Agnon's life. After Agnon's death the author's family donated his private archives to the Hebrew University. They include manuscripts and drafts of most of his works, his published writings in all existing editions, and translations of his works into numerous languages. The archives also contain everything that has been written about Agnon: books, essays, and articles as well as letters written by and to Agnon, and a collection of photographs and photocopies. The material is kept up-to-date and an annual evening of study of Agnon's work has been held. It also issued a book: Anthology of Shai Agnon, Research and Documents on His Work edited by Gershon Shaked and Raphael Weiser (1978). In 1982, the Jerusalem Municipality opened Agnon's Talpiyyot home to the public. The library was catalogued and researchers can consult the books. Various activities focusing on Agnon and his work are held in the house for schoolchildren and adults. A complete bibliography of Agnon's works was published by Yohanan Arnon in 1971 as well as a comprehensive bibliography of books and articles on his works by Dr. Yonah David (1972). After Agnon's death, critical studies of his work gained new momentum, taking a new turn. Arnold Band, in his book Nostalgia and Nightmare, opened new vistas in analyzing Agnon's work by examining his stories in their various versions, although Dov Sadan previously used this method of analysis on some of the stories. The bibliography at the end of Band's book contributed greatly to the study of Agnon in that it was the first comprehensive bibliography of Agnon's work from its early beginning up to 1967. Agnon has been translated into 34 languages, including Persian, Chinese, and Mongolian, and written about critically in dozens of books and well over a thousand articles and essays. In 1996, the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature issued a bibliography of his work in translation, including selected publications about Agnon and his writing. (Emuna Yaron (2nd ed.) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: A.J. Band, Nostalgia and Nightmare (1968), 497–521 (includes list of works, translations, and bibliography); B. Kurzweil, Massot al Sippurav shel Shai Agnon (1963); idem (ed.), Yuval Shai (1958); D. Sadan and E. Urbach (eds.), Le-Agnon Shai (1959); M. Tochner, Pesher Agnon (1968); Goell, Bibliography, index; Y. Elstein, Iggulim ve-Yosher (1970); D. Canaani, Agnon be'al Peh (1971); M.Y. Herzl, Shai Olamot, Mekorot le-Agnon, Hakhnassat Kalah (1973); H. Barzel, Bein Agnon le-Kafka, Meḥkar Mashveh (1972), Sippurei ha-Ahavah shel Agnon (1975), and Agnon, Mivḥar Ma'amarim al Yeẓirato (with introduction) (1982); G. Shaked, Iyyunim be-Sippurei Agnon (1973); R. Lee, Masa el Rega ha-Ḥesed, Iyyunim be-Yeẓirato shel Agnon ve-Ḥ. Hazaz (1978); D. Sadan, Al S.Y. Agnon, Masot U-Ma'amarim (1978); E. Aphek, Ma'arakhot Milim, Iyyunim be-Signono shel S.Y. Agnon (1979); A. Bar-Adon, S.Y. Agnon u-Teḥiyyat ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit (1977); M.Z. Kaddari, S.Y. Agnon Rav Signon (1980); Y. Mazor, Ha-Dinamikah shel Motivim be-Yeẓirot S.Y. Agnon (1979); Yediot Genazim S.Y. Agnon z"l (1970); Yediot Genazim, S.Y. Agnon (1981); H. Weiss, Parshanut le-Ḥamishah mi-Sippurei S.Y. Agnon (1974), Agunot, Bein Galui le-Samui, Revadim be-Sippur ha-Ivri ha-Kaẓar (1979), and Agunot, Ido ve-Einam, Mekorot Mivnim Mashmauyot (1981); B. Hochman, The Fiction of S.Y. Agnon (1970); H. Fisch, S.Y. Agnon (1975). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Aberbach, At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S.J. Agnon (1984); B. Arpali, Rav-Roman: Ḥamishah Ma'amarim al Temol Shilshom (1988); G. Shaked, Shmuel Yosef Agnon: A Revolutionary Traditionalist (1989); A. Hoffman, Between Exile and Return, S.Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing (1993); N. Ben-Dov, Agnon's Art of Indirection: Uncovering Latent Content in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon (1993); D. Schreibaum, Pesher ha-Ḥalomot bi-Yeẓirato shel Sh. Y. Agnon (1993); Y. Friedlander, Al Ve-Haya he-Akov le-Mishor (1993); H. Barzel and H. Weiss (eds.), Ḥikrei Agnon:   Iyyunim u-Meḥkarim bi-Yeẓirat Agnon (1994); D. Laor, Shai Agnon: Hebetim Ḥadashim (1995); A. Holz, Marot u-Mekomot: Hakhnasat Kalah (1995); W. Bargad, From Agnon to Oz: Studies in Modern Hebrew Literature (1996); N. Ben-Dov, Ahavot lo Me'usharot: Tiskul Eroti, Omanut u-Mavet bi-Yeẓirat Agnon (1997); D. Laor, Ḥayyei Agnon (1998); S. Katz, The Centrifugal Novel: S.Y. Agnon's Poetics of Composition (1999); A. Oz, The Silence of Heaven: Agnon's Fear of God (2000); Sh. Werses, Shai Agnon ki-Feshuto (2000); M. Shaked, Ha-Kemet she-be-Or ha-Raki'a: Kishrei Kesharim bi-Yeẓirat Agnon (2000); Sh. M. Green, Not a Simple Story: Love and Politics in a Modern Hebrew Novel (2001); D.M. Harduf, Mikhlol ha-Shemot be-Kitvei Shmuel Yosef Agnon (2002); R. Katsman, The Time of Cruel Miracles: Mythopoesis in Dostoevsky and Agnon (2002). WEBSITE: www.ithl.org.il .

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Agnon,Shmuel Yosef — Ag·non (ägʹnôn ), Shmuel Yosef. 1888 1970. Polish born Israeli writer. His dramatic novels, written in Hebrew, include A Guest for the Night (1939). He shared the 1966 Nobel Prize for literature. * * * …   Universalium

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  • Agnon (Czaczkes), Shmuel Yosef — (1888–1970)    Israel writer and Nobel laureate 1966. A small, shy man, his head always covered by a yamelke (skull cap), Agnon was an odd figure to appear before the distinguished Swedish Academy to receive the Nobel Prize. In his acceptance… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

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  • Agnon, S.Y. — orig. Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes born July 17, 1888, Buczacz, Galicia, Austria Hungary died Feb. 17, 1970, Reḥovot, Israel Israeli writer. Born into a Polish Galician family, Agnon settled in Palestine in 1907 and chose Hebrew as his literary… …   Universalium


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