David Patterson The Hebrew Novel in Czarist Russia
This chapter looks at how David Patterson’s book shows to what extent the early Hebrew novelists of czarist Russia achieved their goals. As writers of fiction, they certainly considered themselves Europeans. Artistic depth proved more elusive, but social portraits and social criticism abounded. It is in this area that the novels — and Patterson’s book — remain a rich source of information for modern readers. Believing, along with their Russian models, that fiction was a teacher of life, the Hebrew novelists wrote like reformers. As they idealized what they considered the proper path to a Jewish future and satirized what they saw as retrograde or false, the chapter shows how the book can be a valuable guide to what they themselves believed. Those parts of the novels that are descriptive without being tendentious are another source of information. Here the student of the Jewish past can find the physical details of daily life and an account of how to get along (do business, bribe, and dodge the draft) in the conditions of the Russian empire.
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