Abstract

This essay analyzes the depiction of “things” in three modernist novels: Dovid Bergelson’s The End of Everything (Yiddish, 1913), a tale of ennui set in a provincial town outside Kiev, where faded fabrics and cherished ornaments in drawing rooms emblematize the end of an era; Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep (1934), where the detritus of a Lower East Side childhood become symbolic totems of a violent coming-of-age; and S. Y. Agnon’s l7215495C1Just Yesterday (Hebrew, 1946), an epic novel of immigration, cultural renaissance, and insanity set in Jaffa and Jerusalem, wherein taxidermy and olive-wood craft figure as metonymic symbols of a new national self. My comparative reading of these novels highlights a complementary set of conditions—objects in books, and the book as object. I argue that the genre’s engagement with things, and its emergence as a thing, suggests how writing both fears and revels in its own commodification and immersion in the economic sphere. These novels exemplify how modern, transnational Jewish literature was reconceived as material culture.

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