Agnon, Shmuel Yosef

views updated May 08 2018


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.)]


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:

Agnon, S. Y.

views updated May 29 2018

S. Y. Agnon

BORN: 1888, Buczacz, Galicia, Austria-Hungary

DIED: 1970, Tel Aviv, Israel

NATIONALITY: Israeli, Polish

GENRE: Fiction

The Bridal Canopy (1931)
A Simple Story (1935)
A Guest for the Night (1939)
The Day before Yesterday (1945)


S. Y. Agnon is the most distinguished author in the modern Hebrew language and a major prose writer of the twentieth century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. His work blends authentic Jewish heritage with European sources to comment upon the disintegration of community and spirituality in the modern world. Agnon is virtually unknown outside Israel, mostly because his Hebrew prose, loaded with intricate wordplay and echoes of biblical and historical texts, is notoriously difficult to translate. Within the Jewish state, his standing is akin to that of William Shakespeare in England.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Fleeing the Pogroms Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in 1888 in the shtetl (Jewish village) of Buczacz, in Galicia, now part of Ukraine but then belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, an ordained rabbi and a fur trader by profession, was a Hasidic Jew who encouraged his son to study the Bible, the Talmud, and rabbinic texts. From his mother, he acquired knowledge of German language and literature, which enabled him to read European writers in translation. When Shmuel was eight, he decided to become a poet, and at age fifteen he published his first poem in Yiddish.

While Shmuel led a sheltered childhood in the shtetl, his youth was a time of turmoil for Jews. The pogroms (persecutions) in Russia following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 led many to migrate westward into Europe. A smaller stream migrated into Palestine (now Israel), where the Zionist movement hoped to create a Jewish homeland. In 1907, at age nineteen, the budding writer moved to Palestine as part of the great wave of immigration known as the Second Aliyah. He became first secretary of the Jewish court at Jaffa. There he encountered the contradictory confluence of Jewish tradition and cosmopolitan Western culture that would become the focus of his writing. In 1908 he published his first story, “Agunot” (Forsaken Wives), in the journal Ha-Omer. With a slight modification to the title, he assumed his pen name—Agnon.

To Germany Agnon published his first novella, And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight, in 1912. Several literary specialists noticed this work; Arthur Rupin, a major figure in the Zionist movement, urged the aspiring writer to broaden his horizons in Berlin. In 1913 Agnon traveled to Germany, where he lived for eleven years. Fluent in German, he gave Hebrew lessons and worked for a publisher of Jewish books, all the while writing fiction.

In Berlin, Agnon met businessman Zalman Schocken, who admired the young author and became his financial patron. Schocken gave Agnon a regular stipend, permitting him to live comfortably free from financial worries and to concentrate on his writing. Schocken promised to find Agnon a publisher and redeemed his promise by becoming one himself. While in Germany, Agnon's chief work was on Hasidic folklore and legend, his tales capturing the spirit and flavor of a way of life deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.

Home to Jerusalem In 1916, during World War I, Agnon was summoned for a medical checkup and

possible conscription into the Austrian army. Horrified by the possibility of going to war, he chain-smoked and ingested a large number of pills, managing to get sick enough to avoid the draft. He remained in Berlin through the end of the war. In 1920 he met and married Esther Marx, a young woman from an affluent orthodox family. The couple had two children in Germany and remained together for fifty years.

In 1924 Agnon's home in Hamburg burned down. Everything he owned went up in flames, including his library of four thousand books and the manuscript of an autobiographical novel. The disaster had a lasting impact on Agnon, who saw the fire as an omen. Convinced that his exile had grown too long, he returned to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. But five years later, his home was wrecked and much of his library again destroyed during the Arab riots of 1929. Fond of connecting his own life story to the annals of Jewish history, he likened these two events to the obliteration of the two temples. The feeling of homelessness, of losing one's dwelling, or simply not having a house where one can lodge, is a strong current in Agnon's work, serving as a metaphor for the precarious situation of the Jew.

Agnon settled permanently just outside Jerusalem and spent the next forty years writing in his small library-turned-office. He wrote by hand, standing at a polished wood podium. Although he had written in Yiddish as a youth, Agnon wrote his major works in Hebrew, the ancient holy tongue that had been revived in the late nineteenth century after centuries of being unspoken.

Unlike other pioneers of Jewish secular fiction, such as Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Agnon chose Hebrew as an outgrowth of his Zionist beliefs; he was writing for a future nation that would be located in the Middle East. The city of Jerusalem became not just Agnon's home but the central axis of his fiction, a symbol of stability and continuity in Jewish life.

Major Works The next years proved to be productive for Agnon. He dramatized the conflict between Jewish tradition and modernity in short stories, dozens of which were published in the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz, and novels. His first acclaimed novel, The Bridal Canopy (1931), concerns a Hasidic rabbi who travels through nineteenth-century Galicia seeking a dowry for his daughters. This folk epic also portrays the decline of religious life through a protagonist whose devotion to God is obtrusively at odds with his secular surroundings. A Simple Story, his 1935 novel is anything but simple; it is a social treatise juxtaposing Jewish middle-class mores with European modernist ideas of religious and sexual freedom. Its hero, the classic schlemiel (chump) Hirshl, enters into an arranged marriage at the behest of his overbearing mother, but his obsessive love for his cousin Blume drives him to mental collapse.

Agnon's talent was at its peak in A Guest for the Night (1939), a nightmarish account of the decline of European Jewry after World War I, as related by an unnamed narrator returning to his native town. This work was inspired by Agnon's visit to his birthplace in the mid-1930s. World War I had shattered the old faith and traditions, and on the horizon loomed the still greater menace of World War II. Another major achievement, The Day before Yesterday (1945), is based on Agnon's experiences in Palestine before World War I. Set in Palestine during the Second Aliyah, the story is a bleak and critical appraisal of the Zionist endeavor that reveals the gap between lofty ideals and the dark realities of human nature.

The dreams of Agnon and the Zionists came to fruition with the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. The writer evacuated his home during the Arab-Israeli War that broke out when Israel declared its independence, returning after the end of hostilities. Annually, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, hundreds of thousands of synagogue congregants recite the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, which Agnon cowrote with chief rabbis Yitzhak Herzog and Ben Zion Uziel.


Agnon's famous contemporaries include:

Martin Buber (1878–1965): An Austrian Jewish philosopher-theologian and associate of Agnon, Buber collaborated with Agnon on an anthology of Hasidic stories.

Boris Pasternak (1890–1960): This Russian poet and novelist was the author of Doctor Zhivago.

Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940): A Russian novelist and playwright whose satirical novel The Master and Margarita circulated underground in the Soviet Union.

Isaac Babel (1894–1940): A Russian Jewish playwright and short-story writer, Babel is noted for his stories of the Jews in Odessa and his novel Red Cavalry.

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991): This Polish American author wrote in Yiddish. His stories deal with conflicts between traditional faith and modernism.

David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973): The leader of the Zionist movement and first prime minister of Israel (1948–1953, 1955–1963).

Agnon wrote until the end of his life, despite steadily declining health. After he was diagnosed with a heart condition in 1951, he began to sit while working. His reputation was such that when he complained to the city council about traffic noise on his street, the municipality closed the street to cars, while a sign hanging at the head of the street proclaimed to all passersby: “No cars are to enter. Agnon is writing.” In 1966 Agnon received the Nobel Prize, along with the German poet and dramatist Nelly Sachs. He died in 1970. His daughter, Emuna Yaron, subsequently

collected and released many of his unpublished works, including the novel Shira (1971), which he had worked on for twenty-five years but left unfinished, and which she edited according to his instructions.

Works in Literary Context

Agnon was widely read and was conversant with European novelists; for example, he exalted the virtues of Gustave Flaubert. His prose is crossed with references to Scandinavian, Russian, German, and French literature. The episodic, picaresque style of The Bridal Canopy has brought comparisons to Cervantes's classic novel Don Quixote. Critics also frequently compare Agnon to Franz Kafka; both possessed the ability to create menacing psychic dreamscapes, and they share the qualities of irony and alienation, though Agnon insisted that he never read Kafka's work.

Agnon and the Jewish Canon As Agnon claimed in accepting the Nobel Prize, his major source of literary influence was the canon of Jewish literature. The Torah (Jewish Bible), Talmud, Mishnah, and commentaries by Hebrew poets and philosophers such as Moses Maimonides all suffuse his writing. In his book Tradition and Trauma: Studies in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon, critic David Patterson wrote, “The first impressions of apparent simplicity soon give way to a realization of the overtones, references and allusions arising from the author's complete familiarity with the whole vast corpus of Hebrew literature. The ancient vocabulary of Hebrew is pregnant with associations of all kinds, and the skillful juxtaposition of words and phrases can be made to yield a variety of nuances.” These nuances, found in every passage of Agnon's stories, make his prose a formidable challenge for translators.

A Folk Modernist More than any other writer, Agnon advanced the idea of creating not only a new literature in Hebrew but a new culture synthesizing eastern European traditions and modern Israeli norms. While living in Germany, Agnon noted the sharp contrast between rural, traditional Jews emigrating from the shtetls and the more cosmopolitan, secular German Jews. As a writer, he could neither discard the religious tradition of Judaism nor shun the realities of modern secular life. He knew that for Jews to negotiate the twentieth century, both would be necessary. Sensing the alien aspects of European culture, he initiated a return to Jewish folk material, to the Hebrew language, and to the ancient sources. His deceptively simple, ironic prose reads as though it had been written long ago. While his stories often have the quality of folk literature, they also incorporate modern literary devices such as shifting viewpoints, nonlinear narratives, and the intermingling of fantasy and reality.

Works in Critical Context

Agnon is widely regarded as the most accomplished author of fiction to have written in Hebrew. He is such a venerated figure in Israel that since 1985, his image has appeared on the fifty-shekel banknote. In 2002, when the National Yiddish Book Centre listed their one hundred greatest works of modern Jewish literature, three of Agnon's novels occupied the fourth, fifth, and sixth places. In addition, his novels and stories appear frequently as compulsory reading in Israeli schools. Yet, outside Israel, very few readers have even heard of him.


The stories and novels of S. Y. Agnon chronicle an eventful period in Jewish history, from the murderous pogroms to the founding of Israel. The following works of fiction also open a window onto the European Jewish past:

“Bontshe the Silent” (1894), a short story by I. L. Peretz. In this classic Yiddish story, a poor, pious Jew suffers, dies, and goes to heaven, where angels agree to grant his greatest wish: a warm buttered roll every morning.

“Tevye the Dairyman” (1911), a short story by Sholom Aleichem. The stories of Tevye, his wife Golde, and the daughters they try to marry off inspired the famous Broadway (and movie) musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Breakdown and Bereavement (1914), a novel by Yosef Haim Brenner. A harrowing novel about the challenges faced by Zionist pioneers, this work was by an author whose encouragement was important in Agnon's early career.

Exodus (1958), a novel by Leon Uris. This historical novel about the founding of Israel was a huge best seller in the United States.

Mister Mani (1990), a novel by A. B. Yehoshua. In this acclaimed Israeli novel, six generations of a family pass along domestic secrets against the backdrop of a century of Jewish history.

The Problem of Translation The difficulty of getting across in English the full flavor and profundity of Agnon's prose is certainly a major reason why he has not received the broad, lasting international appreciation given to other modernist giants, despite the Nobel Prize. Commentators have attributed much of the subtlety and complexity of his writing to the Hebrew language itself and its capacity to construct a web of associations. English-speaking literary scholars frequently debate whether translation can sufficiently convey the art of prose written in other languages. In Agnon's case, that question has often taken center stage. Noted American author Cynthia Ozick observed, “For decades, Agnon scholars (and

Agnon is a literary industry) have insisted that it is no use trying to get at Agnon in any language other than the original.” Indeed, his nuances and dense layers of allusion challenge even Hebrew readers.

Little Known in the West Many scholars of Jewish literature have tackled Agnon. Haim Be'er, who wrote a book on the author in 1992, said, “Agnon is the centre of our cultural discourse. His work is the most frequent subject of Hebrew literary research.” Little of his work was translated into English until late in his life. The illustrious American critic Edmund Wilson praised Agnon in 1956, calling publicly for him to be given the Nobel Prize, largely on the strength of The Day before Yesterday. The publication in English of Betrothed, & Edo and Enam: Two Tales in the summer of 1966 coincided with a wave of international critical acclaim for his earlier work that contributed to his winning the prize. Afterward, more of his works were translated; his short fiction was showcased in a volume titled A Book That Was Lost, and Other Stories (1995).

Responses to Literature

  1. Using your library resources and the Internet, research the Zionist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In a short essay, explain how its values are reflected in the fiction of S. Y. Agnon.
  2. Read several of Agnon's short stories and focus on the theme of community. How does Agnon convey what is special about the Jewish community? Why is the community in danger of disintegration?
  3. Read the short story “Pisces” from A Book That Was Lost, and Other Stories. Discuss how Agnon's use of magic realism, folklore, humor, and irony contribute to the story.
  4. Agunot is the term applied to women who have been abandoned by their husbands and are left in a state of limbo since they cannot remarry. Based on the story “Agunot,” why do you think Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes took the pen name Agnon?



Aberbach, David. At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Alter, Robert. Hebrew and Modernity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Band, Arnold J. Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Ben-Dov, Nitza. Agnon's Art of Indirection: Uncovering Latent Content in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. New York: Brill, 1993.

Green, Sharon. Not a Simple Story: Love and Politics in a Modern Hebrew Novel. Lanham, Md.: Lexington, 2002.

Hochman, Baruch. The Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970.

Katz, Stephen. The Centrifugal Novel: S. Y. Agnon's Poetics of Composition. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.

Mintz, Alan L. Translating Israel: Contemporary Hebrew Literature and Its Reception in America. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

Oz, Amos. The Silence of Heaven: Agnon's Fear of God. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Patterson, David. Tradition and Trauma: Studies in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1994.

Ribalow, Menachem. The Flowering of Modern Hebrew Literature: A Volume of Literary Evaluation. London: Vision, 1959.

Roshwald, Miriam. Ghetto, Shtetl, or Polis? The Jewish Community in the Writings of Karl Emil Franzos, Sholom Aleichem, and Shemuel Yosef Agnon. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo, 1995.

Wisse, Ruth. The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture. New York: Free Press, 2000.

Yudkin, Leon I., ed. Agnon: Text and Contexts in English Translation. New York: M. Wiener, 1988.

Agnon, S. Y.

views updated May 29 2018


Pseudonym for Shmuel Yosef Halesi Czaczkes. Nationality: Israeli. Born: Buczacz, Galicia, Austria-Hungary (now Poland), 17 July 1888. Education: Studied in private schools; Baron Hirsch School. Family: Married Esther Marx in 1919; one daughter and one son. Career: Lived in Palestine, 1907-13; first secretary of Jewish Court in Jaffa and secretary of the National Jewish Council; lecturer and tutor in Germany, 1913-24; in Palestine again from 1924; fellow, Bar Ilan University. Awards: Bialik prize, 1934, 1954; Hakhnasat Kala, 1937; Ussishkin prize. 1950; Israel prize, 1954, 1958; Nobel prize for literature, 1966. Honorary doctorates: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1936; Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1959. President, Mekitzei Nirdamim, 1950. Member: Hebrew Language Academy. Died: 17 February 1970.



A Book that Was Lost and Other Stories. 1995.

Short Stories

Kol Sirurav [Collected Fiction]. 11 vols., 1931-52; revised edition (includes additional volume Al Kapot ha-Man'ul [stories]), 8 vols., 1952-62.

Hachnasat Kalah (novel). 2 vols., 1931; as The Bridal Canopy, 1937.

Me'Az ume'Atah [From Then and from Now] (stories). 1931.

Sipurey Ahavim [Love Stories]. 1931.

BeShuvah uveNachat [In Peace and Tranquillity] (stories). 1935.

Elu va'Elu [These and Those] (stories). 194l; section translated as A Dwelling Place of My People, 1983.

Temol Shilshom [The Day Before Yesterday] (novel). 1945; section published as Kelev Chutsot, 1950.

Samuch veNireh [Never and Apparent] (stories). 1951.

Ad Henah [Until Now] (stories). 1952.

Bilvav Yamim (novella). 1933; as In the Heart of the Seas, 1947.

Two Tales: The Betrothed, Edo and Enam. 1966.

Twenty-One Stories, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer. 1970; asSelection, 1977.


Giv'at haChol [The Hill of Sand]. 1920.

BeSod Yesharim [Among the Pious]. 192l.

MeChamat haMetsik [From the Wrath of the Oppressor]. 192l.

Al Kapot haMan'ul [Upon the Handles of the Lock]. 1922.

Polin [Poland]. 1925.

Ma'aseh rabi Gadi'el haTinok [The Tale of Little Reb Gadiel]. 1925.

Sipur haShanim haTovot. 1927.

Agadat haSofer [The Tale of the Scribe]. 1929.

Sipur Pashut (novel). 1935; as A Simple Story, 1985.

Sefer, Sofer veSipur. 1938.

Ore'ach Nata Lalun (novel). 1939; as A Guest for the Night, 1968.

Shevu'at Emunim. 1943; as The Betrothed, in Two Tales, 1966.

Tehilla (in English). 1956.

Shirah [Song]. 1971; translated as Shirah, 1989.

Pitchey Dvarim. 1977.


Me'Atsmi el Atsmi [From Me to Me]. 1976.

Esterlain yekirati: mikhatavim 684-691 (1924-1931) (letters). 1983.

Kurzweil, Baruch (letters). 1987.

Hokhmat Shemu'el. 1996.

Vo tsvete let. 1996.

Editor, with Ahron Eliasberg, Das Buch von den polnischen Juden. 1916.

Editor, Yamim Nora'im. 1938; as Days of Awe, Being a Treasury of Traditions, Legends, and Learned Commentaries…, 1948.

Editor, Atem Re'item. 1959.

Editor, Sifreyhem shel Tsadikim. 1961.



Samuel Joseph Agnon: A Bibliography of His Work in Translation Including Selected Publications About Agnon and His Writing by Isaac Goldberg, 1996.

Critical Studies:

Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of Agnon (includes bibliography) by Arnold J. Band, 1968; The Fiction of Agnon by Baruch Hochman, 1970; Agnon by Harold Fisch, 1975; At the Handle of the Lock: Scenes in the Fiction of Agnon by David Aberbach, 1984; Agnon: Texts and Contexts in English Translation edited by Leon I. Yudkin, 1988; Agnon: A Revolutionary Traditionalist by Gershon Shaked, translated by Jeffery M. Green, 1989; Agnon's Art of Indirection: Uncovering Latent Content in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon by Nitza Ben-Dov, 1993; Relations between Jews and Poles in S. Y. Agnon's Work by Samuel Werses, 1994; Ghetto, Shtetl, or Polis?: The Jewish Community in the Writings of Karl Emil Franzos, Sholom Aleichem, and Shemuel Yosef Agnon by Miriam Roshwald, 1996.

* * *

When S. Y. Agnon received the Nobel prize for literature in 1966, he was the first author writing in Hebrew to be so honored. Long recognized in Palestine, later Israel, as an author who elegantly recaptured the lost world of nineteenth-century Eastern-European Jewry, he has written over 200 short stories, novels, and other miscellaneous writings.

Agnon's stories, sometime cast in the form of folk tales, usually involve a protagonist who, while engaged in a rather quotidian task, is unable to complete it due to a bizarre, sometimes magical or even mystical, happening. The protagonists are saved from their ineptitude only through their submission to God. Through language that is often drawn directly from or is a paraphrase of the Bible, and with characters' and place names based on biblical and historical allusions and images, the story takes on allegorical and metaphorical significance. The reader is invited to probe into its universal, underlying meaning. The tales, set in both nineteenth-century Eastern Europe and modern-day Israel, possess a quality of wistfulness and longing, a desire to return to an earlier time when the world seemed a safe, ordered place, where one could pursue communion with God with impunity.

"Agunot," often translated as "Deserted Wives," is an important story for two reasons. It is Agnon's first major story published after his arrival in Palestine in 1907, at the age of 19. When he decided to take a pseudonym, the author replaced the Polish surname "Czaczkes" with agnon, the singular of agunot, which refers to a Jewish woman who, though abandoned by her husband, is still legally married to him until he is proven dead or he sends her a divorce decree. The author officially adopted Agnon as the family name in 1924, signifying a symbolic abandonment of his Eastern-European life, and the start of a new life in the promised land of Israel.

"Agunot" is the story of abandonment and desertion. Dinah, spoiled daughter of wealthy Sire Ahiezer, is emotionally abandoned by the handsome, learned groom brought for her all the way from Poland. The groom is "abandoned" by Friedele, the girl he really loves but has deserted, when she marries someone else. Ben Ari, the deft craftsman whose ark of the covenant Dinah tries to destroy because he does not return her affection, simply disappears. The major characters are all tragically attached to someone they cannot possess.

In "Fable of the Goat" (1925), which resembles the Indian Panchatantra tale "The Mongoose and the Cobra," an old man buys a goat for milk. Though the goat gives milk the old man describes as "sweet to my palate and the balm to my bones," the goat disappears every day. To find out where it goes, the son ties a string to its tail. The goat takes him to a cave that miraculously leads to the Land of Israel. He writes a note that his father should join him and puts it in the goat's ear, thinking that when the goat returns, his father will pet it and, with a flick of its ear, the note will fall out.

When the goat returns, the old man, believing the animal has led him to his death, has it slaughtered. Only when it is being skinned is the note found, but it is too late, and the old man realizes that, because of his precipitous action, he must live out his life in exile. Related succinctly in only three-and-a-half pages, the story, replete with quotes and paraphrases from the Bible, is an admonition to the rash man who, cutting himself off from the word of God, also cuts off his only link to the promised land.

The 20 stories in the tenth volume of his collected fiction, Samuch veNireh (also called The Book of Deeds), mark a major shift in Agnon's narrative style. No longer a teller of tales moving in the objective, exterior world of folklore, he is here Agnon the short story writer who draws heavily on subjective, interior, often childhood, experiences of his protagonists. The title of this collection is ironic, for in it the various unnamed first-person narrators achieve none of their deeds.

In "The Kerchief," for example, the narrator recalls how, when his father had been away a long time on business, he, the narrator, had a dream of the messiah, who sits among beggars at the gates of Rome on a rock pile binding his wounds. Shortly thereafter his father returns home with gifts, including a silk kerchief for his wife, which she wears on the Sabbath and holidays. On the day of the narrator's religious initiation ceremony (bar mitzvah), his mother places the kerchief around his neck. Returning home after the ceremony, he gives it to a beggar sitting on a rock pile, who uses it to bandage his running sores. The narrator turns away for a moment, and the beggar disappears. Worried about the scarf, the narrator is surprised that his mother, who has been awaiting his return, says nothing about the precious scarf; it is as if she knows what happened to it and approves.

In "To the Doctor" (1932), one of Agnon's shortest pieces, an unnamed narrator goes out at about 8:30 one evening to fetch a doctor for his ailing father. Because the doctor leaves his home at 9:00 p.m. to go drinking, the narrator is anxious to get there before the doctor departs. On the way he is stopped by Mr. Andermann (German for "Otherman"), who says he is "just arrived from the city of Bordeaux in England" and wants to talk. Not wishing to be rude, yet anxious about his father, the narrator reluctantly stops to chat. In the meantime, it seems that the doctor leaves his home, and the father dies. One is left wondering whether the doctor would have been any help to the sick man even if he had been contacted by the son. Regardless of the answer, the son must live with his guilt and uncertainty.

Densely textured, lyrical, suffused with nostalgia, and highly affective, Agnon's stories bridge the two worlds of Eastern Europe and the Middle East with a seamless continuity. Translated into 16 languages—it is generally agreed that the English renderings are deficient and the German splendid—these stories are considered national treasures in Israel.

—Carlo Coppola

See the essay on "A Whole Loaf."

Shmuel Yoseph Agnon

views updated May 23 2018

Shmuel Yoseph Agnon

The Israeli author Shmuel Yoseph Agnon (1888-1970) is noted for his folkloric yet sophisticated novels. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966.

On July 17, 1888, S. Y. Agnon was born Shmuel Yoseph Czaczkes in the town of Buszacz, Eastern Galicia (then part of Austro-Hungary). His father was descended from a long line of Talmudic scholars. The young Shmuel's studies encompassed the whole gamut of Jewish writings: the Bible, Talmudic and Midrashic lore, medieval philosophical treatises, rabbinic writings, and Hasidic tales.

As a youth of 15, Shmuel began to publish his stories and poems in Hebrew and Yiddish. In 1908 he arrived in Palestine, where young halutzim (pioneers) were establishing the base for a Jewish state. There he assumed the name of Agnon, and his fame as an original and colorful novelist began to spread. Dwelling chiefly on Hasidic folklore and legend, his tales captured the spirit and flavor of a way of life deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.

From 1913 to 1924 Agnon lived in Germany, where he married Esther Marks. They later had a son and a daughter. While in Germany, he collaborated with Martin Buber on a book of Hasidic tales. In 1924 he returned to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem, a city to which he always remained deeply attached.

Agnon's works mirror Jewish life from the 18th century to the present. In The Bridal Canopy (1931) he unfolds a picaresque tale of a pious man, Reb Yudel Hasid, who travels throughout town and village to solicit dowries for his three marriageable daughters. This work is set in a world bygone, anchored in faith and governed by a benevolent providence. This seemingly simple, pietistic way of life is also reflected in a shorter novel, In the Heart of the Seas (1935), which tells of the journey of a group of Hasidim to the land of their ancestors in the early 19th century.

In A Simple Story (1935) and A Guest for the Night (1939) the reader is ushered into the 20th century with its new and threatening forces. A Guest for the Night is based on Agnon's journey to his birthplace in the mid-1930s. World War I has shattered the old faith and traditions and on the horizon looms the still greater menace of World War II. Yesteryear (1945) is based on Agnon's experiences in Palestine before World War I. The protagonist of the novel, Yitzhak Kumer, is a somewhat weak, naive, and simple pioneer in search of self-fulfillment but overwhelmed by problems. The work tells the deeply moving story of characters struggling to turn an age-old dream into reality.

In the last decades of his life, stirred by the atrocities of World War II, Agnon infused new currents and nuances into his writings. His stories became more symbolic and took on a Kafkaesque quality. In Betrothed, A Whole Loaf, and Edo and Enam, Agnon appears as a master of enigma. The settings of these later works are often phantasmagoric, and the plots are frequently parables of the vicissitudes of modern life. Through Midrashic and mystic allusions, Agnon provides the key for deciphering the hidden meanings of these later tales.

S. Y. Agnon died on Feb. 17, 1970, and was buried on the Mount of Olives with great honors.

Further Reading

Two major works on Agnon are Arnold J. Band, Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon (1968), a biographical as well as critical study, and Baruch Hochman, The Fiction of S. Y. Agnon (1970), an evaluation of Agnon's works against historical and literary backgrounds.

Additional Sources

Fisch, Harold, S. Y. Agnon, New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1975.

Shaked, Gershon, Shmuel Yosef Agnon: a revolutionary traditionalist, New York: New York University Press, 1989. □

Agnon, Shmuel Yosef

views updated May 21 2018

Agnon, Shmuel Yosef (1888–1970) Hebrew writer, b. Poland as Samuel Josef Czaczkes. A key figure in Hebrew literature, he shared the 1966 Nobel Prize in literature with Nelly Sachs. Agnon wrote an epic trilogy of novels on the plight of East European Jewry: The Bridal Canopy (1919), A Guest for the Night (1938), and The Day Before Yesterday (1945).