Ludwig Lewisohn has written at such great length about himself, in the forms of fiction and autobiography, that if any outsider’s contribution is required it is rather for the purpose of co-ordinating what he has written about himself than to fill a gap in our knowledge.
Adoph Gillis has written a little book of appreciation called “Ludwig Lewisohn: the Artist and His Message.” It is an informative and incisive little work in which we are told what books Lewisohn has written, what ideas are expressed in them, what style written them in.
Mr. Gillis depicts the development of the man in the chronology of his work. That is to say, he differentiates the youth who wrote “Southern Literature from the Beginning Until the Civil War,” from the tormented man who wrote the novel, “Don Juan”, from the man at peace with himself who wrote “Expression in America,” without neglecting to tell us the nature and style of each of these books, marking defects with no less clear a hand than that with which he notes the strength and beauty of the Lewisohn style.
Mr. Gillis believes that Mr. Lewisohn is the most brilliant and the most solid stylist writing in America today. Although I realize that Mr. Lewisohn is an expatriate and cannot return to these states until a certain domestic difficulty has been resolved, he is, as an American, the most sustainedly brilliant writer of English prose. Even should he stop writing today, he will have left behind him a body of achievement of no negligible quantity. The effect of much of it may be invalidated by the Lewisohnian emphasis of self-conscious Jewishness, expressed, as Mr. Gillis puts it, in the over-elaborated theme that “assimilation for the Jew is a tragic delusion.”
Mr. Gillis points out for example to what absurd lengths this theme is expressed in the so-called fiction called “Stephen Escott,” wherein there is maladjustment for the Jew married to the Gentile, but for the 100 percent Jewish couple all spiritual and physical difficulties are beautifully resolved. The chief error in Lewisohn’s fiction is that he tends at times to write stories on preconceived themes derived from the maladjustments from which he himself suffered and from the way of escape which he has found for himself and on which way he sees himself as a blazer of trails for all those who are maladjusted.
Mr. Gillis writes:
“He will not see his characters in all their variety, merely ordinary folk and only infrequently heroic, like the Gentiles. No! they must all be fated, Messianicâ€”a vision which, while it does credit to his ardor, is nevertheless denied in the streets and shops of every city in the world where there are Jews. Of a certainty many, perhaps most, Jews are happy despite anti-Semitism; some Jews are unhappy for other and equally compelling reasons. There are other joys and tragedies in Israel and it is time for Lewisohn to see them.”
And I believe that he will. I believe that he will as soon as he adjusts himself to the idea of Judaism as a way of life to be taken for granted and not as a Personal Resurrection to be interpreted as a solvent for what ails you and me and the other fellow, Even Lewisohn will get used to Judaism. The only possibility of danger for himself is that if he gets used to Judaism he may have to get excited about something else, if he is to continue writing. Judaism has given him his Theme for the past ten years; he has given English-reading Jews stories and prose. I think, perhaps, that he could continue taking Judaism for granted and yet give us other stories such as that beautiful one on Esther and Mordecai which appeared in his latest book, “This People.”