This is a story which I refuse to credit. I just can’t believe still, it may be true. I have a way of telling. The source is authentic, but not unimpeachable.
Don’t ask who told me. If you do, I’ll tell you I can’t remember. Evidence to the contrary will find ready hospitality in this column. I myself would have to write or cable to Stockholm and Jerusalem, among other points, for verification or denial. To cable is expensive; or write, and wait for a reply, would be a most tedious process. Having prepared this heap of salt I’ll tell you the story.
It seems that the Nobel prize committee had made up its mind that the time had come to honor the Jewish race by selecting one of its authors for the literature award. The time seemed apt to the purpose, especially with the “Arvan” rant and cant and there were despatched from Stockholm missives of inquiry to the leaders of Jewish life, to the Hebrew University, among other places. The idea seems to have been that Jewry would name the author to be honored and the prize committee would do its stuff, without needlessly troubling itself to read the works of the nominated author. Or perhaps a complete report might be prepared for the committee, so that the award would not be made in utter ignorance.
When the responding letters from the leaders of the race arrived at Stockholm a strange divergency was revealed, a divergency, it may be added, which rather puzzled the Nobel prize people who had supposed that the Jewish people was a united people. Apparently the leaders of this people were not. For some nominated Chaim Nachman Bialik, the Hebrew poet of Palestine, and others, Sholom Asch, the Yiddish story teller, of Warsaw, Paris, New York and other points.
But more than divergency was revealed. It wasn’t sufficient that the Hebraists should nominate Bialik and the Yiddishists Asch, but the Hebraists had to berate Asch, and the Yiddishists, Bialik. Here was a pretty kettle of fish, and gefuellte fish at that. As a result, ways my authentic, but not unimpeachable, source of information, the Jewish race will not be honored this year, at least not by the Nobel prize committee, and, if this story is true, the rabbis of dispersed Jewry and similar gentry will be able to insert another paragraph in their demands for Unity in Israel. If I had been consulted by the proper persons from Stockholm, I would have said–and if it can’t too late I say it now–Split the prize between Bialik and Asch, Each could easily use twice, or half, as much, (The Nobel prize, you know, comes to something like $30,000 and unless you have expensive tastes, you can live a long time on one of these bonuses for literary endeavor.)
I believe that when Ludwig Lewisohn writes a book which does not deal with the Jewish problem in any of its manifestations, or one wherein the characters are not Jewish, that’s news. I don’t believe that he has written a non-Jewish novel since he dramatized and poeticized his own private troubles in “Don Juan,” not counting, of course, “The Case of Mr. Crump” which was published in Paris (in English) but which his American publishers feared to bring out because of possible legal consequences.
The new non-Jewish novel is “An Altar in the Fields” and it is all about a young writer, a New Yorker, who falls in love with a lovely Southern girl and marries her. At the close of the first section, at which point I ceased reading “An Altar in the Fields,” there is sounded the first premonitory rumble of marital difficulties, so that the bulk of the novel deals with the manner in which they did not live happily ever afterwards Somewhere in the middle or toward the end of the book where may be hidden a Jewish character, or the hinting of a Jewish problem, but the book will stand or fall by its appeal, or lack of appeal, to general reader interest. It is of course beautifully written.
In the golden days when the gush of oil in Texas and Oklahoma brought wealth, there lived in one of the leading towns of the Southwest a woman who put some of her reserve funds into the work of a living artist. Recently, she came to New York, shorn of every vestige of her former wealth and security–except for the pictures which she kept for sentimental reasons. The other day she sold one of those pictures, one of the smaller ones, for a sum large enough to enable her to keep going, for from eight to twelve months If there is a moral to this story–as there is–I prefer to leave it to you.