Introduction to The Dark Young Man

By Nachman Mayzel
From Ha’neahovim vha’neimim, oder,
Der shvartser yungermantshik
(The Beloved and Pleasing, or,
The Dark Young Man
Ale verk fun Yankev Dinezon
New York: S. Sreberk, 1928, Pages 3–6
(See Yiddish Version Here)
Translated from the Yiddish by
Tina Lunson
A Few Words about this Edition

The Beloved and Pleasing, or, The Dark Young Man was Jacob Dinezon’s first printed Yiddish novel. It was published in Vilna in 1877, so it is now fifty years since the work first appeared. Until its publication, Dinezon had published articles in Hebrew in Ha-Magid and Ha-Melits. In 1876, he produced a series of nature lectures in Yiddish in brochure form, edited by Bernshteyn (“Thunder and Lightning,” “Rain and Snow,” and so on.) During that same time, Dinezon wrote a novel in Yiddish, Beoven avos (For the Sins of the Fathers). It was that novel that Dinezon brought to Vilna. The Vilna writers Sh. I.  Fin and I.  M.  Dik liked that novel, and thanks to them, the Romm company bought that work from the twenty-year-old (Dinezon was born in 1856), paying him two rubles per printing signature, the highest rate at the time (and the same rate that I.  M.  Dik was paid). But the censor would not allow the book to be distributed. In order to cover the honorarium that had been paid, Dinezon sat down and, in the period of six weeks between Peysakh and Shavues, wrote the novel The Beloved and Pleasing, or, The Dark Young Man.[1]

This work from a young, previously little-known author was a tremendous success. Within a short time, ten thousand copies of the book had been distributed, and later it was reprinted several more times. The novel and its main protagonist became very popular among the multitudes of Yiddish readers. There was hardly a Jewish home where all the members of the family—old and young, male and female—had not read the novel and not shed hot tears of sympathy for the sufferings of the unfortunate Yoysef, Rukhame, and Roza; while the name of the evil young man, Meyshe Shneyur, became the byword for hypocrisy, cruelty, and murder.

In this novel, written in a hurry at the age of twenty-one, we can already see the qualities and properties of the loving, sentimental Dinezon. His special love for women and children is apparent. He depicts with special tenderness the young women and their sincere love that cannot be tainted by difficult circumstances. Along with these tender, quiet, pure souls who die with their faithfulness and devotion intact, Dinezon also introduces a string of evil, criminal characters whose crippled souls are full of poison. They do not hesitate before any victim and are able to carry out their terrible plans to the end. Dinezon does not stint in showing us how evil and ugly they are. They have spread a kind of net and will stop at nothing to ensnare people in it.

In The Dark Young Man, we have two extreme types: The good, sincere, and long-suffering; and the evil, treacherous, and murderous; and Dinezon exaggerates both of these types. Such was the style among the sentimental romanticists of the time. Even the form of his work is primitive. The problem lies in the manner of creating the types and depicting such a number of unmediated clashes, which often seems childish. Yet despite all these flaws, there is still a special presence that feels and touches. One is drawn in by such simplicity, one is taken over by the innocence, and one trusts the author and believes in him. One is drawn into the hero’s joys and sorrows, and sheds tears over all the punishments that come upon the good, the pure, and the honest through the slanders, denouncements, and various frauds of the treacherous, hypocritical and criminal.

It is obvious why the novel and its heroes became so popular in the sympathetic hearts of the simple readers of popular Yiddish literature.

There are many sketches in the novel of Jewish lifeways from the previous half-century, as well as well-drawn types from the small-town environments of the time.

But the point to be taken from the work is that it was among the first Yiddish novels in the new Yiddish literature that was written in a fine, flowing Yiddish with a touching honesty and with an exciting storyline.

*      *      *       *      *

In this edition we present, as far as is possible, the original novel without changes. An exception is made for Russian or German expressions that Dinezon frequently used fifty years ago but which he himself eliminated in his later writing. Some such purely Russian or purely German words are no longer used in Yiddish, and some have become part of the Yiddish literary vocabulary. This edition is suitable for the casual reader, and as for the literature researcher and, even more, for the language researcher who wants to understand how Dinezon wrote in the first years of his creative life, they will have to turn to earlier versions. In those, they can find the many foreign words that the Yiddish writer brought to his work in that era. It will be interesting for the researcher to see the special spellings in the book and also the words in the Litvish (Lithuanian) spelling that Dinezon used. And not only Dinezon—the Vilna censor and editors also used it.

[There follows a paragraph of explanation with examples of Russian words and how the spellings differ in earlier publications and among the dialects of Yiddish.]

September 1926
N.  M.

[1] Mayzel’s facts are incorrect. Dinezon relates the true story of the writing and publication of The Dark Young Man in a letter to the literary historian Shmuel Niger available here.
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