M. A. Goldschmidt’s En Jøde
– an Anti-Bildungsroman
- Name: Troy Wellington Smith
- Academic credentials: Scandinavian; Graduate Student in the PhD program; University of California, Berkeley
Abstract: With allusions to H. C. Andersen’s Kun en Spillemand and Søren Kierkegaard’s Enten – Eller, in addition to discourses on the immortality of the soul and Adam Oehlenschläger’s Aladdin, M. A. Goldschmidt’s En Jøde positions itself both in relation to its author’s and protagonist’s Jewish minority culture, and to the predominant Danish Christian culture, as well. While culture or Dannelse—analogous to the German Bildung—is conceived of by some members of the Jewish minority in the novel as a means of mediating its relationship to the Danish Christian majority, Goldschmidt’s narrator satirizes these efforts in his depiction of a Jewish literary salon: “Kontobetjenten forelæste Aladdin med samme Tone, som om det havde været hans Principals Kassebog, og med stærk jødisk Akcent” (171). In the case of Aladdin, the Jewish student Levy is unable to lose himself in this particular piece of Danish culture because his “oriental” heritage alerts him to the poem’s glaring attempts to domesticate the Eastern other. He says, “Man kan ikke et Øjeblik overlade sig til Illusionen i dette Værk, Ens Forstand bliver hvert Øjeblik ubehagelig berørt. Mustapha, Morgiane, Noureddin, Aladdin, o. s. v. falde hvert Øjeblik ud af deres Rolle som Østerlændere og tale som Kjøbenhavnere” (175).
The novel’s protagonist, Jacob Bendixen, finds himself unable to achieve any sort of synthesis with Danish Christian culture, even though this failure will cost him his beloved fiancée, Thora. Ultimately, Bendixen finds that it is not letters, but arms, that allow him to become integrated with the majority cultures of Europe, as he serves in the French army in Africa and fights for Polish independence against the Russians. Upon returning to Denmark, however, his culpability in Thora’s tragic death leads him to assume the stereotypical role of the Jewish usurer. Thus, although En Jøde shares the overarching concern of the Bildungsroman writ large, i.e., the individual’s integration with his (for the protagonist is traditionally a young man) milieu, Goldschmidt does not allow his novel to conclude with any sort of mediation between Bendixen and Danish Christian culture.
En Jøde, therefore, much like Kun en Spillemand and, to a certain extent, Enten – Eller, is an anti-Bildungsroman, in that it defers the sort of resolution (i.e., a worthy marriage) enjoyed by the titular protagonist of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. In this sense, Goldschmidt, like Andersen and Kierkegaard before him, ardently resists the idealist aesthetics propagated by Golden Age Denmark’s literary doyen, J. L. Heiberg.
Theme: Special session on Jewish Culture and Scandinavia