Text size

Lilach Netanel, 32, is a scholar of Hebrew and Yiddish literature; she teaches these subjects in the department of Jewish literature at Bar-Ilan University. Before becoming involved in Hebrew literature, she spent six years in Paris, obtaining undergraduate and master's degrees in French literature. In 2007, she returned to Israel with her partner and decided to specialize in Hebrew and Yiddish literature. "To come from the National Library in Paris, where you have to wear gloves and bring only a pencil when entering the manuscripts room, and then make the move to Genazim was a significant change," she says.

In 2008, Netanel published a novel called "The Hebrew Condition." Three years later she completed her doctoral dissertation, which dealt with Vogel as a multilingual writer. She is about to publish a new novel, "The Old Homeland," which is written, she explains, in the tradition of the early 20th century but is set at the beginning of the 21st century. The book reverses the preoccupation of the old literature with immigration to Palestine by dealing with "negative" immigration - back to Europe.

As in "The Hebrew Condition," the plot of the new novel is not linear. Her position outside the central path of sequential prose leaves her on the margins of Israeli literature, so much so that publication of her second novel is accompanied by hesitations and delays on her part. "I feel that my fiction writing is a burden, a kind of hump, and is marginal and slightly experimental from the outset."

The two years in which she kept the secret of her literary discovery have now given way to almost feverish speech, an explosion of long pent-up energy. "I will have to go into analysis," she says, "because now I can talk about it, the prohibition has been lifted.

"This story also ties you very intensively to the person," she adds, "in the form of the contact with his manuscript, with the erasures and the hesitations that we tend to exclude from literature. There is a genuine choreography here, you see the movement of the hand. The result is to create a vital connection, maybe too much so, with the man."

Netanel acknowledges that at certain moments she has a tendency to talk about Vogel and treat him as though they are personally acquainted. "For the past four or five years I have really felt that I am in a relationship with him," she says.

Do you feel you actually know him after having perused the raw manuscript?

"I know him enough to know that he would be shocked if he knew that a woman was poking around in his archive of writings and removing from it the youthful novel he shelved and concealed. Not only a woman, but a pregnant woman - he would not abide that."

Why would he be shocked by the fact that a woman is involved?

"Vogel devoted his work to dealing with this 'problem' of sexual difference. It's not that it bothered him - it terrified him. You see it in 'Married Life' and you see it even more trenchantly in 'Viennese Romance,' this attempt to differentiate between the whore and the mother, which are horrific stereotypes that it hurts me even to utter. There is one passage that is narratively brilliant, but the problem is that I'm not sure Vogel himself was aware of its comic potential. It's when the husband of Rost's older-woman lover explains to him the types of women that exist. It's a terribly funny bit."

Another scandalous element related to "Viennese Romance," Netanel says, is the degree to which it was influenced by the anti-Semitic, misogynistic work "Sex and Character," published by Otto Weininger, who committed suicide in 1903:"If you compare the two portrait photographs, you see a frightening visual likeness. Vogel apparently read 'Sex and Character.' It's apparent in 'Married Life' in the masculine woman and the breastfeeding man, for example. Until now we could not find Weininger concretely in Vogel's work, but in the new novel Vogel has one of the characters quote from Weininger and he mentions a poet of genius who shot himself. This novel often causes a sense of revulsion in regard to the characterization of the men and women."

Dr. Oded Menda-Levi, from Tel Aviv University, takes issue with Netanel's view of Vogel's treatment of women, at least regarding his well-known works. "The whole subject of married life should be seen in the context of the theme of the vampire woman in expressionist literature. We also have to remember this was a different period, with different norms. Vogel, who was introverted and reticent, was a very instinctual person, particularly as a young man. I think that to fashion a character like Gina in 'Facing the Sea,' one has to love women - she is a sublime character. On the other hand, Thea, in 'Married Life,' is a caricature, an unimportant character."