What did you expect?” Uri answered, laying the pen on the blotter. “My generation had only three places to go: Hitler’s oven, Ben-Gurion’s Palestine, or the Wonders of America. Most had no choice. I had one, so I was forced to pick. I made the wrong choice.
I cleared a place to sleep on the couch and found the manuscript, Die Hausfruedn, The House Friend, neatly arranged and fresh in appearance, as if that old letch had typed it just this morning. Holding the manuscript in my hand did little to alleviate my state.
I knew what the “house friend” meant in the lascivious circles which Goldfarb once orbited. The plot of The Hausfruend was the type of sexually free thinking philosophy which some Yiddishists practiced between the wars. For Yiddish speaking Jews such as Goldfarb, political and social philosophy had failed. They were not Hebraists and had no interest in pioneering the Land of Israel. They were not farmers or laborers. They worked at newspapers, wrote plays, novels, short stories and poems, and were slaves to a language which had the misfortune not to be spoken in any parliament or police station, court of law, barrack or scientific institute.
It was the language of religious instruction, domestic life, and the bedroom. And it was the last from which Yiddhistists like Goldfarb made their realm. Goldfarb and those like him took two-thousand years of rabbinical purity and conjugal injunction and threw them out the window, along with eating the flesh of animals with cloven hooves who do not chew upon their cud.
They swapped marriage partners, a husband took two wives or a wife took two husbands. Or, in Goldfarb’s case, as was his particular literary fixation, a man was invited into a marriage to be a “house friend” to his wife, a euphemism for a second husband. The wanton Carnovksy sister in his magnum opus had done just this: she had taken a husband under the chuppa and another was contracted in a café.
No matter the place, time, or setting, Goldfarb returned to this theme in his work, with the regularity of a tide. Polyandry was Goldfarb’s idée fixee between the pages of his fiction. But what about between the sheets? Goldfarb was an old man, after all, and surely he could not marshal the forces even of secondary husband?
Der Hausfreund had less restraint than its previous incarnations. The protagonist, simply called S., had less prowess in coupling with his wife than the younger house friend, the writer Alter. He watched his wife make love to the other man, furtively, from a crack in the wall next to the bureau. The narrator took a clinical, objective interest in his wife’s coordinated infidelity. Then, as the story mounted toward a climax, S. began to stroke Alter’s body as he made love to his wife. His wife coaxed him. She barked obscenities about God and the Torah to heighten the level of depravity.
I had met Mendele Goldbarb only this afternoon. I had read The Carnovsky Sisters several years ago, and that bulky work with many asides left little impression. What he said in Carnovsky in nearly half a million words he had accomplished in The House Friend in less than twenty-thousand. His characters were little more than mouthpieces for his depraved philosophy of the pursuit of pleasure. Then the story ended abruptly. Alter, the young man, is making love to Sonya, the matron. All the while the S., the husband, is entranced by the “jangling of bed-springs.” At the height of pleasure, Sonya, who keeps a loaded pistol in her dresser drawer, shoots S. dead.
We have passed through the first gate of the 49 Gates of Defilement, Sonia explains to her lover, who is standing next to her, both naked, above the hopeless corpse of S: willing cuckold, passive voyeur, latent homosexual, he had to endure the final indignity of having his corpse defiled as his wife copulated with Alter once again. The story ends with a piece of obscene theology: The God of Israel loves and kills, Sonya explain to Alter, our God is the greatest lover and killer.