Shmuel Yosef Agnon

  • Issue: March 1981
  • Designer: R. Beckman
  • Stamp size: 25.7 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 10
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

"I was born on Tisha B'Av in the year 1888 in the town of Buczacz, Galicia; I immigrated to Eretz Yisrael on Lag B'Omer, 1908; a couple of years before the first World War I went to live in Germany; there was a fire at my house in Hamburg in 1923 and my books and writings were destroyed, among them a trilogy "Life Everlasting"; I returned to Eretz Yisrael at the beginning of 1924 where I hope to live out my days "until the Redeemer cometh, speedily in our days Amen"; I have written a number of books including "the Days of Awe". Thus, in a few words, Shmuel Yosef Agnon once summed up his life with the simplicity and modesty typical of one who was able to conjure up a whole world in a single phrase.

Shai Agnon was the first Hebrew writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, which gained him the recognition he deserved in the world at large. He was born in a townlet in Galicia, where he absorbed the Jewish values on which he based his themes, and acquired a knowledge of the language of the Bible and the Talmud on which his very personal style of writing was based. At an early age he began working as a journalist in Hebrew and Yiddish and signed his articles with his family name of Czaczkes.

Following his immigration to Eretz Yisrael in 1908 and his contacts with writers of the Second Aliya, his work took an interesting change of direction, this being after he had already gained recognition as a skilled story-teller blessed with a rich imagination.

His first story to be published in Eretz Yisrael was "Agu not" (Deserted Wives) from which he took his Hebrew name - Agnon. This was followed by the novella "And the Crooked shall be made straight" which made his reputation. Shai Agnon was influenced by the great Jewish writers of the diaspora at the time he lived in Germany, prior to and during the first World War and it was then that he developed his first published novel "The Bridal Canopy". His first novel, which had an autobiographical background, "Everlasting Life", perished in the fire and was never rewritten.

On his return to Eretz Yisrael he did not go back to his small room in the Newe Zedek quarter of Yafo (Jaffa) where he had written stories in the popular-chasidic style, but went to live in Jerusalem. However he was not left to write in peace for long - in 1929 Arab rioters pillaged his home in the Talpiotquarter. In thethirties he wrote three novels: "A Simple Tale", "A Guest for the Night" and "Etmol Shilshom" (Days Gone By). During the forties he applied himself to a wide range of subjects and completed his last novel "Shira" (published after his death) which tells an epic-ironic-romantic tale of Eretz Yisrael prior to the establishment of the State.

In each of his five novels, whose quality bear witness to Agnon's untiring pursuit of stylistic perfection, as well as throughout his prestigious other works, he demonstrates an unrivalled mastery of the Hebrew language in his use of the so-called Agnontic dialect - a unique form of Hebrew, rooted in traditional Jewish sources. Agnon is known in Hebrew literature as a master-craftsman in the dramatic development of his subjects and in the feeling he demonstrates towards his heroes. Whether he adopted a symbolic-grotesque approach or an idyllic-poetic technique, Agnon always remained true to himself as a very special writer whose works and whose soul formed a single entity derived from Jewish-national and human-universal values.

Since his death in 1979, Agnon has not been forgotten -on the contrary, his influence on Hebrew literature and on the reading public has grown.

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Shmuel Yosef Agnon