June ’11 in the Exponent: The Way-Side Inn; A Tale of Eighteen-Sixty-One

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Nearly a quarter-century into its existence, the Jewish Exponent remained a mixture of exceedingly short news blurbs, endless amounts of space devoted to speeches and a few oddities.

For example, the front cover of the June 9, 1911 Exponent featured five advertisements, a translated Johann Wolfgang Goethe poem, Weite Welt, and a lengthy fiction piece titled The Way-Side Inn, A Tale of Eighteen-Sixty-One written by Hannah Berman specifically for the newspaper.

“When Chanalle got married, her father gave her as dowry the wayside inn, which his father and grandfather has each in turn owned before him — the old inn which stood on the border of the forest of Minsk, a little away from the great high road leading to Vilna and Minsk and God knows what other cities beside,” the story begins.

We learn that Chanalle, described as a “dark, vivacious girl of twenty odd years” was happy to marry Isaac the Yeshiva student because she “felt in marrying Isaac she was on the right road to achieving the ambition of her life.”

That ambition wasn’t to be an innkeeper, but to instead learn the Talmud.

Happiness ensues in the long winter evenings as “she and Isaac would take down the books he would bring with him and they would read and read and read, until their eyes grew dim.”

But the story doesn’t end there, as Isaac begins to change, loses interest in learning and becomes a cruel master to the many serfs he oversees.

The story becomes a morality play that ends with a royal decree freeing the slaves, giving Chanalle a peace of mind that Isaac doesn’t share.

And that’s what passed for news in 1911.