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Literature / The New Job

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Der Neue Hiob or The New Job (that's "Job" as in the Book of Job) is an 1878 German-language novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It tells the story of Theofil Pisarenko, a peasant in eastern Galicia (present-day Ukraine) as his life is impacted by nineteenth-century political upheavals and personal tragedies alike.

An English translation by Harriet Liebér Cohen was published in 1891. It can be read here.

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This novel provides examples of:

  • Author Appeal: It's not a huge part of the story, but one or two whip-wielding aristocratic women do turn up over the course of the book.
  • Author Tract: Sacher-Masoch's anti-Polish, pro-Austrian political views shine through very clearly here.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: One character is baptized — sacramentally "reborn" — just before dying of injuries.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Theofil marries his childhood friend Xenia.
  • Cradle To Grave Character: The story begins at Theofil's birth and ends with him in his eighties.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: As befits a character called the "new Job," Theofil's life is marked by suffering and reversal. Some of these events, like his entire family dying of cholera, are fairly well set up and foreshadowed. Others, like the plague of locusts or his mysterious illness late in the book, seem to come out of nowhere.
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  • Greedy Jew: Most of the book's Jewish characters are presented in a generally negative light, including being greedy and exploitative. This is atypical for the author, who in real life (and in many of his other works) was a serious philo-Semite.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Nikulina, an incredibly sweet-natured orphan girl who becomes Theofil's housekeeper and then marries him.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Teenage Theofil's Jewish girlfriend, Joadan, is shunned by the Jewish community and eventually killed because she wants to convert to Christianity and marry a Christian boy.
  • House Fey: When Theofil starts coming home at night to find his housework done, he is not quite superstitious enough to think of fairies, but he does suspect he's been visited by an angel. It's actually being done by an orphan who stole food from him when she was starving and wants to pay him back.
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  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Christian gentile Theofil falls in love with Jewish girl Joadan. Among his people, it causes no worse than raised eyebrows, especially since he manages to convert her to Christianity. Her family and community have a more violent reaction.
  • A Mythology Is True: Theofil's folk-Catholicism lends itself to actual manifestations of the supernatural.
    • A vision leads him to Joadan in time to baptize her before she dies. (In a footnote, the author informs us that "Visions as well as presentiments are very common among the [Ukrainians].")
    • Late in the book, Theofil has an extended spiritual experience... which also miraculously cures his blindness.
  • Never Learned to Read: Theofil learns to read and write very late in life.
  • Out of Focus: Theofil's little sister. She lives in the same household as Theofil for her entire life, but is mentioned rarely, and then only in passing. Lampshaded in her first appearance, which acknowledges that she grew up "with about as much attention bestowed upon her as upon the chickens, the calf, and the colt."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Theofil's time in the military. He joins up, goes to Austria, fits in well enough but is homesick, impulsively decides to go AWOL one Christmas, manages to see his family but is quickly caught and punished, serves out the rest of his stint, and... just goes back to the farm. None of this really affects the subsequent plot.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Near the end of the book, Theofil suffers from an illness which leaves him mostly blind. He is finally cured by a miracle.

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