Black Dobbe is Dr. Fischelson’s only neighbor in his garret apartment. A “spinster,” she is described as:
“tall and lean, and as black as a baker’s shovel. She had a broken nose and there was a mustache on her upper lip. She spoke with the hoarse voice of a man and she wore men’s shoes.”
Black Dobbe sells cracked eggs in the market place. She “had no luck with men.” Several times, she had been engaged, but each one was eventually broken off. She has a cousin in America, who writes her promises to send for her, but this seems to be an empty gesture, as he never does. When Black Dobbe knocks on Dr. Fischelson’s door to ask him to read a letter to her (she cannot read), she discovers him sick in bed. She nurses him back to health, and encourages their engagement by demonstrating her trousseau. On their wedding night, Black Dobbe unleashes a long-neglected passion on her new husband, which causes him to betray his adherence to Spinozan rational philosophy.
Dr. Nahum Fischelson
Dr Nahum Fischelson is the protagonist of the story. He is a philosophy scholar whose life has been devoted to working on a book about one of the Dutch-Jewish philosopher Benedict de Spinoza’s (1632-1677) primary texts, Ethics. Dr. Fischelson is described as:
“a short, hunched man with a grayish beard—quite bald except for a few wisps of hair remaining at the nape of his neck. His nose was as crooked as a beak and his eyes were large, dark, and fluttering like those of some huge bird.”
He has been outcast from his synagogue because of his philosophical skepticism regarding Judaism. He lives in a garret room on Market Street, a center of Jewish community and commerce, in Warsaw, Poland. As his life has been preoccupied with, and dictated by, the philosophical thinking of Spinoza, his life has been one of social isolation and abstention from physical or material pleasure. When he falls sick one night, his neighbor, Black Dobbe, an “old maid,” discovers him and nurses him back to health. The two are soon married by a rabbi in the synagogue, to the surprise and amusement of the community. On their wedding night, the sick old man and the old maid make passionate love, thus causing Dr. Fischelson to renounce his devotion to the teachings of Spinoza, which disdain such indulgences.
Dr. Hildesheimer is a famous scholar with whom Dr. Fischelson corresponds daily. Dr. Hildesheimer influences the Berlin Jewish community to support Dr. Fischelson with a subsidy of five hundred marks per year.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Published by Gale Group, 2001.