The title character is an exceptionally talented itinerant klezmer violinist who seduces a woman in every town he visits. In one town, while playing at a wedding, he is attracted to one of the guests, Rachel, a talented singer. She, discontented with her marriage to the boring Moyshe-Mendl, finds herself drawn in by Stempenyu's music, who likewise finds his love for her an escape from his jealous and miserly wife Freydl. Stempenyu sends Rachel an almost illiterate love letter; she agrees to meet him, ostensibly to chide him for writing it but also because she is fascinated by him. However, a vision of her friend Chaya-Etel, who had been married against her will and then died, appears and she flees. She and her husband move to a different town, where they have a child and he becomes a successful businessman; Stempenyu and Freydl remain unhappily married and childless, though she also becomes a successful shopkeeper.
The novel is dedicated to S. Y. Abramovitz, who appears as "Mendele the Bookpeddler." It was adapted in 1905 as the play Jewish Daughters (Yidishe tekhter).
- Freedman, Jonathan (2008). Klezmer America: Jewishness, ethnicity, modernity. Columbia University Press. pp. 76–79.
- Frieden, Ken (1995). "Stempenyu". Classic Yiddish fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz. SUNY Press. pp. 144–148.
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