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203 ISRAEL ZANGWILL: GHETTO REALIST AND ROMANCER By Elsie B. Adams (Wisconsin State University - Whitewater) In I892 a young English writer, Israel Zangwill, produced a realistic novel of life in the London ghetto, and his fame seemed assured . Critics predicted for him a brilliant future: "What he will be in another ten years, if he continues to develop at the rate of the last three, passes comprehension," one wrote in 1894. He was hailed as "The Dickens of the ghetto," "one of the foremost among the band of modern writers," "In the front rank of English novelists," "one of the mightiest intellects of modern times."2 Ironically, this extravagant praise was accorded a writer who today is only a footnote in English literary history and is known and read only by specialists In late Victorian literature or students of Jewish history. Zangwill began his literary career with the publication In 1888 of a "fantastic romance," The Premier and the Painter. Written in collaboration with Louis Cowen, a teacher with Zangwill at the Jews' Free School in London, this book satirizes English politics by showing what happens when a Radical working man and a Tory prime minister change roles: the self-assured, dynamic, Philistine sign painter makes an eminently successful premier, whereas the philosophical premier is a failure not only in politics but also In his personal life. The book, with its scathing satire, literary parody, and hilarious comic scenes, was an impressive beginning . It was, however, generally Ignored. Zangwill's first recognition came rather from his Journalistic writing and his association with the "New Humour.*1 In the early 1890's he edited a humorous paper, Ariel, and wrote for Jerome K. Jerome's humor magazine . The Idler; and in I89I he published in Henry and Company's Library of Wit and Humour The Bachelors' Club, a collection of humorous sketches about would-be bachelors falling before Cupid's arrows. With the publication of this book, Zangwill says, "I crossed Fleet Street and stepped Into what is called «success.tni The Bachelors' Club was succeeded by a companion piece. The Old Maids' Club (1892TT and both were later published as The Celibates' cTüb (1Õ Õ 9o7. Though Zangwill's work In the "New Humour" brought him his first success in the nineties. It is his realistic ghetto fiction that makes him worth reading today. When the newly founded Jewish Publication Society of America commissioned Zangwill to write a "Jewish Robert Elsmere." the result was his most famous book. Children of the Ghetto (1892). Like Mrs. Humphrey Ward's Robert Elsmere. Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto has as Its central theme the collapse of traditional values and the consequent search for a new and meaningful religion. But Zangwill's novel transcends its model. In the recreation of life in the late nineteenth-century 204 London ghetto, focussing on the struggle between orthodox Jewish immigrants and their Anglo-Jewish children, Zangwill found a metaphor for a universal struggle - that of the old versus the young, of tradition versus change. Children of the Ghetto develops what was to become Zangwill's major theme: the psychic disorientation resulting when the young cut themselves loose from traditional ties, In Zangwill the children of the ghetto reject their parents' orthodoxy at a tremendous spiritual cost; and they invariably return to the ghetto - to family and to synagogue - to begin their quest for spiritual rehabilitation. Zangwill knew this struggle at first hand: he was himself the son of Immigrant parents; he was born and grew up in the Whitechapel ghetto, and his education (at the Jews' Free School and at London University) made of him both an Englishman and a Jew. Like his protagonists, he gave up his orthodox Judaism, but he too returned to the ghetto for spiritual values: his work Is permeated with the values of Judaism, with its emphasis on family and social responsibility and its faith in the unity of God. Zangwill found in the ghetto the richest materials for his art. His ghetto fiction Includes, in addition to Children of the Ghetto. three collections of short stories (Ghetto Tragedies. 1893; They That Walk In Darkness, 1899; and Ghetto Comedies. 1907), and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 203-209
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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