Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 10 (1951-1952)

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J EWI SH BOOK ANNUAL
38
was not the fear of Christian opinion, but their own self-hate
and self-depreciation.
Another reason, perhaps, for the gradual obsolescence of Zangwill
is his withdrawal from active Zionist leadership. If the first
characteristic of his work alienated the euthanasian Jews, the
second offended the self-asserting and self-accepting Jews. Zangwill
was one of those who believed that the British offer of Uganda
should be seriously regarded, and who virtually seceded from the
Zionist movement when, as a result of the revolt of the Russian
Jews, it would consider no territory but Palestine for large scale
Jewish settlement. History has proved how wrong Zangwill was,
for in all the years of his activity in the Jewish Territorial Organi-
zation, which he organized, he never succeeded in finding a place
that could even be taken seriously as an alternative to Palestine.
In an age of strong political feeling, such as the world has been
through these past twenty-five years, ideological standards have
been widely applied to literary works. A writer who is not
politically kosher is quietly, and sometimes vehemently, boycotted.
If Zangwill has indeed been black listed for his withdrawal from
the Zionist movement, the time has come to reinstate him, for
it is my conviction that only out of love — mistaken, misguided,
unreal, perhaps romantic love — of Zion did he cease to be a
“Zionist.”
A third reason for the neglect of Israel Zangwill has nothing
to do with his Jewish attitudes: it grows out of the fact that he
was a typical Victorian novelist. The modern novel does not, as
a rule, shrink from detailed descriptions of the most sordid and
revolting aspects of life. Zangwill dealt with slums and poverty
too, but in his stories one cannot smell the dirt, nor catch the
accents of vulgar speech. The modern novel cannot exist without
a good, strong dose of sex. In Zangwill, one almost forgets that
sex operates at all. For the contemporary reader, therefore,
Zangwill is “old fashioned.” Perhaps, however, like styles in hats
and dresses, Zangwill’s books will come back into fashion.
The facts of Israel Zangwill’s life are easily set down. He was
born in 1864, in London. He moved to Bristol early in life, but
he was soon back in London as a teacher in the Hebrew Free
School, a parochial institution. While teaching, he studied at the
University of London. He was only twenty-eight when he pub-
lished
Children of the Ghetto
and
Ghetto Tragedies.
In 1894, he
wrote
King of the Schnorrers
; in 1898
Dreamers of the Ghetto
appeared; in 1907,
Ghetto Comedies.
Zangwill was, obviously, a
man of prodigious skill; but, as he declared in an interview, he
was no “genius.” “If I owe success to anything, it was to sheer
industry.”