Page 110 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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I S R A E L Z A N G W I L L
On the Threshold of His Centenary
By
J
o s e p h
L
e f t w i c h
O
n e
could
no t
write of Zangwill today without an aware-
ness that in under a year, on January 21, 1964, it will be
his centenary. A hundred years after a man’s birth is a goo
time for attempting an appraisal of his work and of his place
in the world. A few years ago I tried to do this in my book
on Zangwill, published in America by Yoseloff and in England
by James Clarke; and my feeling about him is summed up on
the jacket, in a quotation taken from the closing pages of the
book. I shall not repeat that whole page; only these few lines:
“I can name a dozen of Zangwill’s books that should and I
believe will live. They have truth enough and genius enough to
justify his continuing place in English literature.”
For that is indeed the test—does Zangwill still live in English
literature? In his own day he occupied a considerable position in
the English literature of the time. Holbrook Jackson, his con-
temporary, who wrote
The 1890’s,
the period in which he began,
found “Israel Zangwill, son of a Russian Jew, mastering English
life and literature, and taking his place in English letters.” And
when Zangwill’s place came to rest on his Jewish books, Hoi-
brook Jackson’s feeling was still, as he told me years after Zang-
will’s death, that he belongs to and must be judged as English
literature; and he placed him there with the Scottish James
Barrie as part of English “regional writing.” Zangwill took the
same view himself, equating his “English Yiddish books” with
the “dialect novels of Scottish and Irish and English regional
writers.” I find it therefore in line with my thought to have the
Church Times
writing,
“Chi ldren of the Ghet to
has a lasting
place in English literature.” When I spoke of
Chi ldren of the
Ghet to
as the book that “when time has done its work will
stand out as the quintessential Zangwill,” I added: “Not because
it is Jewish and I am a Jew, but because drawing the Jews of
London he had drawn a picture of London, a part of England,
of the world, of humanity, that he has lifted to the plane of the
shoreless, the timeless, the truly human and universal.”
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