Page 111 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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105
L
e f tw ic h
— I
srael
Z
a ngw il l
Yet Zangwill worked on two planes—as well as being an Eng-
lish writer he was a Jewish writer in the full sense of that word,
even though his language was English and not Yiddish or He-
brew. No less a Yiddish writer than Sholem Asch has called
Chi ldren of the Ghet to , Dreamers of the Ghet to
and the
K ing
of Schnorrers
“classics of Jewish literary creation, which strongly
influenced all Jewish literature.” He acknowledged his own debt
to Zangwill, as he acknowledged his debt to Peretz. “Zangwill
is not below Peretz or Shalom Aleichem,” he said. “He is the
classic of Jewish literature in English.” To me Sholem Asch
spoke of Zangwill as a Jewish folk writer as much as those who
wrote in Yiddish, his folk being the foreign Jews in White-
chapel, his father and his father’s compatriots who had come
from the old home in the Russian Pale and had brought their
language and their folk ways and their folk memories and their
folk stories with them. Zangwill sublimated them into English
literature.
Dr. Nachman Syrkin, Yiddish writer and founder of Socialist
Zionism, raised Zangwill’s place even higher, saying “Zangwill
was the first to lift up the Ghetto to greatness. In Mendele,” he
said, “the Ghetto life is a life of foolishness, darkness, misery and
fear, and being saved from this life is salvation. The children
of the Ghetto were to leave no children in the Ghetto. Sholem
Asch has no Ghetto, no children of the Ghetto, only the Jewish
township. Israel Zangwill is the poet of the Ghetto.”
After Thirty-seven Years
How has Zangwill worn in the thirty-seven years since his
death? I don’t think his reputation stood high when he died in
1926. He was one of the men the new movement in writing in
the 20’s tried to shoulder aside. It was the period of D. H. Law-
rence, James Joyce, T . S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley,
and “they were in revolt against the realism of the novelists who
were the great popular gods of the pre-war generation, Gals-
worthy, Wells, Bennett. Virginia Woolf attacked their whole out-
look.” Shaw, too, and Chesterton and Belloc and Zangwill were
among those the new movement wanted to displace. It was the
time in poetry of Auden and Day Lewis and Spender. They had
also started a New Drama movement, and running at its side
was the Communist Unity Theatre group whose lasting contribu-
tion has been the presentation of that true genius, Sean O’Casey.
There were also in that new movement E. M. Forster (his
Passage to India
appeared in 1924), George Orwell and Dylan
Thomas, though the last two belonged properly to the 30’s. By
1928, two years after Zangwill’s death, Storm Jameson was writ-
ing of Wells, Bennett and Galsworthy as “half-legendary figures.”