Page 114 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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dealing with Shaw’s claim to have bettered Shakespeare because
he lived later, remarked: “Shaw always thought instinctively of
civilization as modern. He said he stood on Shakespeare’s
shoulders. But Shaw fell off Shakespeare’s shoulders with a
This is not apologizing for Zangwill. It is trying to deal with
the kind of comment I heard and read when my book on Zang-
will appeared. Dr. Grayzel, of the Jewish Publication Society,
in a very friendly review said he felt that “the newer generation
does not know Zangwill and certainly does not read him; his
name is merely an echo of a by-gone age.” Not long ago I received
an invitation to speak to a Jewish society here on “Is Israel
Zangwill Being Read?” I didn’t conduct a Gallup Poll to find
out how many read him. It may be that the subject was put to
me as a dare—“Now, really, does anyone read him?”
Of course Zangwill is not read today as he was when I was
young. But unfortunately none of the writers of his day is being
read in that way. How many read Meredith and Hardy? Or even
Wilde? St. John Ervine who published a book recently called
A Present -Time Appraisal of Oscar Wi lde
concluded that though
some of his plays are still performed, on the whole he has
dropped out.
Michael Ayrton, who as painter, sculptor, art critic and writer
has made a reputation as one of the best of the “moderns,” tells
us that in his day “Israel Zangwill was a very successful man of
letters. His novels ranked with those of Wells and his plays with
those of Shaw. He is out of fashion, but he has not vanished,
for he is certainly the greatest Jewish writer we can boast.”
Michael Ayrton happens to have been a kind of nephew of
Zangwill’s; his mother was half-sister to Zangwill’s wife. But I
am sure his judgment has not been affected by the relationship.
It has only given him a memory of Zangwill as a “brooding,
rather stooped, but also awe-inspiring man, with a sort of
oriental dignity—a person possessed of a certain power—and I
was aware of this long before I knew him as anything but an
As it happens, Zangwill is still read and studied today. I am
myself surprised by the number of enquiries I receive from stu-
dents not only in England, but in America and France and Italy
and Israel who ask me for specific points of information for the
theses they are writing on Zangwill. I am sure only a small
number of such students find their way to me. And writers of a
later generation than Zangwill’s or mine are finding interest in
him. Not everybody is so stupid as to dismiss Zangwill in the
way “a young Jew aged about twenty-three” dismissed him ac-
cording to a reviewer of my Zangwill book: “If the novels of