Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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109
L
e f tw ic h
— I
sra el
Z
a ngw il l
Israel Zangwill are dreary beyond belief, his plays are even
worse.”
St. John Ervine wrote to me about the time this peremptory
verdict was being delivered: “It happens that I am writing one
or two articles about the gods of our generation, and 1 shall
exclaim with delight that Meredith, Hardy, Shaw, Wells, Barrie,
James, Galsworthy, Bennett, Conrad, Zangwill and a host of
other writers were all alive simultaneously. When I told some-
one much my junior about my intention he said, ‘Oh, we don’t
read them now.’ I was so dumb-founded that I wrote to the
chief librarians of Great Britain and North Ireland, and they
confirmed what the young person said. So you see the heroes
of our age are the dust and ashes of the next. But of course the
next generation will have the joy of rediscovering our crowd. I
am now re-reading Dickens. And I find myself wishing that some
of the lads who are telling their elders where they get off could
write a tenth as well as he did.”
He went on to speak of some of the lads, and mentioned
Wolf Mankowitz. He liked his story of the unicorn in White-
chapel, “A Kid for Two Farthings.” “I think he has quality,”
he said. “If I am right about him, and he is destined to become
distinguished, he will cop it good and hard from his juniors.”
I t is interesting to go from this to a notice in the London gen-
eral Press of Mankowitz’s film from “Kid for Two Farthings” :
“A film that will remind older readers of Zangwill’s
Children of
the Ghet to .”
To proceed further to what Mankowitz himself has
to say of Zangwill: “Of course Zangwill is Anglo-Jewry’s greatest
writer. But then Anglo-Jewry doesn’t have many writers to
choose from. Zangwill is an important, serious and highly tal-
ented writer who does not lose by being objectively evaluated.
The conversion of Zangwill into a sacred cow does the writer
more harm than any objective assessment.”
1 have no quarrel with that. “I am not likely to be suspected
of under-rating Zangwill,” I wrote in the
Jewish Mon th ly
in
1950; “but it does not do Zangwill any good to pretend that he
is more than he is.” Zangwill did not himself claim to be an
immortal. A year before he died he wrote of his works as belong-
ing “to the despised Victorian era,” and said he found it gratify-
ing that they had survived so long “the annual avalanche of
myriads of new books, and the distractions of an age increas-
ingly oblivious of yesterday.”
I said I do not know how many people still read Zangwill.
But when I went to America a few years ago I found his books
were in the Queen Mary library and were constantly out, being
read by the passengers. St. John Ervine was right when he
wrote that Zangwill’s books are “overflowing with life.” Surely
it is the life of a book, its living people, that hold the reader’s