Page 120 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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B
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give his conclusion: “I began by being critical of Zangwill. I
believe this to be justified in his own interest. I believe that
our young people need Zangwill” (that much for his being out-
dated!). “We must pass on his best work to them. And they will
not believe us if we ask them to over-value his lesser work. Of
one thing 1 am sure. Great or not, major or minor, he has not
been equalled by any other Jewish writer in the English Ian-
guage.”
More recently Baron wrote to me about an idea he wanted
to put forward to make a selection of Jewish books in all lan-
guages of “lasting power.” “There would be only a few,” he
thought, and he made a short list of those he wanted to nomi-
nate. Of course, he said, “I would include
Chi ldren of the
Ghet to.
Its individual portraits are simple in the sense that many
of Dickens’s characters are simple, and that folk literature is
simple, but you and I know that this picture of a small Jewish
world, for all its uniqueness—because of its uniqueness—is also
a picture of all humanity.” In another letter Baron adds very
sensibly: “You come back to the essential point again when you
remind us that a book must be judged by the degree to which
it rests on the abiding elements of human life.”
Since Baron speaks only of
Children of the Ghet to
I would
like to add from an article Emanuel Litvinoff wrote when
K ing
of Schnorrers
was republished: “It succeeds remarkably in creat-
ing the feel of a whole society. In a few well-chosen comic
episodes Zangwill provides an insight into the social attitudes,
snobberies and prejudices of the time. His Manasseh Bueno da
Costa is a royal character, indeed, written up with Dickensian
gusto and invention. It could be objected that he is the only
character in the book; that the rest exist only as foils for his
brilliance; but one Manasseh is worth a score of the average
characters one encounters in fiction. Nothing wittier or more
elegant has been written about English Jewish history.” I agree.
I t is the opinion I have expressed in print several times that
Zangwill’s King of Schnorrers is one of the great comic figures
of literature, and in Jewish literature on a par with Shalom
Aleichem’s Menachem Mendel, who like the King lives in a
world of grand illusions, both with their resemblances to Don
Quixote. Tha t is what the dramatic critic of the
Dai ly Telegraph
said when
K ing of Schnorrers
was played in London in 1950,
“a cross between Don Quixote and Baron Munchausen.”
Charles Angoff in America feels as I do about Zangwill. He
has brought him into his own books. His hero, David Polonsky,
“felt closer to the writings of such men as Zangwill and Abe
Cahan than to the pieces in the
Transcript
and to the works of
Longfellow and Whittier and Lowell. He was about to say to
himself, ‘and Poe and Hawthorne and Melville and Whitman,’