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A Jew in the Public Arena

The Career of Israel Zangwill

Meri-Jane Rochelson

Biography, History, Jewish Studies, Language and Literature

Paperback
Published: February 2010
ISBN: 9780814334935
Pages: 352 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 22
eBOOK
Published: February 2010
ISBN: 9780814340837
Review

Rochelson ably guides readers through Zangwill's fiction and drama, highlighting its strengths and conceding its weaknesses, but even more importantly, she captures Zangwill's public career as a defender of Jews, a supporter of women's rights, and an opponent of militarism, linking these roles to themes in his short stories, novels, and plays.

— Todd Endelman

After winning an international audience with his novel Children of the Ghetto, Israel Zangwill went on to write numerous short stories, four additional novels, and several plays, including The Melting Pot. Author Meri-Jane Rochelson, a noted expert on Zangwill’s work, examines his career from its beginnings in the 1890s to the performance of his last play, We Moderns, in 1924, to trace how Zangwill became the best-known Jewish writer in Britain and America and a leading spokesperson on Jewish affairs throughout the world. In A Jew in the Public Arena, Rochelson examines Zangwill’s published writings alongside a wealth of primary materials, including letters, diaries, manuscripts, press cuttings, and other items in the vast Zangwill files of the Central Zionist Archives, to demonstrate why an understanding of Israel Zangwill’s career is essential to understanding the era that so significantly shaped the modern Jewish experience.

Once he achieved fame as an author and playwright, Israel Zangwill became a prominent public activist for the leading social causes of the twentieth century, including women’s suffrage, peace, Zionism, and the Jewish territorialist movement and rescue efforts. Rochelson shows how Zangwill’s activism and much of his literary output were grounded in a universalist vision of Judaism and a commitment to educate the world about Jews as a way of combating antisemitism. Still, Zangwill’s position in favor of creating a homeland for the Jews wherever one could be found (in contrast to mainstream Zionism’s focus on Palestine) and his apparent advocacy of assimilation in his play The Melting Pot made him an increasingly controversial figure. By the middle of the twentieth century his reputation had fallen into decline, and his work is unknown to many modern readers.

A Jew in the Public Arena looks at Zangwill’s literary and political activities in the context of their time, to make clear why he held such a place of importance in turn-of-the-century literary and political culture and why his life and work are significant today. Jewish studies scholars as well as students and teachers of late Victorian to Modernist British literature and culture will appreciate this insightful look at Israel Zangwill.

Meri-Jane Rochelson is professor of English at Florida International University.

In her thoughtful, well-researched, and highly readable biography, Meri-Jane Rochelson argues that retrospective efforts to identify some underlying unity in Zangwill's ideological eclecticism have been artificial and unpersuasive."

– Matthew Silver

Rochelson ably guides readers through Zangwill's fiction and drama, highlighting its strengths and conceding its weaknesses, but even more importantly, she captures Zangwill's public career as a defender of Jews, a supporter of women's rights, and an opponent of militarism, linking these roles to themes in his short stories, novels, and plays."

– Todd Endelman, William Haber Professor of Modern Jewish History, University of Michigan

Meri-Jane Rochelson's stellar literary biography of this author dubbed the 'Jewish Dickens' provides a uniquely rich backdrop for unfolding Zangwill's life as a modern man of letters. A Jew in the Public Arena brings together with intellectual acumen his impact on late-Victorian and early twentieth-century feminism, literature, Zionism, and print culture history."

– Susan David Bernstein, Sally Mead Hands Bascom Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison

…drawing upon letters, diaries, manuscripts and Anglo-American newspaper reports, Meri-Jane Rochelson's A Jew in the Public Arena: The Career of Israel Zangwill is a highly signification addition to works on Zangwill's fiction. . . . Rochelson's well-written work demonstrates that she is the leading authority on Zangwill.

– This Year's Work in English Studies

From the Victorian fin de siècle to the 1920s, Israel Zangwill commanded great authority in many spheres of literary production and political activism. Today he is mostly remembered for his magnificent novel of Jewish life in London's East End, Children of the Ghetto (1892), and his stirring play about assimilation in America, The Melting Pot (1908). Rochelson's imposing research firmly establishes Zangwill's central position as an indisputably gifted world writer whose understanding of feminist politics, pacifism, cultural migration, intermarriage, and the growing forces of antisemitism were of far-reaching historical significance."

– Joseph Bristow, professor of English at University of California-Los Angeles<br />