1864–1926

Introduction

Born: Jan­u­a­ry 21, 1864, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Died: Au­gust 1, 1926, Mid­hurst, West Sus­sex, Eng­land.

portrait

Biography

Zangwill’s par­ents were Jew­ish im­mi­grants from czar­ist Rus­sia: Mos­es Zang­will from what is now Latv­ia, and Ell­en Han­nah Marks from what is now Poland. His brother was also a writer, the novelist Louis Zangwill, and his son was the prominent British psychologist, Oliver Zangwill.

Israel de­di­cat­ed his life to cham­pi­on­ing the cause of the op­pressed. Jew­ish eman­ci­pa­tion, wo­men’s suf­frage, as­sim­i­la­tion­ism, ter­ri­tor­i­al­ism and Zi­on­ism were all fe­rtile fields for his pen.

Zangwill re­ceived his ear­ly school­ing in Ply­mouth and Bris­tol. When he was nine years old, he was en­rolled in the Jews’ Free School in Spi­tal­fields in east Lon­don, a school for Jew­ish im­mi­grant child­ren. The school of­fered a strict course of both se­cu­lar and re­li­gious stu­dies while sup­ply­ing cloth­ing, food, and health care for the stu­dents; to­day one of its four houses is named Zang­will in his hon­or.

At this school, Zang­will ex­celled, and ev­en taught part-time, mov­ing up to be­come a full-fledged teach­er. While teach­ing, he stu­died for his de­gree, earn­ing a BA with tri­ple hon­ors in 1884 from the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Lon­don.

In lat­er life, Zang­will’s friends in­clud­ed well known Vic­tor­i­an writ­ers such as Je­rome K. Je­rome and H. G. Wells.

Zangwill wrote a ve­ry in­flu­en­tial no­vel, Child­ren of the Ghet­to: A Stu­dy of a Pe­cul­iar Peo­ple (1892). The use of the phrase melti­ng pot to de­scribe Am­er­i­can ab­sorp­tion of im­mi­grants was po­pu­lar­ized by Zang­will’s play The Mel­ting Pot, a hit in Am­er­i­ca in 1909–10.

When The Melt­ing Pot op­ened in Wash­ing­ton, DC, Oc­to­ber 5, 1909, form­er Pre­si­dent The­o­dore Roo­se­velt leaned ov­er the edge of his box and shout­ed, That’s a great play, Mr. Zang­will, that’s a great play.

In 1912 Zang­will re­ceived a let­ter from Roo­se­velt in which Roo­se­velt wrote of The Melt­ing Pot as That par­ti­cu­lar play I shall al­ways count among the ve­ry strong and real in­flu­enc­es up­on my thought and my life.

The he­ro of the play, Da­vid, em­i­grates to Am­er­i­ca in the wake of the Kish­i­nev po­grom in which his en­tire fa­mi­ly is killed. He writes a great sym­ph­ony called The Cru­ci­ble ex­press­ing his hope for a world in which all eth­ni­ci­ty has melt­ed away. He falls in love with a beau­ti­ful Rus­sian Chris­tian im­mi­grant named Ve­ra.

The dra­ma­tic peak of the play is the mo­ment when Da­vid meets Ve­ra’s father, who turns out to be the Rus­sian of­fi­cer re­spon­si­ble for the an­ni­hi­la­tion of Da­vid’s fa­mi­ly. Ve­ra’s fa­ther ad­mits his guilt, the sym­pho­ny is pe­rformed to ac­co­lades, and Da­vid and Ve­ra live hap­pi­ly ev­er af­ter. Or, at least they agree to wed and kiss as the cur­tain falls.

Zangwill wrote ma­ny oth­er plays, in­clud­ing Child­ren of the Ghet­to (1899), a dra­ma­ti­za­tion of his no­vel, di­rect­ed on Broad­way by James A. Herne, and star­ring Blanche Bates, Ada Dwy­er, and Wil­ton Lack­aye; Mere­ly Mary Ann (1903) and Nurse Mar­jo­rie (1906), both di­rect­ed by Charles Cart­wright and star­ring El­ea­nor Rob­son.

Dan­i­el Fro­hman pro­duced Zang­will’s 1904 The Ser­i­o-Co­mic Gov­er­ness, fea­tur­ing Ce­cil­ia Lof­tus, Kate Pat­ti­son-Selt­en, and Ju­lia Dean. In 1931, Jules Furth­man adapt­ed Mere­ly Mary Ann for a Ja­net Gay­nor film.

Zangwill’s si­mu­la­tion of Yid­dish sen­tence struc­ture in Eng­lish aroused great in­ter­est. He al­so wrote mys­ter­ies, such as The Big Bow Mys­te­ry, and so­cial sa­tire such as The King of Schnorr­ers (1894), a pi­ca­resque no­vel (lat­er a short-lived mu­sic­al co­me­dy in 1979). His Dream­ers of the Ghet­to (1898) in­cludes es­says on fa­mous Jews such as Ba­ruch Spi­no­za, Hein­rich Heine and Fer­di­nand Las­salle.

The Big Bow Mys­te­ry was the first locked room mur­der novel. It has been al­most con­tin­u­ous­ly in print since 1891, and has been used as the basis for three com­mer­cial films. An­o­ther wide­ly pro­duced play was The Lens Grind­er, based on the life of Ba­ruch Spi­no­za.

In po­li­tics, Zang­will sup­port­ed the fe­mi­nist and pa­ci­fist move­ments. He was al­so in­volved in Jew­ish is­sues as an as­sim­i­la­tion­ist, an ear­ly Zi­on­ist, and a ter­ri­tor­i­al­ist. Zang­will left the Zi­on­ist mov­ement in 1905 to lead the Ter­ri­tor­i­al­ist move­ment, ad­vo­cat­ing a Jew­ish home­land in what­ev­er piece of land might be avail­a­ble.

Zangwill is in­cor­rect­ly known for coin­ing the slo­gan A land with­out a peo­ple for a peo­ple with­out a land, de­scrib­ing Zi­on­ist as­pir­a­tions in the Bib­li­cal land of Is­ra­el. What Zang­will ac­tu­al­ly wrote, in the New Li­ber­al Re­view in De­cem­ber, 1901, was Pal­es­tine is a coun­try with­out a peo­ple; the Jews are a peo­ple with­out a coun­try.

Zangwill, who had vis­it­ed Pa­les­tine, knew that it did con­tain a po­pu­la­tion, though a fair­ly small one. What he meant by call­ing it a land with­out a peo­ple is that there was at that time no eth­nic group iden­ti­fy­ing it­self as any par­ti­cu­lar na­tion­al group and that it was un­der­po­pu­lat­ed, as most tra­vel­ers at the time agreed. The peo­ple then liv­ing in Pa­les­tine un­der the Ot­to­man Em­pire thought of them­selves as Ar­ab, Greek, Cir­cas­si­an, and so forth. Those iden­ti­fy­ing as Ar­abs iden­ti­fied with their ci­ties, vil­lag­es or tribe, or with the wid­er re­gion of Syr­ia, Bi­lad al-Sham, en­com­pass­ing what are now Jor­dan, Syr­ia, Le­ba­non, Is­ra­el and the Pa­les­tin­i­an ter­ri­tor­ies. Zang­will, how­ev­er, did not in­vent the phrase; he ack­now­ledged bor­row­ing it from Lord Shaftes­bu­ry.

During the lead-up to the Cri­me­an War in 1854, which sig­naled an op­en­ing for re­align­ments in the Near East in Ju­ly 1853, Shaftes­bu­ry wrote to For­eign Min­is­ter Ab­er­deen that Great­er Syri­a was a coun­try with­out a na­tion in need of a na­tion with­out a coun­try…Is there such a thing? To be sure there is, the an­cient and right­ful lords of the soil, the Jews!

In his di­a­ry that year he wrote, these vast and fer­tile re­gions will soon be with­out a rul­er, with­out a known and ack­now­ledged pow­er to claim do­min­ion. The ter­ri­to­ry must be as­signed to some one or oth­er…There is a coun­try with­out a nation; and God now in his wis­dom and mer­cy, di­rects us to a na­tion with­out a coun­try.

After hav­ing for a time sup­port­ed The­o­dor Herzl, in­clud­ing pre­sid­ing ov­er a meet­ing at the Mac­ca­bea­n Club in Lon­don, ad­dressed by Herzl on No­vem­ber 24, 1895, and sup­port­ing the main Pa­les­tine-or­i­ent­ed Zi­on­ist move­ment, Zang­will broke away from the es­tab­lished move­ment and found­ed his own or­gan­i­za­tion, called the Jew­ish Ter­ri­tor­i­al­ist Or­gan­i­za­tion in 1905. Its aim was to create a Jew­ish home­land in what­ev­er ter­ri­to­ry in the world could be found (not ne­ces­sar­i­ly in what to­day is the state of Is­ra­el).

Zang­will died af­ter try­ing to cre­ate a Jew­ish state in such di­verse places as Ca­na­da, Aus­tral­ia, Me­so­po­tam­ia, Ugan­da and Cy­re­nai­ca.

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