In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Israel Zangwill

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biography
  • Reference Works
  • Editions
  • Novels
  • Collected Short Stories and Fiction
  • Selected Plays
  • Nonfiction: Selected Essays and Speeches
  • The Big Bow Mystery
  • On Judaism and the Anglo-Jewish Experience
  • On Children of the Ghetto
  • Immigration and the London East End
  • The Jewish Type: Race, Identity, Cosmopolitanism

Victorian Literature Israel Zangwill
Jessica Valdez
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0185


Israel Zangwill (1864–1926) was an Anglo-Jewish writer and activist best known today for his 1892 novel, Children of the Ghetto. He came to be called the “Jewish Dickens” for his work documenting East End Jewish life. He wrote journal articles, novels, plays, and short fiction; the title of his most famous play, The Melting Pot, became the standard metaphor for American multiculturalism. He developed a hybrid literary identity, working as both a British and Jewish writer. Zangwill was born in London’s East End to Moses and Ellen Marks Zangwill, who immigrated to London from Latvia and Poland, respectively. The Zangwills were part of a wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms across Eastern Europe. Zangwill’s early childhood was spent in Plymouth and Bristol, but his family moved back to Whitechapel when he was eight. Memories of his life in Whitechapel formed the basis for his iconic Anglo-Jewish novel, Children of the Ghetto. In London, he became a pupil teacher at the Jews’ Free School and attended London University. Zangwill left his teaching position in 1888, possibly because of conflict over the novel The Premier and the Painter, which he cowrote with Louis Cowen under the pseudonym J. Freeman Bell. In 1890, Zangwill founded the short-lived comic magazine Ariel, or the London Puck. While he was subeditor for the weekly English-language Orthodox newspaper the Jewish Standard, he wrote a weekly satirical column, “Morour and Charouseth,” under the pseudonym Marshallik, the Jewish court jester. Before the publication of Children of the Ghetto, he was best known as a satirical writer and a member of Jerome K. Jerome’s New Humour group. He also wrote columns for the Pall Mall Gazette and the New York–based newspaper Critic. He took on a leading role in pacifist, Zionist, and women’s suffrage movements. In 1903, he married Edith Ayrton, who was a novelist and women’s rights activist in her own right. Zangwill met Theodor Herzl during Herzl’s visit to London in 1895, but upon Herzl’s death in 1905, Zangwill split from the Zionist movement and established the Jewish Territorial Organization, which advocated establishing a Jewish homeland outside Palestine. His criticism of Zionist organizations in the 1920s led to his declining popularity toward the end of his life.

General Overviews

There has been a resurgence in scholarship on Zangwill since the turn of the 21st century, led by Zangwill scholar Meri-Jane Rochelson, who made him a central figure in scholarship on 19th-century literature. The best overview of his work can be found in Rochelson’s biography, A Jew in the Public Arena (Rochelson 2008 (see Biography), which was an indispensable resource in the writing of this bibliography. It contains an exhaustive bibliography of work by and about Zangwill. Although Zangwill’s popularity declined in the early 20th century, he received more attention in the mid- to late 20th century, most notably by biographers Leftwich 1957 and Udelson 1990 (see Biography). Much 20th-century criticism focuses on his role as an Anglo-Jewish writer, including Childers 1998 and Fisch 1964, with a particular emphasis on Children of the Ghetto (see On Judaism and the Anglo-Jewish Experience). More recent scholarship attends to the affective dimensions of Zangwill’s portrayal of the Jewish ghetto and incorporates him into broader accounts of late-19th-century conceptions of race and cosmopolitanism (see Immigration and the London East End and The Jewish Type: Race, Identity, Cosmopolitanism). An important archive in Zangwill studies is the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, which Rochelson 2008 describes as “the major repository of his papers, [and] contains sixty files of cuttings (clippings) collected throughout his career, at least eighteen of these in the form of bound albums or scrapbooks” (p. 25). Collections are also available at the American Jewish Historical Society, the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York Public Library, and University of Southampton. For more detail on collections, see Rochelson 1998 (see Reference Works).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.