Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The King of Schnorrers: Israel Zangwill

Although it is a name that has largely disappeared - although I did hear it recently in Columbia Road flower market - the Schnorrer, or beggar, was very much a part of London life at the time of the Jewish ghetto. Zangwill, although an educated and successful writer, could never leave the subject of the ghetto, nor could he emotionally disassociate himself from it. The ghetto gave him inspiration, and was the subject of his greatest works.

The King of Schorrers, first published in 1894, tells the story of Manasseh Bueno Barzillai Azevedo da Costa, a proud and resorceful Sephardic Jew with a very confident view of his place in the world. An irrascible rogue, Zangwill places his beggar in late-18th century London, which he describes so brilliantly that the book has is only entertaining, but also has historic value. The city is real, the social settings are real, and the fictional Manasseh strides like a lord through it all.

When it was first published the book took London by storm. Zangwill never made the same impact as his contemporaries and friends, such as H.G. Wells and Jerome K. Jerome, but his work remains amongst the best social commentary of its time. Manasseh was possibly the Arthur Daley or Del Trotter of his day, and this book (which is available through Amazon) is one of the most under-rated of English classics. 10/10

Isreal Zangwill The King of Schorrers (2003 edition) Dover Publications
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