The King of Schnorrers: Israel Zangwill’s Radical Romance

Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) was a literary celebrity, a Zionist, and a suffrage activist, and, in his time, possibly the best-known Jewish writer in the Anglophone world. His 1892 novel Children of the Ghetto became a British and American bestseller; in 1908 his play The Melting-Pot argued for the value of immigration and provided future studies of ethnicity with a much-debated metaphor. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, Zangwill’s fame had declined, and his best-known work of fiction was likely The King of Schnorrers (1894), a short novel that solidified his fame as a Jewish humorist. In fact, however, this comedic work that Zangwill published in a volume of “grotesques and fantasies” embeds some of his most trenchant social criticism and satire. Indeed, The King of Schnorrers presents in a subtle and palatable form radical ideas of economic justice that Zangwill always saw as Jewish.