London Peculiar

Israel Zangwill, Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People (1892)

May contain spoilers

And this, I confess, is a novel that I hadn’t heard of, set somewhat to the east of the Clerkenwell of The Nether World, but in an impoverished area. I hadn’t heard of Zangwill – although apparently his The Big Bow Mystery (1891) was the first locked room mystery novel. He was the author of the play The Melting Pot (1908), a term which came to stand for the ethnic homogenisation of American society.

Whilst there seemed to be no solutions to the problems of Clerkenwell in The Nether World, whether state, religious or charitable, in Zangwill’s East End ghetto the community and beliefs of the Jewish immigrants and their children at least provide a safety net. The focus is mostly on the area around Petticoat Lane and a thinly disguised Princelet Street (I wonder if the synagogue glimpsed here is the one in Iain Sinclair and Rachel Lichtenstein’s Rodinsky’s Room?), with excursions to the West End, the British Museum and Kensington.

Continue reading →