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Editore: London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, , Lista dei preferiti. Da Peter Harrington. Compra usato Prezzo: EUR Riguardo questo articolo Octavo. Original black cloth, titles to spine gilt. With the dust jacket. Housed in a quarter morocco green solander box by the Chelsea Bindery. Publisher's file copy, with their inkstamp to the half-title, and pencilled mark to front free endpaper and front panel of the jacket. Very mild spotting to boards, an exceptionally nice copy in the nicked, little tanned and lightly rubbed dust jacket.
During the past ten years literature has involved itself more and more deeply in politics, with the result that there is now less room in it for the ordinary man than at any time during the past two centuries. One can see the change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing the books written about the Spanish civil war with those written about the war of The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them, right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cocksure partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Great War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even pretend to understand what the whole thing was about.
God knows. All we can do is to endure. It is a voice from the crowd, from the underling, from the third-class carriage, from the ordinary, non-political, non-moral, passive man. I do not mean that the people Miller is writing about constitute a majority, still less that he is writing about proletarians. No English or American novelist has as yet seriously attempted that. As I have said already, this a pity, but it is the necessary result of expatriation. Still, the experiences even of this type overlap fairly widely with those of more normal people.
Milter has been able to get the most out of his rather limited material because he has had the courage to identify with it. It will be seen that this is something out of date, or at any rate out of fashion. The average sensual man is out of fashion.
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Preoccupation with sex and truthfulness about the inner life are out of fashion. American Paris is out of fashion. A book like Tropic of Cancer , published at such a time, must be either a tedious preciosity or something unusual, and I think a majority of the people who have read it would agree that it is not the first. It is worth trying to discover just what, this escape from the current literary fashion means. But to do that one has got to see it against its background — that is, against the general development of English literature in the twenty years since the Great War.
When one says that a writer is fashionable one practically always means that he is admired by people under thirty. At the beginning of the period I am speaking of, the years during and immediately after the war, the writer who had the deepest hold upon the thinking young was almost certainly Housman. Among people who were adolescent in the years , Housman had an influence which was fiBnormous and is now not at all easy to understand. In , when I was about seventeen, I probably knew the whole of the Shropshire Lad by heart.
I wonder how much impression the Shropshire Lad makes at this moment on a boy of the same age and more or less the same cast of mind? No doubt he has heard of it and even glanced into it; it might strike him as cheaply clever — probably that would be about all. With rue my heart is laden For golden friends I had, For many a roselipt maiden And many a lightfoot lad. By brooks too broad for leaping The lightfoot boys. It just tinkles.
But it did not seem to tinkle in Why does the bubble always burst? To answer that question one has to take account of the external conditions that make certain writers popular at certain times. Housman's poems had not attracted much notice when they were first published. What was there in them that appealed so deeply to a single generation, the generation born round about ? The reason no doubt was that the rentier -professional class was ceasing once and for all to have any real relationship with the soil; but at any rate there prevailed then, far more than now, a kind of snobbism of belonging to the country and despising the town.
England at that time was hardly more an agricultural country than it is now, but before the light industries began to spread themselves it was easier to think of it as one. Most middle-class boys grew up within sight of a farm, and naturally it was the picturesque side of farm life that appealed to them — the ploughing, harvesting, stack-thrashing and so forth.
Unless he has to do it himself a boy is not likely to notice the horrible drudgery of hoeing turnip, milking cows with chapped teats at four o'clock in the morning, etc. Housman, however, did not enthuse over the rambler roses in the week-ending spirit of Brooke and the others. Most of the poems have a quasi-human subject, a kind of idealized rustic, in reality Strephon or Corydon brought up to date.
This in itself had a deep appeal. Most boys had in their minds a vision of an idealized ploughman, gipsy, poacher, or gamekeeper, always pictured as a wild, free, roving blade, living a life of rabbit-snaring, cockfighting, horses, beer, and women. But Housman's Maurices and Terences could be taken seriously where Mascfield's Saul Kane could not; on this side of him, Housman was Masefield with a dash of Theocritus.
Moreover all his themes are adolescent — murder, suicide, unhappy love, early death. The sun burns on the half-mown hill, By now the blood has dried; And Maurice among the hay lies still And my knife is in his side. They hand us now in Shrewsbury jail And whistles blow forlorn, And trains all night groan on the rail To men who die at morn. It is all more or less in the same tune. Everything comes unstuck. The diamond drops adorning The low mound on the lea, These arc the tears of morning, That weeps, but not for thee. Hard cheese, old chap!
Such poems might have been written expressly for adolescents. And the unvarying sexual pessimism the girl always dies or marries somebody else seemed like wisdom to boys who were herded together in public schools and were half-inclined to think of women as something unattainable. Whether Housman ever had the same appeal for girls I doubt.
In his poems the woman's point of view is not considered, she is merely the nymph, the siren, the treacherous half-human creature who leads you a little distance and then gives you the slip. The fight that always occurs between the generations was exceptionally bitter at the end of the Great War; this was partly due to the war itself, and partly it was an indirect result of the Russian Revolution, but an intellectual struggle was in any case due at about that date.
Owing probably to the ease and security of life in England, which even the war hardly disturbed, many people whose ideas were formed in the eighties or earlier had carried them quite unmodified into the nineteen-twenties. Meanwhile, so far as the younger generation was concerned, the official beliefs were dissolving like sand-castles. The slump in religious belief, for instance, was spectacular. For several years the old-young antagonism took on a quality of real hatred. What was left of the war generation had crept out of the massacre to find their elders still bellowing the slogans of , and a slightly younger generation of boys were writhing under dirty-minded celibate schoolmasters.
It was to these that Housman appealed, with his implied sexual revolt and his personal grievance against God. And he was satisfyingly anti-Christian — he stood for a kind of bitter, defiant paganism, the conviction that life is short and the gods are against you, which exactly fitted the prevailing mood of the young; and all in charming fragile verse that was composed almost entirely of words of one syllable. Obviously he was more than that.
There is no need to under-rate him now because he was over-rated a few years ago. The proof of this is the extreme difficulty of seeing any literary merit in a book that seriously damages your deepest beliefs. And no book is ever truly neutral. Some or other tendency is always discernible, in verse as much as in prose, even if it does no more than determine the form and the choice of imagery.
But poets who attain wide popularity, Uke Housman, are as a rule definitely gnomic writers.
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It is true that not all of the gifted writers of the period can be fitted into the pattern. Forster, for instance, though he wrote his best book in or thereabouts, was essentially, pre-war, and Yeats does not seem in either of his phases to belong to the twenties. Others who were still living, Moore, Conrad, Bennett, Wells, Norman Douglas, had shot their bolt before the war ever happened. Of course the dates do not fit exactly; most of these writers had already published books before the war, but they can be classified as post-war in the same sense that the younger men now writing are post-slump.
Even more then than at most times the big shots of literary journalism were busy pretending that the age-before-last had not come to an end. But all the same it was the despised highbrows who had captured the young. The wind was blowing from Europe, and long before it had blowu the beer-and-cricket school naked, except for their knight-hoods. But the first thing one would notice about the group of writers I have named above is that they do not look like a group.
Moreover several of them would strongly object to being coupled with several of the others. Lawrence and Eliot were in reality antipathetic, Huxley worshipped Lawrence but was repelled by Joyce, most of the others would have looked down on Huxley, Strachey, and Maugham, and Lewis attacked everyone in turn; indeed, his reputation as a writer rests largely on these attacks. And yet there is a certain temperamental similarity, evident enough now, though it would not have been so a dozen years ago. What it amounts to is pessimism of outlook. But it is necessary to make clear what is meant by pessimism.
The spirit behind Housman's poems for instance, is not tragic, merely querulous; it is hedonism disappointed.
Inside the Whale and other Essays
The same is true of Hardy, though one ought to make an exception of The Dynasts. Given this general similarity, there are, of course, differences of approach between the writers I have named as well as different degrees of talent. With Strachey it is merely a polite eighteenth-century scepticism mixed up with a taste for debunking. With Maugham it is a kind of stoical resignation, the stiff upper lip of the pukka sahib somewhere east of Suez, carrying on with his job without believing in it, like an Antonine Emperor.
But what he is demanding is a movement away from our mechanized civilization, which is not going to happen. Therefore his exasperation with the present turns once more into idealization of the past, this time a safely mythical past, the Bronze Age. When bawrence prefers the Etruscans his Etruscans to ourselves it is difficult not to agree with him, and yet, after all, it is a species of defeatism, because that is not the direction in which the world is moving.
The kind of life that he is always pointing to, a life centring round the simple mysteries -sex, earth, fire, water, blood — is merely a lost cause. All he has been able to produce, therefore, is a wish that things would happen in a way in which they are manifestly not going to happen. So he flees to Mexico, and then dies at forty-five, a few years before the wave of death gets going.
And once again it is obvious that all of them are more than that. But Ulysses could not have been written by someone who was merely dabbling with word-patterns; it is the product of a special vision of life, the vision of a Catholic who has lost his faith. Just look at it! There is no attention to the urgent problems of the moment, above all no politics in the narrower sense.
Our eyes are directed to Rome, to Byzantium, to Montparnasse, to Mexico, to the Etruscans, to the Subconscious, to the solar plexus — to everywhere except the places where things are actually happening. When one looks back at the twenties, nothing is queerer than the way in which every important event in Europe escaped the notice of the English intelligentsia. The Russian Revolution, for instance, all but vanishes from the English consciousness between the death of Lenin and the Ukraine famine — about ten years.
Throughout those years Russia means Tolstoy, Dostoievsky, and exiled counts driving taxi-cabs. Italy means picture-galleries, ruins, churches, and museums — but not Black-shirts. Germany means films, nudism, and psychoanalysis — but not Hitler, of whom hardly anyone had heard till Literature was supposed to consist solely in the manipulation of words. To judge a book by its subject matter was the unforgivable sin, and even to be aware of its subject matter was looked on as a lapse of a taste. In one way or another the tendency of all the writers in this group is conservative. Recently he has changed some of his views, perhaps influenced by Hitler's treatment of artists, but it is safe to bet that he will not go very far leftward.
Pound seems to have plumped definitely for Fascism, at any rate the Italian variety. Eliot has remained aloof, but if forced at the pistol's point to choose between Fascism and some more democratic form of socialism, would probably choose Fascism. It is also noticeable that most of the writers in this group have a certain tenderness for the Catholic Church, though not usually of a kind that an orthodox Catholic would accept.
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The mental connexion between pessimism and a reactionary outlook is no doubt obvious enough. What is perhaps less obvious is just why the leading writers of the twenties were predominantly pessimistic. Why always the sense of decadence, the skulls and cactuses, the yearning after lost faith and impossible civilizations? Was it not, after all, because these people were writing in an exceptionally comfortable epoch? People with empty bellies never despair of the universe, nor even think about the universe, for that matter.
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The whole period was a prosperous one, and even the war years were physically tolerable if one happened to be a non-combatant in one of the Allied countries. As for the twenties, they were the golden age of the rentier -intellectual, a period of irresponsibility such as the world had never before seen.
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The war was over, the new totalitarian states had not arisen, moral and religious tabus of all descriptions had vanished, and the cash was rolling in. It was an age of eagles and of crumpets, facile despairs, backyard Hamlets, cheap return tickets to the end of the night. In some of the minor characteristic novels of the period, books like Told by an Idiot , the despair-of-life reaches a Turkish-bath atmosphere of self-pity.
And even the best writers of the time can be convicted of a too Olympian attitude, a too great readiness to wash their hands of the immediate practical problem. They see life very comprehensively, much more so than those who come immediately before or after them, but they see it through the wrong end of the telescope.
Not that that invalidates their books, as books. The first test of any work of art is survival, and it is a fact that a great deal that was written in the period has survived and looks like continuing to survive. One has only to think of Ulysses , Of Human Bondage , most of Lawrence's early work, especially his short stories, and virtually the whole of Eliot's poems up to about , to wonder what is now being written that will wear so well. But quite Suddenly, in the years , something happens. The literary climate changes.
Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards Communism. This book is, of course, written entirely from the angle of the younger group and takes the superiority of their standards for granted.
According to Mr MacNeice:. The poets of New Signatures 1 , unlike Yeats and Eliot, are emotionally partisan. Yeats proposed to turn his back on desire and hatred; Eliot sat back and watched other people's emotions with ennui and an ironical self-pity. The whole poetry, on the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis implies that they have desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things ought to be desired and others hated. The poets of New Signatures have swung back The first requirement is to have something to say, and after that you must say it as well as you can.
Still, it is broadly true that in the twenties the literary emphasis was more on technique and less on subject matter than it is now. As before, I am lumping them together simply according to tendency. Obviously there are very great variations in talent. But when one compares these writers with the Joyce-Eliot generation, the immediately striking thing is how much easier it is to form them into a group. Technically they are closer together, politically they are almost indistinguishable, and their criticisms of one another's work have always been to put it mildly good-natured.
The outstanding writers of the twenties were of very varied origins, few of them had passed through the ordinary English educational mill incidentally, the best of them, barring Lawrence, were not Englishmen , and most of them had had at some time to struggle against poverty, neglect, and even downright persecution.
On the other hand, nearly all the younger writers fit easily into the public-school-university-Blooms-bury pattern. It is significant that several of the writers in this group have been not only boys but, subsequently, masters at public schools. As criticism this was quite unworthy, indeed it was merely a spiteful remark, but it is a fact that in Auden's work, especially his earlier work, an atmosphere of uplift — something rather like Kipling's If or Newbolt's Play up, Play up, and Play the Game!
No doubt there is an element of parody that he intends, but there is also a deeper resemblance that he does not intend. And of course the rather priggish note that is common to most of these writers is a symptom, of release. The prophetic side of Marxism, for example, is new material for poetry and has great possibilities. We are nothing We have fallen Into the dark and shall be destroyed.
Think though, that in this darkness We hold the secret hub of an idea Whose living sunlit wheel revolves in future years outside. Spender, Trial of a Judge. But at the same time, by being Marxized literature has moved no nearer to the masses. Even allowing for the time-lag, Auden and Spender are somewhat farther from being popular writers than Joyce and Eliot, let alone Lawrence.
As before, there are many contemporary writers who are outside the current, but there is not much doubt about what is the current. And the movement is in the direction of some rather ill-defined thing called Communism. Between and the Communist Party had an almost irresistible fascination for any writer under forty. For about three years, in fact, the central stream of English literature was more or less directly under Communist control. How was it possible for such a thing to happen? It is better to answer the second question first. The Communist movement in Western Europe began, as a movement for the violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into an instrument of Russian foreign policy.
This was probably inevitable when this revolutionary ferment that followed the Great War had died down. What Borkcnau's facts even more than his deductions make clear is that Communism could never have developed along its present lines if any revolutionary feeling had existed in the industrialized countries.
In England, for instance, it is obvious that no such feeling has existed for years past. The pathetic membership figures of all extremist parties show this clearly. It is, only natural, therefore, that the English Communist movement should be controlled by people who are mentally sub-servient to Russia and have no real aim except to manipulate British foreign policy in the Russian interest. Of course such an aim cannot be openly admitted, and it is this fact that gives the Communist Party its very peculiar character. The more vocal kind of Communist is in effect a Russian publicity agent posing as an international socialist.
It is a pose that is easily kept up at normal times, but becomes difficult in moments of crisis, because of the fact that the U. Alliances, changes of front etc. Every Communist is in fact liable at any moment to have to alter his most fundamental convictions, or leave the party. The unquestionable dogma of Monday may become the damnable heresy of Tuesday, and so on. This has happened at least three times during the past ten years. It follows that in any Western country a Communist Party is always unstable and usually very small.
Its long-term membership really consists of an inner ring of intellectuals who have identified with the Russian bureaucracy, and a slightly larger body of working-class people who feel a loyalty towards Soviet Russia without necessarily understanding its policies. In the English Communist Party was a tiny, barely legal organization whose main activity was libelling the Labour Party.
But by the face of Europe had changed, and left-wing politics changed with it. Hitler had risen to power and begun to rearm, the Russian five-year plans had succeeded, Russia had reappeared as a great military power.
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This meant that the English or French Communist was obliged to become a good patriot and imperialist — that is, to defend the very things he had been attacking for the past fifteen years. The Comintern slogans suddenly faded from red to pink. The Fascism-democracy dogfight was no doubt an attraction in itself, but in any case their conversion was due at about that date. It was obvious that laissez-faire capitalism was finished and that there had got to be some kind of reconstruction; in the world of it was hardly possible to remain politically indifferent. But why did these young men turn towards anything so alien as Russian Communism?
Why should writers be attracted by a form of socialism that makes mental honesty impossible? The explanation really lies in something that had already made itself felt before the slump and before Hitler: middle-class unemployment. Unemployment is not merely a matter of not having a job. Most people can get a job of sorts, even at the worst of times. In , The Times ranked him second on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since ". Orwell's work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian—descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices—has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including, but not limited to, cold war, Big Brother, Thought Police, Room , memory hole, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.
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