Tag Archives: Little Review

The best and worst of August and September 1918: Modernist all-stars, predictions, and red scarves

Three-quarters of the way through 1918, everything seems normal to me now.* Appalling a lot of the time (racism, eugenics, anti-Semitism, class snobbery), but normal. Nine months of immersion have broken down the barriers of aesthetics and language use. I now think of people as being the age they were in 1918. Happy August/September birthdays to Dorothy Parker (25), T.S. Eliot (30), and William Carlos Williams (35), youngsters all!

I didn’t do a Best and Worst for August because I was back in the United States, socializing nonstop. I don’t know how those 1918 rich people did it—it’s exhausting!** By the time I got back to Cape Town and emerged from the fog of jet lag, September was halfway gone. Which October will be too if I don’t hurry up. So, without further ado, the best and worst of August and September 1918!

Best Magazine: The Little Review, September 1918

Just look at the table of contents of the Little Review’s September issue. It’s the literary equivalent of the Yankees’ 1927 starting lineup.***

Of course, another possible analogy is to one of those movies so overstuffed with stars that you just know it’s going to be horrible.

So which is it?

Somewhere in between. Yeats’s “In Memory of Robert Gregory,” mourning the death of the son of close friends in an aviation accident in Italy (or maybe it was friendly fire), sounds like outtakes from “Easter 1916,” but so-so Yeats is better than just about anyone else at the top of their game. The Eliot poems include his notoriously anti-Semitic “Sweeney Among the Nightingales” (“Rachel née Rabinovitch/Tears at the grapes with murderous paws”), but also a poem in French, “Dans le Restaurant,” part of which eventually made its way, in English, into “The Wasteland.” I confess that I haven’t kept up with the Ulysses serialization, but, hey, it’s Ulysses.

So more 1927 Yankees than New Year’s Eve. And there are more accolades for this issue to come—keep on reading!

Worst Magazine: Current Opinion, September 1918

Halfway through the September issue of The Bookman, I was convinced we had a winner. The magazine, under a new owner, had undergone its second major revamp of the year, and 1918 magazines revamps are never a good thing. They just make the magazine more like all the other magazines. The old Bookman was fusty, but it was entertaining. In the new Bookman, most of the article aren’t even about books. If they are, they’re about old books like Tom Jones or boring books about “Sea Power Past and Present.” But then the magazine redeems itself with an Amy Lowell love poem**** and an excerpt from the upcoming sequel to Christopher Morley’s fun 1917 novel Parnassus on Wheels. And they kept “The Gossip Shop,” which, although most of the gossip is about which writer got his commission and is shipping off to France, is still kind of fun. So I felt better about The Bookman but was left without a worst magazine.

Then I came across the September issue of Current Opinion, featuring an article called “Why the Jew is Too Neurotic.” The reason is explained in the sub-head: “Because his Extraordinary Resemblance to the Average Spoiled Child Causes Mental Strain.” The rest of the article isn’t as bad as that makes it sound. Something about how the Jews were the favorite children of God, and were isolated from the rest of society, and…I’ll spare you the psychoanalytic logic. And there’s sympathetic discussion of anti-Jewish discrimination throughout the ages. But the article epitomizes what’s worst about 1918: the tendency to lump together entire “races” (African-Americans, Jews, Germans, Czechoslovakians, whoever) and ascribe a common set of qualities to them. Inconsistency alert: the issue also includes an admiring profile of New York Times owner Adolph Ochs, who comes across as a gee-whiz regular guy and not neurotic at all.

Best Line in an Editorial: “Vardaman Falls,” New York Times, August 22

I’m not a fan of 1918 NYT editorials, which are generally narrow-minded, prejudiced, and smug. But this one, a gloating account of the primary election defeat of Senator James Vardaman, one of the worst racists in congressional history (although that didn’t bother the Times nearly as much as his antiwar stance), has my favorite 1918 sentence so far:

Was he the victim of his own singularity, grown megalomaniacal, or did he simply overestimate the hillbilliness of his state?

Least Prescient Literary Criticism: Louis Untermeyer, “The Georgians,” The Dial,  August 15

Louis Untermeyer, ca. 1910-1915, Library of Congress

It’s not really fair, with the benefit of hindsight, to poke fun at predictions by past critics about how future critics will regard their own times. But it’s fun! So let’s!

Louis Untermeyer, who was actually one of the best critics of the era as well as being a noted poet himself, ruminates on this topic in a review of the anthology Georgian Poetry: 1916-1917. He says of the anthologized poets that “these men of what he [the future critic] will doubtless call the 1920s” will say that the Georgians “produced a literature as distinctive and even more human than their [Elizabethan and Victorian] predecessors.”

No they won’t, Louis. And we don’t call the 1910s the 1920s. We call them the 1910s.

Specifically, Untermeyer predicts that the future critic

will have a vigorous chapter on the invigorating vulgarisms of Mansfield and an interesting essay on Lascelles Abercrombie, who he will find, in spite of the latter’s too packed blank verse, to be even more “modern” than the author of “The Everlasting Mercy.”

Um, not quite. What’s really going to happen, Louis, is that T.S. Eliot***** and the modernists are going to wipe these guys off of the map. Which brings us to…

Most Prescient Literary Criticism: Edgar Jepson, “The Western School,” The Little Review, September

National Magazine, April-September 1915

Continuing our September 1918 Little Review/1927 Yankees starting lineup analogy, Edgar Jepson is, say, Tony Lazzeri to Eliot’s and Joyce’s Ruth and Gehrig. In his article “The Western School,” Jepson, a British writer of detective and adventure fiction, complains about the undue accolades being given to subpar work by prominent poets. He makes his case convincingly by quoting these lines by Vachel Lindsay:

And kettle-drums rattle
And hide the shame
With a swish and a swirk
and dead Love’s name

and these from “All Life in a Life” by Edgar Lee Masters:

He had a rich man or two
Who took up with him against the powerful frown
That looked him down
For you’ll always find a rich man or two
To take up with anything–
There are those who want to get into society, or bring
Their riches to a social recognition

and these from “Snow,” a long poem by Robert Frost about some monks having a conversation in the middle of the night:

That leaf there in your open book! It moved
Just then, I thought. It’s stood erect like that,
There on the table, ever since I came,
Trying to turn itself backward or forward—
I’ve had my eye on it to make out which…

But don’t despair for poetry! For, Jepson says,

the queer and delightful thing is that in the scores of yards of pleasant verse and wamblings and yawpings which have been recently published in the Great Pure Republic I have found a poet, a real poet, who possesses in the highest degree the qualities the new school demands.

None other than…T.S. Eliot!

Could anything be more United States, more of the soul of that modern land than “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?… Never has the shrinking of the modern spirit of life been expressed with such exquisiteness, fullness, and truth.

Jepson also praises Eliot’s “La Figlia Che Piange” (“Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair”), saying that

it is hardly to be believed that this lovely poem should have been published in Poetry in the year in which the school awarded the prize [Poetry magazine’s Levinson prize] to that lumbering fakement “All Life in a Life.”

Jepson may be overstating his role in the discovery of Eliot, who, after all, is in plain sight in that very issue. But he deserves credit for his prescience, especially since he also complains about Lindsay’s “Booker Washington Trilogy” in language straight out of the #OwnVoices movement:

I have a feeling that it is rather an impertinence. Why should a white man set out to become the poetic mouth-piece of the United States blacks? These blacks have already made the only distinctively United States contributions to the arts—ragtime and buck-dancing. Surely it would be well to leave them to make the distinctively United States contribution to poetry.

Home run for Tony Lazzeri!

Best Magazine Cover of a Woman Swimming with a Red Scarf on Her Head:

In this surprisingly competitive category, here are the runner up

and the winner.

Best Ad Depicting the Advertised Item as Humongous

Winner:

Harper’s Bazar, September 1918

Runner-up:

Good Housekeeping, August 1918

Worst Magazine Cover:

At the risk of sounding like a Boche sympathizer, this is just mean.

Screenshot (1116)-1

Everybody’s, September 1918

Best Magazine Cover:

There are a lot of worthy contenders, like this

Screenshot (1137)

St. Nicholas, August 1918

and this

Screenshot (1118)-1

Vanity Fair, August 1918

and this startlingly modern-looking one

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House & Garden, August 1918

and this, which, in another month, might have won.

Screenshot (1128)-1

Vogue, August 1918

But the war was intensifying, American casualties were mounting, and it seems wrong not to recognize that. So here’s the winner, a soldier saying good-bye to his farmerette sweetheart.

August - Life cover - couple kissing-1

Life, August 22, 1918

On to October!

*Of course, I might feel differently if I had to wear a corset.

**Although not as exhausting as working in a Lower East Side textile factory all day and then going to night school.

***Ford Madox Hueffer is Ford Madox Ford, remember.

****To her female lover. Which may not have been clear to her audience, although does “quiet like the garden/And white like the alyssum flowers/And beautiful as the silent spark of the fireflies” sound like a man to you?

*****Whom, to be fair, Untermeyer mentions later in the article. He says that the future critic will realize “in the light of the new psychology” how much prose writers like J.D. Beresford, Gilbert Cannan, A. Neil Lyons, Rebecca West and Thomas Burke had in common with “such seemingly opposed verse craftsmen” as Edward Thomas, W.W. Gibson, Rupert Brooke, James Stephens, T.S. Eliot. If you blah-blah-blah out the writers no one reads today, we’re left with “Rebecca West has something in common with Rupert Brooke and T.S. Eliot.” I’ll give him that. Kind of.

Ulysses is 100!

The Little Review, March 1918

Happy 100th anniversary, Ulysses! This week, more or less, marks the centennial of the first publication of its opening chapter in the American journal The Little Review.

The reason for the “more or less” is that The Little Review wasn’t the world’s most prompt publication. The February issue, according to an announcement in the January issue, was published on February 10. Ezra Pound, who was the magazine’s foreign editor, wrote to Joyce on March 29 that the March issue was in print and thirty copies had reached him in London, so mid-month seems a reasonable estimate. (If anyone has a more exact publication date, please let me know!)

Not hedging any bets, the Little Review announced in its January issue, and again in February, that “we are about to publish a prose masterpiece.”

Little Review, February 1918

The Egoist also announced the upcoming serialization, but with British reserve rather than American braggadocio.

But The Egoist had to back out because its printer refused to print the issue.

Egoist, March 1918

So the Little Review had to go it alone.

The magazine’s editors knew they were taking a risk. As I recently noted, the October 1917 issue had been suppressed after the Postmaster General declared Wyndham Lewis’s story “Cantleman’s Spring-Mate” obscene*—a disappointing and expensive blow.

Little Review, December 1918

They knew that publishing Ulysses could get them into even more trouble. But they went ahead anyway.

Who were these people? I wondered.

Ezra Pound, 1913 (Alvin Langdon Coburn)

I knew who Ezra Pound was, of course. He was everywhere in 1918, working himself into a state of exhaustion as the foreign editor of the Little Review and Poetry magazine, an editor at the Egoist, and a contributor to New Age, another modernist journal. He wrote prolifically—sometimes at the expense of coherence**—for these and other publications, and did translation as well. And, oh right, he was a poet. It’s Pound who is best remembered as the creative mind behind The Little Review.

But it was the magazine’s editor, Margaret Anderson, who had the most at stake. She would be responsible for any criminal charges regarding its content while Pound was safe in London.

Margaret Anderson

Like a surprisingly large number of people I’ve come across in my 1918 reading, Anderson was from Indiana***.  She grew up in various towns, including Columbus (Indiana, not Ohio), where I lived for a few years as a child, and which is way less boring now than it was then. The rebellious daughter of wealthy parents, she dropped out of the genteel women’s college where she was being groomed for life as a society matron and moved to Chicago just as the Chicago literary renaissance was getting underway. She worked as a book critic for a Chicago newspaper and literary editor at a religious publication before joining the staff of Dial magazine, where she learned the ropes of magazine publishing.

In 1914, at the age of twenty-seven, Anderson founded The Little Review with financial support from Breeder’s Gazette editor DeWitt Wing, whom she met at a party. (Everyone who wrote about Anderson mentioned her physical attractiveness, which might have played a role in Witt’s impetuous decision.)  Money was always tight, though. Accounts of Anderson’s life make much of a six-month period that she and her colleagues spent living in a tent on Lake Michigan after she was forced out of her apartment—although most don’t mention the wooden floors, or the servants.

Anderson’s partner at the magazine, and also in life, was Jane Heap, a former lover of Djuna Barnes. They moved briefly to San Francisco and then relocated to Greenwich Village in 1917.  Pound joined the magazine that year. Its table of contents during that period is a Who’s Who of modernism.

James Joyce, ca. 1918 (Cornell Joyce collection)

Reading the chapter in the Little Review was my own first encounter with Ulysses, and it wasn’t as difficult as I’d been led to believe.**** I had read A Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man, and its main character, Stephen Dedalus, features in the opening section. Stephen and Buck Mulligan, his roommate (towermate, actually—they live in a former military fort), are bickering as they get ready for work. It’s not exactly Bab: A Sub-Deb, but it’s not any more difficult than some of the mannered, faux-archaic novels of the time.

Obscenity-wise, it’s pretty tame stuff, unless the sexual references went over my head, which is quite possible. The most risqué passages I could find were this description of a milk seller:

He watched her pour into the measure and thence into the jug rich white milk, not hers. Old shrunken paps.

and this song sung by Buck Mulligan:

—For old Mary Ann
She doesn’t care a damn
But, hising up her petticoats……

 Way tamer than “Cantleman’s Spring-Mate.” The Postmaster General apparently thought so too, and the March issue made it through the mail. The Little Review was safe—for now.

James Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove, Dublin, Ireland (YvonneM)

*A recap, in case you missed it: Cantleman, going off to war, sees animals rutting, gets into the spirit, does same with local lass.

**If you can make any sense of his overview of popular magazines in the January 3, 1918 issue of New Age—Part XVIII in a series—you’re a better 1918 reader than I am.

***Other influential Hoosiers: novelist Booth Tarkington, food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley, and folksy poet James Whitcomb Riley, who died in 1916 but was still much written about in the stodgier magazines. Janet Flanner was working as a film critic in Indianapolis but in a few years would step onto the national stage as the Paris correspondent of the New Yorker.

****Of course, I realize that this is like saying after the first mile that running a marathon is a piece of cake.