Tag Archives: Modernism

The best and worst of March 1918: Magazines, essays, cover art, and humor

When I was in the Foreign Service, living in Cambodia or Honduras or wherever, people used to ask, “But don’t you miss home?” I never knew what to say. The honest answer was, “I miss some things, sometimes, but it’s way more interesting here. Don’t you get bored living in the same place all the time?” That seemed kind of rude, though.

A quarter of the way through, that’s how I feel about my life in 1918. I’ll see, for example, that Meg Wolitzer, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Rebecca Harrington all have books coming out, and for a second I’ll wish that I could read them, but then I’ll pick up Mrs. Spring Fragrance or the latest issue of The Dial, and the feeling goes away. I can read those books next year. In the meantime, it’s way more interesting here.

Now for the best and worst of March 1918:

Best Magazine: The Little Review

Ulysses, as I wrote earlier this month, made its first appearance in the Little Review in March 1918. The issue also includes Ezra Pound writing on Marianne Moore, fiction by Wyndham Lewis, and an essay by Ford Madox Hueffer (a.k.a. Ford) that contains the sentence “The Englishman’s mind is of course made up entirely of quotations.” But the rest of the issue could have been blank (which wouldn’t have been unprecedented—the first thirteen pages of the September 1916 issue were blank, an expression of editor Margaret Anderson’s frustration over the lack of quality submissions) and it still would have been the best magazine of the month, if not the year.

Worst Magazine: The Art World

The Art World, as I noted last week, had nothing good to say about impressionism or anything that came after. To put that into perspective, the first major exhibition of impressionist art was in 1874. So an art magazine taking this stance in 1918 is like Rolling Stone saying in 2018 that this rock-and-roll music is just a lot of noise.

Statue of Lincoln, George Grey Barnard, Lytle Park, Cincinnati (1917)

In its March 1918 issue, the last before it merged into another magazine, The Art World criticized George Grey Barnard’s statue of Lincoln in Cincinnati, saying that Barnard

does not show the majestic Lincoln at the bar of history being judged and admired, but a slave Lincoln at the block, being sold and pitied…let us hope that Mr. Barnard will now deign to accept the advice we gave him in June 1917 and make a new Lincoln—virile, heroic, and majestic.

The magazine approvingly quotes portraitist Cecilia Beaux saying of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, the first large exhibition of modern art in the United States, that

“It was like a sudden windstorm that raises no little dust, noise, and confusion for the moment; when the wind dies down you discover that much that was of no real value has blown away, leaving a clearer, wholesome atmosphere.”

The Art World branches out to the written word in this issue, calling a modernist poem “speech worthy of a yapping maniac.”

Best humorous essay: “Making the Nursery Safe for Democracy,” by Harold Kellock, The Bookman

 

Essays about family life in 1918 are generally steeped in sarcasm (if they’re by men) or sentimentality (if they’re by women). It’s hard to find a family that seems real. Then I came across Harold Kellock’s essay about his four-year-old son being bombarded with royalist propaganda through his nursery reading. Every night, Kellock is forced to read his son a story about some heroic king. “In a world wherein we are pouring out our blood and treasure that democracy may live safely,” he complains, “our children scarcely out of the cradle are being made into staunch little monarchists.” He takes a stab at democratizing the stories, but it doesn’t work, and he resigns himself to nursery royalism.

“Then,” I read, “the king took Gretel to his palace and celebrated the marriage in great state. And she told the king all her story, and he sent for the fairy and punished her.” Think of having the power of punishment over fairies! The King und Gott! But my son swallows it complacently. He does not question the divine right of kings.

Faery Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, Maxwell Armfield, 1910

Kellock reassures himself that, when the time comes, he can turn his child into a democrat by showing him photographs “of some vacuous king, discreetly bearded to hide his recessional features,” or “a typical princess, whose hat and features alike seem so unfortunately chosen, opening a Red Cross bazaar.”

But not for a while, he says.

Worst humorous essay: “I Must Have Been A Little Too Rough,” by George B. Jenkins, Jr., Smart Set

I hope this is the worst thing I read all year. There must be an anti-gender violence message hidden somewhere, but…well, read it for yourself.

I must have been a little too rough.

“Women,” her father had told me, “are tired of the courteous treatment of the average man. They are bored by the vapid compliments, the silly lies, the stupid chatter of pale youths with gardenias in their lapels. If you want to be a success with women, be rude! Be violent! Overpower them, assert your physical superiority! If necessary, beat them!” He became quite excited. “Pound them! Assault them! Half-murder them!”

I listened to him respectfully, though I did not care for him at all. Yet I believed him, for he is notoriously successful in his affaires.

I decided to test his theories. Striding into the next room, I grasped his daughter about the waist.

“I love you!” I roared, squeezing her until her face was purple.

“You belong to me!” I shouted, dragging her around the room by her hair, and overturning several chairs in our progress.

“Damn you!” I shrieked, striking her on the shoulder, where the blow left a blue welt, “I will fight the world for you.”

She began to whimper.

“Shut up!” I ordered, in my rudest manner, and slung her across the room.

But I must have been a little too rough, for she fell out the window.

Best magazine cover: The Liberator

The first issue of The Liberator was published in March 1918. Its predecessor, The Masses, had closed down in 1917 after being declared treasonous by the government for its anti-war stance. The debut issue included reporting from Russia by John Reed, whose Ten Days that Shook the World was published the next year (and who died in Russia in 1920 at the age of 32). I’ll write more about The Liberator later. For now, here’s its inaugural cover, by Hungarian-American artist Hugo Gellert.

Worst magazine cover: Collier’s

I’m imagining the meeting where this cover was conceived.

Art director: How about…the President?
Editor: What would he be doing?
Art director: Nothing, just a picture of his face, in black and white. With a caption that says [stretches his hand into the air dramatically], “The President.”
Editor: I like it!

Best humor:


As I’ve noted before, there are no good jokes in 1918 magazines. But I liked this Cornelia Barns Liberator cartoon, featuring the world’s most coldhearted mother seeing her son off to war.

Worst humor:

First dog: How is brother collie over there? Is he in your set?
Second: Oh, yes; we visit the same garbage pails.

(Life magazine, March 28, 1918)

And, in honor of Women’s History Month, the most inspiring women:

I came across so many! Novelists Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Mary Roberts Rinehart; artist Elizabeth Gardner; dancer Irene Castle; Little Review editor Margaret Anderson; suffragist Anna Kelton Wiley; prosecutor Annette Abbott Adams; rebellious housewife Julia Clark Hallam; and the anonymous woman who wrote about how divorce saved her sanity.

But every month is Women’s History month at My Year in 1918, and there are lots more inspiring women to come. (Sneak preview: a pioneering British sexologist and a witty Chinese-American writer.) On to April!

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.

Oh snap! The modernists’ cringe-inducing criticism

The writers who were reviewed in the modernist journals of 1918 are all long dead. But, when I read what T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and their fellow critics had to say about them, I can’t help cringing on their behalf.

Take this review, in the March 1918 edition of The Egoist, of a collection called Georgian Poetry, 1916-1917. The reviewer, who calls himself Apteryx but is really T.S. Eliot, sums up the work of five contributors as follows:

Mr. Graves has a hale and hearty daintiness. Mr. Gibson asks, “we, how shall we…” etc. Messrs. Baring and Asquith, in war poems, both employ the word “oriflamme.” Mr. Drinkwater says, “Hist!”

Robert Graves (First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford)

These few sentences give us a good sense of what’s in the poems. Under the circumstances, though, this criticism seems a bit cruel. Robert Graves, who would go on to fame as a poet, novelist, and memoirist, was a 23-year-old soldier in 1918. “David and Goliath,” written in memory of his friend David Thomas, is a reversal of the Bible story, ending:

‘I’m hit! I’m killed!’ young David cries.
Throws blindly forward, chokes…and dies.
And look, spike-helmeted, grey, grim,
Goliath straddles over him.

Maurice Baring, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Herbert Asquith (the son of the Prime Minister), and John Drinkwater were older, in their thirties or forties, but they were all in uniform except Gibson, who tried to enlist but was turned down because of ill health.

Alan Seeger

Even dying in the war didn’t spare a writer from The Egoist’s sharp scrutiny. The December 1917 issue included an unsigned review of a book of poems by Alan Seeger, who had joined the French Foreign Legion and died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Seeger, best known now for the poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” was a Harvard classmate of T.S. Eliot, who may have written the review.* According to the Egoist,

Seeger’s poems are not unworthy of the attention they have attracted. The book has not much to offer to the small public which wants nothing twice over, but it has a good deal to give to the public which will take what it likes in any amount.

The Egoist was dismissive toward popular novelists. In a discussion in the February 1918 issue of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, reprinted from an Italian publication and apparently translated by Joyce himself, Diego Angeli says:

To tell the truth, English fiction seemed lately to have gone astray amid the sentimental niceties of Miss Beatrice Harraden, the police-aided plottiness of Sir Conan Doyle, the stupidities of Miss Corelli or, at best, the philosophical and social disquisitions of Mrs. Humphrey Ward.**

Across the Atlantic, The Dial, which wasn’t a modernist journal but had modernist sympathies,*** shared The Egoist’s contempt for popular novelists. You don’t really have to read further in B.I. Kinne’s review of Hugh Walpole’s The Green Mirror than the title: “If This Be Literature Give Me Death.” If you do, you’ll read that

Mr. Walpole’s most irritating fault is his adherence to the court reporter’s method of observing and recording. This is the fault of many of the contemporary novelists. It is their belief, apparently, that the mere writing down of lists of things, whether dishes of food, toilet articles on the heroine’s dressing-table, books and objects d’art on the drawing-room tables, or the furnishings of a room, constitutes vivid literature.

Hugh Walpole, 1915 (The Independent)

The modernist critics reserve their most scathing criticism for literary luminaries. In an article in the January 1918 Egoist on Henry James (whom he admired), Eliot writes that G.K. Chesterton’s “brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks.” Ezra Pound, also writing admiringly about James in the same issue, says of recent writing that

we may throw out the whole [H.G.] Wells-[Arnold] Bennett period, for what interest can we take in instruments which must of nature miss two-thirds of the vibrations in any conceivable situation.

The modernists’ criticism may be harsh, but, unlike H.L. Mencken’s, it doesn’t seem mean-spirited. Eliot and Pound and the other modernist critics took their work with tremendous seriousness. They thought that the ossified literary world of their time had to die, and that it was their job to kill it. They didn’t just rip into bad writing; they explained how it exemplified what was wrong with the literature of the day. And they had a vision of what should come in its place: modernist writing by the likes of Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, and of course themselves.

This wasn’t exactly trench warfare, but it had its risks. Eliot reported in the March 1918 Egoist that the October 1917 issue of the American modernist journal The Little Review had been declared obscene and seized by the post office, the offending item being a story by Wyndham Lewis. The journal’s legal complaint against the post office had failed.****

The March 1918 issue of the Egoist contained the following announcement:

 That is, no printer in England would touch it. But it was scheduled to be serialized in the Little Review as well.

Bigger battles lay ahead.

*He was also folk singer Pete Seeger’s uncle.

**See! I told you!

***It later became a modernist journal, and was the first place “The Waste Land” was published in the United States.

****The story was called “Cantleman’s Spring-Mate.” Naturally, I immediately tracked it down. Summary: a young man about to go to war sees animals rutting all around, joins in the action with a village girl, and feels that he has defeated death. (Except that makes the story sounds life-affirming, which it’s not. It’s modernist!)

Wednesday Miscellany: Virile modernists, “quotation marks,” and a masterpiece on the way

An ad for The Egoist in The Little Review: “Obviously a journal of interest to virile readers only.”  In that case, I want my $1.60 back.

Also: “It is not written for tired and depressed people.” Sorry, Egoist, but in our day only tired and depressed people read T.S. Eliot.

“Transforming the whole conception of poetic form.” Okay, I’ll give you that one.

Little Review, February 1918

An ad for next month’s Little Review: “We are about to publish a prose masterpiece.” Okay, if you’re publishing Ulysses, and your other contributors are Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Hueffer (aka Ford), then you’re entitled to a little attitude.

(In case you’re wondering what they had in store for February that made them reduce Ulysses to a footnote, it was a full issue devoted to French poets, in French. Cool, but no Ulysses.)

Little Review, February 1918

One last Little Review ad, showing us that “overuse” of “quotation marks” is not a strictly “contemporary” phenomenon. I do like “Solve Your Food Problem” as a restaurant slogan, though. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.

Little Review, February 1918

Wednesday Miscellany: Oh and by the way we’re publishing Ulysses

I can’t wait to find out what surprise the Little Review has in store for February 1918 that’s so huge that they can casually toss off “oh, and we’re publishing the first installment of Ulysses in March.”

The Little Review announcement of Ulysses publication, 1918

The Little Review, January 1918

The best art of 1918 is found in some surprising places. For example, ads for constipation medicine.

Nujol constipation ad, painting of mother holding baby. 1918.

Woman’s Home Companion, January 1918

Support the troops! Send them cigarettes from the enemy!*

*Actually just pretend-Turkish: really Liggett & Myers tobacco.

Call me a philistine: bad modernism and bugle poems

When I started this blog, I imagined myself drifting through 1918 on a cloud of superiority, watching appreciatively as modernism flowered in the small journals and rolling my eyes at the sentimental tripe in the popular press. (When I promised not to engage in moral superiority, I didn’t say anything about aesthetic superiority.)

Table of contents, The Egoist, December 1917.

That’s not what has happened. When I eagerly picked up the December 1917 issue of The Egoist, the British journal where T.S. Eliot was assistant editor, the first thing I saw was an article called “XIII. Notes of a Theory of Memory and Will,” by D. Marsden. It began like this: “(1) If one were required to name the most basic characteristic of experience, choice would have to fall upon that of progressive economy of effort in respect of activities which are repeated.” That’s hard to argue with; I’m getting much faster at uploading photos on WordPress. But D. goes on like this for four pages, and I wasn’t sure what the point was. (I found out later that the point was that D(ora) Marsden was the editor of The Egoist, and, while she deserves credit for recognizing the genius of Eliot and Pound, she significantly overestimated the genius of D. Marsden.)

The Egoist gets better after that. T.S. Eliot discusses the role of a critic in a review of a book on Turgenev, and Ezra Pound writes in an article about the Elizabethans that in each great age “a few poets have written a few beautiful lines…and ten thousand people have copied them.” An editorial note informs readers that the first edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (“which, it will be remembered, was printed in America owing to the refusal of British publishers and printers to handle it”) has sold out, but a British edition is on the way. So there are some fascinating historical nuggets, but if I had happened to put down Vanity Fair and pick this up in 1918, it wouldn’t have converted me instantly to modernism.

Cover banner, The Little Review.

Undeterred, I dove in just as eagerly to the January 1918 edition of The Little Review, an American literary journal. It opens with a seven-page prose poem by William Carlos Williams called “Impressions.” Here’s a typical passage:

What can it mean to you that a child wears pretty clothes and speaks three languages or that its mother goes to the best shops? It means: July has good need of his blazing sun. But if you pick one berry from the ash tree I’d not know it again for the same no matter how the rain washed.

After two or three pages of this, I said to myself, “This is nothing like the plum/icebox poem that everyone’s putting on Facebook! Was WCW drunk?” It turns out that he was flirting with poetic Cubism—a style of deliberate disjointedness in imitation of the Cubist painters. Well, it was disjointed all right. After the Williams poem, there was a long essay about the sexes by Ford Madox Hueffer (later known as Ford Madox Ford) that was deliciously gossipy but didn’t have much of a point.

Banner, St. Nicholas League, St. Nicholas Magazine, 1918.

Meanwhile, St. Nicholas magazine was having a contest where children wrote poems about bugles. Genevra Parker, age 13, got a silver medal. Here’s the first verse of her poem, which appeared in the January 1918 issue:

Blow, blow, blow—
To the murm’ring streamlets blow!
To the sparkling dew, and the roses, too,
And the echoes long and low;
To the clover-tops and the early bees;
Blow through the quiet lanes—
Sing to me of the silver sea
And the horseman on the plains.

Okay, Genevra isn’t breaking any new ground here, poetry-wise. But it’s a cool poem! And she was thirteen years old! And I can tell what it’s about: a bugle!

There’s some beautiful imagery in Williams’ poem, and I admire the spirit of experimentation behind his effort to bring Cubism from painting to verse. But, as a reading experience, I enjoyed “The Bugle-Call” a lot more.

Okay, you can call me a philistine now.