Being Young During World War One


A conference on the subject of growing up during the Great War will be held at Manchester Metropolitan University on November 6th to 7th this year.
I’m very happy about this because I got the email yesterday to say that they are going to let me give my paper on the Magnet comics during the war.
This is a talk I’ve wanted to give for a long while. I’ll argue that while some other boys’ papers gave unthinking support to the war effort, and encouraged readers to indulge their prejudices and wallow in the ‘pleasure culture of war’, the Magnet behaved much more like the more thoughtful kinds of adult fiction, weighing the demands of war against the civilised conventions established in peacetime.
I’ve got the paper pretty well worked out already, but shall definitely be spending quite a bit of time over the next four months further exploring the careers of Harry Wharton, Coker of the Fifth, Vernon-Smith the Bounder, and of course Huree Ramset Jam Singh, the dusky nabob of Bhanipur…

The conference website is at

The Somme, 99 years on…

The Battle of the Somme was titanic on the ground ravaging the Picardy countryside, but the concussion waves rippling out from the sickening crash of each artillery shell reached every corner of Britain and its Empire. In other words, the military history is actually the key to a myriad of other histories unfolding hundreds of miles away from the trenches.

A good article by Mark Connelly on the 99th anniversary of the battle, at

Review: An Arnold Bennett Companion


Declaration of interest: I’m not exactly unbiased, since this collection includes my own essay: ‘Against Prussianism’: Bennett and the Great War’.

Arnold Bennett is a great novelist who remains seriously under-celebrated. Even to many students of English Literature he is known only as Virginia Woolf’s whipping boy. Cultivated readers who can talk sensibly The Great Gatsby or Parade’s End may look rather blank when you mention Riceyman Steps.

Over the last decade or so, John Shapcott has been fighting Bennett’s corner, and doing a splendid job of reprinting Bennett’s novels and stories with his own perceptive introductions. Now he has edited a collection of essays that take a twenty-first century look at many facets of Bennett’s work.
The first sentence of the first essay, ‘Bennett and Realist Aesthetics’ by David Amigomi, sets the tone for this collection: Read More »

F. W. Harvey in the Daily Mail

I was browsing around, looking at 1915 issues of the Daily Mail, searching a bit vaguely for something else entirely, when I was delighted to find an article featuring that very likeable poet, F. W. Harvey, and the story of how he won his medal: Read More »

Armine Wodehouse in the Times of India

I’ve written here before about the war poetry of Armine Wodehouse (Pelham Grenville’s brother), and I’ve written more, by the way, in a contribution to the forthcoming collection of critical essays, Middlebrow Wodehouse.
I knew that after the War Armine W. returned to India,and I knew that he contributed light verse to Punch. What I hadn’t known before today was that in the twenties and early thirties he regularly contributed very accomplished light verse to the Times of India, under the pseudonym of ‘Senex’.
I’ve spent much of the morning (when I should have been doing something else) enjoying his poems.
I know that some of this blog’s readers enjoy, as I do, poems about Libraries. Here is ‘Senex’, in 1929, describing a hill-station library that has stayed unchanged for thirty years: Read More »

First fictional psychoanalysis?


Rose Allatini’s novel When I was a Queen in Babylon (1921) is uneven, but contains many pleasures and surprises. I’ll write a fuller account of it later, but now want to ask: Is this the first English novel to contain a description of Freudian psychoanalytical sessions?

Plenty of other novelists were interested in Freudian ideas – notably May Sinclair, who played a significant part in the foundation of the Medico-Psychological Clinic, and was on its Board of Directors. She dedicated her 1914 short-story collection The Judgment of Eve to the clinic’s staff. Sinclair’s novels – for example Mary Olivier and The Rector of Wyck -use Freudian motifs, but I don’t think she ever described psychoanalytic treatment.

In Allatini’s novel psychoanalysis is a treatment that the uncomprehending family of Pixie, the wayward heroine,  turn to in desperation. The therapist uses word association tests and asks her to recount her dreams. Her dislike of the process is described with some intensity: Read More »

The Well of Loneliness

Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness is rarely mentioned in discussions of war novels. It is famous as the novel about Lesbianism that was prosecuted and banned in 1928.

The War, though, is at the heart of the novel. Stephen, the ‘invert’ heroine has been shunned and rejected in peacetime. War gives her a chance to use her talents and play a positive part in society. This is yet another spin on the trope of the Fortunate War, which I have written about before.

This month has been war fiction month at the Sheffield Reading 1900-1950 group, and my selection was The Well of Loneliness. My review  of it can be found on the Reading 1900-1950 website.



Over the past few Saturday nights I’ve been watching 1864, the latest BBC4 serial imported from Denmark. And the  more I have seen of it, the greater my sense of déjà vu.
The sadistic schoolmaster preaching mindless patriotism; the unpleasant and corrupt members of the upper classes; the utterly decent lower classes; the admirable gipsies; the politicians who are caricatures of stupidity; the naïve volunteers singing as they head to battle; the bloody trench warfare; the bloodier field hospitals; and the whole thing seen through a filter of heavy irony, because we know that everything will go terribly wrong…
The series depicts the 1864 war between the Danes and the Prussians, but all of its key tropes are familiar from the ‘futility’ school of Great War dramas. The first episode especially reminded me forcefully of that marathon of gloom, The Village. Read More »

The War Workers

The good news is that on  the Reading 1900-1950 blog there is a new review by Val383 of E.M. Delafield’s The War Workers, one of my favourites among novels published during the War years.

The even better news is that The War Workers is now available as an ebook from  Girlebooks, an organisation new to me.

Theosophists and lesbians

One of my current projects is trying to understand Rose Allatini, author of the remarkable novel Despised and Rejected (1918).
Since the novel was prosecuted and banned, it is not surprising that Allatini seems to have shirked the subject of deviant sexualities in her later fiction. The 1935 novel Girl of Good Family (written under the pseudonym ‘Lucian Wainwright’) is largely autobiographical, and includes many references corresponding to events of Allatini’s own life, but avoids any hints of same-sex relationships, and does not touch on what must have been one of the most dramatic and upsetting episodes of her life, the prosecution and destruction of her novel.
What I have found harder to understand is Allatini’s conversion, round about the time of her novel’s banning, to Theosophy, a fashionable creed that mashed together elements of eastern religions, including ideas about reincarnation. What drew an obviously intelligent and aware young woman to this belief?
Recently, though, I have been re-reading Radclyffe Hall’s short story ‘Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself’, written in about 1926, though not published until the thirties. It’s an odd story, but makes sense of a link between homosexuality and Theosophist ideas. Read More »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 552 other followers