Last week I described reviews of The Fortune in the TLS and The Egoist. Today I’ve been looking at Goldring’s autobiography Odd Man Out (1934), where he discusses the origins and reception of the novel.
As one might have guessed, he says that the book is essentially autobiographical, “with some necessary variations and embroideries”. The character of James Murdoch is based on a friend whom he calls “The Influence”, a pacifist who gradually dissuaded him from war.
Of The Fortune he says:
It has earned me nothing save a number of unknown friends and enemies, an infinity of disappointment and (since it has been banned in England) the collapse of what they call in the trade my “subscription value”.
The ban was not an official government one (I’m pretty certain) but was a boycott of his anti-war sentiments by the bookselling chains (like W.H. Smith)and the commercial libraries (like Boots). This sort of commercial ban is probably harder to fight than police action – you don’t even get the satisfaction of your day in court.
Goldring says that the book provoked “a surprisingly large crop of reviews.” He pays tribute to Eliot’s “generous” response in The Egoist and of the TLS hesays that:
The anonymous reviewers of the Times Literary Supplement, between the years 1910 and 1930 did me the honour to read the books they criticised, and were extremely generous in their comments.
In fact, he found the majority of the reviews “unexpectedly generous and impartial” – except for the pacifist press where he might have expected support.
Indeed, the only really offensive review in the whole bundle is from the columns of my favourite weekly paper, The Herald.
The Nation (the weekly most effective in its criticisms of the war) ignored the book altogether. The Saturday:
was great fun, or as George Robey would say, “very terse”. It began with a few damaging reflections on my personal character and ended with the comment that I ought certainly to be put in gaol.
Goldring complains about an article by G.K.Chesterton in The Illustrated London News (“where, of course, I can’t get at him in reply”) that uses the book as an excuse for “slapdash vituperation” of all pacifists.
He says that the Westminster Gazette and “Mr Clement Shorter’s paper” – is that the Telegraph? – were fair, so in all he doesn’t seem to have been too badly treated when you consider how controversial the book was. But it could still be prevented from reaching a large audience by the ban of the libraries and distributors. The government won both ways; they could boast that there was freedom of expression, while knowing that commercial pressures would keep their critics from a large audience.